ShEntrepreneur: Who Says She Can't Change the World?

This post was written by Njideka Harry, Ashoka Fellow and CEO & Founder of the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), an innovative non-profit company focused on using the power of technology to transform the lives of rural youth and women living in developing countries. Prior to founding YTF, Njideka had a successful career at Microsoft.

Picture this: a group of 2,000 women entrepreneurs that are trained and armed with business development and technical knowledge to expand their businesses. Who says they can’t—or won't—change the world?

At the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), we like to call them a “ShEntrepreneur”—emphasizing “she” and “entrepreneur” as a way to put the force of language behind our work to empower women as entrepreneurs.

Amazing things happen when women become agents of their own economic power. To enable this, YTF is pleased to partner with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to launch the Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Technology program in Nigeria.

This effort is a clear next step for YTF’s work, so I was excited to travel to Nigeria to launch the program. I arrived in a rainy and windy Lagos earlier this week, preparing to launch the Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Technology program at the civic center.

Despite the fact that I was stuck in traffic (thank you, rainmaker) for more than three hours getting back to the hotel, it was good to know that this impactful program is finally coming to fruition.

YTF knows that empowered women are catalysts for multiplying development efforts. Through our work with youth and women for well over a decade, it is clear that women are the “glue” of the community. They pull and keep the resources together, oftentimes saving a child’s life, or making it possible for a child to attend primary school.

The challenges faced by women entrepreneurs YTF first started to work in this region of Nigeria were the same challenges faced by women business owners today, all over the world. The only thing that has changed since we launched is that not nearly as many Nigerian women had access to a mobile phone as they do today.

The Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Technology program falls very much in line with a global effort to connect women, technology, and business savvy. For instance, the goal of the "She Will Innovate" competition is to identify the most innovative tools or mobile services that deliver opportunities to girls and women.

Many women in developing and emerging economies have the ideas and ambition needed to become successful entrepreneurs, but they are held back by a lack of access to information, technology, market opportunities, business skills, and self-confidence. In Nigeria, women entrepreneurs are an integral part of economic growth, and they come with unique characteristics such as adaptability, innovativeness, creativity, strength, managerial skills, and accountability. The main difference between male and female entrepreneurs is the problems that women face in participating in entrepreneurial activities.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the program we’re launching: In partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, YTF will deliver business development and technology training to 2,000 women entrepreneurs across five states in the Niger Delta region. Participants will undergo ten hours of classroom training, followed by two hours of online training and a “power hour” designed to improve communications and cooperation between women entrepreneurs across industries in order to assist the creation of resource pools, sharing of expertise, and technical support.

Participants will be immersed in various entrepreneurial activities to help strengthen their businesses, including industry tours to other woman-owned businesses and supplementary activities to further utilize mobile value-added services (VAS).

Private sector partners in this initiative include Nokia and MTN Nigeria. Nokia in particular is introducing a new Nokia Life mobile VAS service called, “Business Women,” and MTN is the network provider.

The Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Technology program focuses on leveraging the mobile channel to address the challenges that impact women entrepreneurs in Nigeria. As in many other developing countries, mobile phones empower women “digitally,” and serve as one of the most exciting examples we have of the transformational benefits of technology today.

The project will engage a diverse group of women entrepreneurs with an industry, and introduce them to VAS products that will enhance their capacity to effectively manage their businesses, improve their confidence in business management skills via training and community engagement, and expand their opportunities for growth.

Many of the challenges that the women entrepreneurs expressed during the pre-program surveys and focus groups included limited access to markets, limited access to distributors and suppliers, and an inability to source quality raw materials at an affordable price. As these challenges are all addressed by the program, we can’t wait to see this program take off—along with businesses owned by these 2,000 talented and ambitious women here in Nigeria.