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Women Entrepreneurs in Mobile Retail Channels

Business Fights Poverty, 5 December 2011

By Cherie Blair, Founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

Last week I launched my Foundation’s pioneering research study in partnership with STC and TNS on the inclusion of women entrepreneurs in the retail channels of mobile network operators.

We consulted 14 leading mobile operators from 11 markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, in addition to stakeholders including NGOs, government representatives and select members of the public. We found that mobile retail channels present a great opportunity for the advancement of women entrepreneurs.

Women stand to gain a great deal from selling mobile products. Setting up a mobile sales business is relatively easy and has a flexibility that allows women to work around other commitments. It gives them a sense of empowerment and can provide a steady income.

But we understand that women’s economic empowerment initiatives must be commercially feasible in order to be sustainable, which is why the report focused on the benefits for mobile operators in particular.

Our study found that women tend to bring special advantages to the operations of mobile operators in three specific ways: higher revenue potential, stronger branding and access to new markets.

There are of course regional variations. In India, Indonesia and the Middle East, we found that the majority of participants in the mobile value chain were male, while in Africa and the Philippines most mobile vendors were women. But the key finding was that nowhere were women found to be taking on better-paid roles higher up in the value chain either as distributors or as owners of larger scale retail outlets.

As statistics on this subject are hard to come by, we encourage mobile network operators and distributors to build a business case by collecting data on the performance of retail agents from a gender perspective. We also encourage Governments and NGOs to create targeted initiatives to drive female participation in the mobile value chain. The bottom line is that increased collaboration between stakeholders can improve sales and bring tangible economic advancement to women and the overall society.

Vodafone Qatar’s ‘Al-Johara’ scheme is a great example of how collaboration works in practice. ‘Al-Johara’ provides women with training, leading to increased skills for the women and increased sales for Vodafone Qatar. It just goes to show that by working together across sectors with solutions that benefit all, we are able to make real progress in women’s economic empowerment.

My hope is to follow this report by partnering with leaders in the mobile industry, as well as public and non-profit organisations to develop sustainable programmes for women entrepreneurs in the mobile industry.

We would welcome the opportunity to connect with members of Business Fights Poverty and continue this conversation.

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