28/02/2014 10:21 GMT | Updated 30/04/2014 06:59 BST

Connected Women Are Empowered Women


Look around you during your morning commute on the train; you will see many of your fellow commuters are engaged with their mobile devices. Some are checking their inbox to catch up with the latest in the office. Others may be arranging to view a flat later in the afternoon. Or you may spot a multitasking working mum putting in an order for a cake for her daughter's birthday party. For the majority of us, our mobile devices are a necessity and leaving the house without them would be as awkward as walking out without our shoes.

Mobile phones have changed the way we live in all corners of the world. Working in international development for over a decade, I have always been astonished by the fact that millions of people in major cities in emerging markets still do not have access to basic sanitation, yet those same people have access to a mobile phone. Commuters in Nairobi or Mumbai, for example, will see a very similar picture in terms of those using mobile technology around them. The booming mobile technology sector is an international phenomenon and it is increasingly being used to do good.

Access to a mobile device can be life-changing, particularly for women. The Cherie Blair Foundation's research with the GSMA revealed that 9 out of 10 women in developing markets feel safer because of their mobile phones; 8 out of 10 feel more independent with access to mobile technology and more than half have used a mobile phone to earn additional income.

Combining access to mobiles with value added services can result in a dramatic increase in productivity. Take entrepreneurs like Pushpa in rural Gujarat, India. She is one of many women in a rural distribution network called 'RUDI', who buy, process and package produce from farmers, and then sell it to households at affordable prices. Inventory management and sales reporting had been a challenge for the women in the RUDI network. Not to