Building a Better Business Environment for Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs through Technology-Enabled Advocacy Efforts

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Article at a glance:

  • CIPE partnered with the largest coalition of women’s business and professional associations in Nigeria, the Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN), to increase the organization’s capacity to integrate useful, low-cost information and communication technologies (ICTs) into its upcoming national advocacy efforts.
  • Taking into consideration Nigeria’s limiting technological environment, including low bandwidth and frequent power outages, CIPE delivered a training workshop focused on how to use mobile and online tools to improve data collection, research, and communications. The tools selected were based on ease of use and accessibility with free and low-cost solutions being preferable.
  • Easiness to navigate and low costs were key reasons for ANWBN members to adopt and integrate some of the tools that were taught from CIPE’s workshop.

Background

Nigeria today is Africa’s largest economy and the most populous country on the continent. The country’s GDP is now worth $560 billion with a population of over 170 million. Poverty, however, still remains a real problem. The 2015 UN Human Development Index ranked Nigeria 152nd out of 188 countries and territories, and 46 percent of the population are below the national poverty line. What is more, the collapse of global oil prices is seriously hurting Nigeria, which relies on oil sales for 75 percent of its government revenue and 95 percent of its export earnings. The country now faces a difficult economic crisis that some say will not end for the next 18 months.

In the midst of such circumstances, CIPE is partnering with a group of women entrepreneurs who are working hard to ensure their businesses survive. The Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN) is a coalition of 20 women’s business and professional associations representing more than 320,000 individual women entrepreneurs across Nigeria. Formed in 2013, the coalition aims to improve and encourage sustainable entrepreneurship development for women through advocacy in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria.

An example of ANWBN’s work is an advocacy project they led to increase access to credit for women entrepreneurs. In 2014, after surveying and interviewing its members to identify the difficulties that women face when they apply for bank loans, ANWBN developed policy recommendations to overcome these challenges. They then approached banks and government officials in Lagos and Abuja to discuss the findings and sought support to improve women’s access to finance. As a result of ANWBN’s efforts, several major changes were made: the Central Bank of Nigeria directed financial institutions under its purview to increase credit services to women, and several commercial banks simplified its loan application process for women entrepreneurs who own micro and small enterprises.

In 2016, ANWBN is now facing a bigger task: to develop a national business agenda (NBA) and advocate for policy reform issues to improve the business environment for women entrepreneurs across the nation, including in the areas of taxation and access to finance. As the coalition geared up to research and develop inclusive policy recommendations, ANWBN reached out to CIPE to learn about information and communication technologies (ICTs) that could help them with the NBA process.

Technology Challenges Faced by ANWBN & What Tools/Strategies They Wanted to Learn

CIPE worked with an ICT for Development consulting firm, Panoply Digital, to understand the ICT capacity needs of ANWBN. After consulting with ANWBN members, CIPE and Panoply Digital identified that the coalition is operating in a difficult, sometimes frustrating technological environment. The key challenges ANWBN members often face are:

  • low bandwidth
  • limited access to connectivity
  • lack of knowledge on mobile and online tools
  • frequent power outages
  • limited funding for purchasing ICT tools

Despite the challenges, they had one common denominator – frequent mobile phone access and usage. In 2014, 45 percent of Nigeria’s population used mobile services and the mobile ecosystem contributed to USD$8.3 billion in value added to the economy. And this was certainly applicable to ANWBN members who used mobile phones to not only communicate with family and friends, but also for business communication.

Strategies and Solutions for ANWBN

Given its technological barriers, trends, and the coalition’s objective to implement a nationwide advocacy campaign in a more efficient way, CIPE and Panoply Digital delivered a training workshop focused on how to use mobile and online tools to improve data collection, research, and communications. The tools selected were based on ease of use and accessibility with free and low-cost solutions being preferable.

ANWBN was taught four tech-based strategies and solutions for its needs:

  1. Research: The strategy for research tools was to learn how to conduct research and make delivery of that research in an efficient and transparent manner. ANWBN was introduced to Google Alerts and Feedly, tools that would help overcome the challenges of inconsistent bandwidth or low bandwidth environments.
    • Google Alerts allow for email digests of relevant content to be delivered at intervals. This free tool is an automated search, based on specific search statements and it’s also good for research that is more systematic and actionable.
    • Feedly, which is a free RSS feed, tracks large amounts of specific sources, rather than searches, and saves time for the user undertaking daily searches. It also identifies sites that the person may want to investigate.
  2. Data collection: When CIPE interviewed ANWBN members, the majority answered that they collect information from stakeholders using email or phone surveys. To make this process more streamlined using mobile and the internet, ANWBN was taught two polling and surveying tools, SMSPoll and Google Forms, that collect data in a more organized and efficient way.
    • SMSPoll, a fee-based mobile tool, is used to poll one question at a time, and can be conducted without internet access. The tool also has the potential for collecting large amounts of data with immediate feedback.
    • Google Forms is a free surveying tool that works through the internet. The tool can ask as many questions as needed in a variety of ways. The data is automatically analyzed and can be exported into excel. While the data gathered from Google Forms is better than SMSPoll, it requires more bandwidth.
  3. Mobile communication: As mentioned before, mobile phones are the most popular method of communication in Nigeria. Thus, CIPE and Panoply recommended ANWBN’s strategy to include using more low-bandwidth friendly mobile-based communication tools to manage its networks and improve organizational goals in a more systemic way. ANWBN members were taught two tools – Whatsapp and BulkSMS.
    • Whatsapp is a Multimedia Messaging System (MMS)-based communication tool that requires data connectivity to function. It tracks whether messages are received and read, and can facilitate group chats. Others must also have Whatsapp on their mobiles for this feature to work. The app has no character limitations and can send texts, pictures, voice mails, and also call other Whatsapp users. Importantly, the app now provides a higher level of security to users after implementing end-to-end encryption on all communications. The app is widely popular with over a billion users worldwide. Most ANWBN members who were interviewed voiced that they use Whatsapp for personal communication, so CIPE and Panoply suggested that they use the group chat feature as way to communicate for professional purposes, such as polling.
    • BulkSMS is a real time two-way Short-Message-System (SMS) communication tool that works on mobile networks. Messages can be composed and sent from an internet-enabled computer to any mobile phone. Communication occurs instantly via bulk SMS text messaging. It is beneficial for those moving in and out of mobile network coverage. There is a 160 character limitation, and you must pay a small fee for each SMS that you send. The tool is capable of sending to over 30,000 contacts in one submission. CIPE and Panoply recommended that ANWBN use this tool when sending out a mass-message to its community members.
  4. Online Communication – ANWBN members expressed that some of their organizations do not have an online presence because websites are too costly to maintain in Nigeria. CIPE and Panoply saw the lack of online visibility as a hindrance for ANWBN’s future development, especially as the coalition moves forward with its national advocacy campaign and needs to demonstrate its coalition members’ legitimacy as established organizations. Thus, CIPE and Panoply taught ANWBN members the importance of developing organizational websites for branding purposes and how to build their online presence by using WordPress.
    • WordPress is an online, free web content creating and hosting site. The platform offers ready-made templates, and is customizable for the users. CIPE and Panoply taught ANWBN how to develop a website using WordPress. The tool is easy and it is free, eliminating the worry of high costs usually associated with websites.
  5. CIPE and Panoply trained ANWBN on how to use these tools in the hope that the individual associations within ANWBN will be able to collect feedback from a wider audience, which will help develop more-inclusive policy recommendations, and disseminate the information to more people in their communities as the coalition develops the national advocacy campaign.

    Impact – What Value Has CIPE Added for ANWBN Members?

    Three months after the training workshop, CIPE followed up with the participants to understand the value that CIPE’s workshop had added. Out of the 20 workshop attendees, 13 individuals answered the follow-up survey. 100 percent of the respondents said they are now using at least one of the tools that were presented during the workshop, and the breakdown was as follows:

    Overall, the workshop has assisted ANWBN members to communicate better with its members in their networks, to poll or survey its members in a more organized way to quickly gather data, and to conduct research more efficiently. Many voiced that the tools were adopted for their organizations because they are fairly easy to navigate, and the cost is kept at a minimum.

    As Anna Akpan of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria noted, “using Whatsapp has made my interaction with WISTA members easier and faster to disseminate information with them. Google Alerts has also assisted me in being well-informed on what’s happening in the maritime industry and keeping track of other areas of interests for my members.” Others echoed that using Google Forms or SMS Poll has helped them get feedback from members in a fast, more organized way, thus helping them make decisions quicker. Another respondent expressed that with time, her teammates will become more comfortable with [the tools taught during the workshop] and as they become more integrated into their business operations it will enhance their engagement with members.

    Moving forward, several organizations plan to redesign, or even develop, their own websites now that they have the confidence to manage this internally via WordPress. WISTA even intends to provide their own training to members on how to create a website to better serve their needs. Several organizations also cited their intention to step-up their social media interactions, increasing their visibility and further promoting the mission and activities of the work they do.

    Three months into the program, CIPE’s assistance has already added value for ANWBN, in terms of how they operate as a coalition and how they communicate with their stakeholders. CIPE will support ANWBN as it continues to collect feedback in real-time, to develop better policy recommendations for doing business based on the needs of women entrepreneurs throughout the nation, and to engage in creating a more democratic society in Nigeria.

    This project is part of CIPE’s initiative to enhance CIPE partners’ capacity to integrate ICT tools in order to improve its operations and programs.

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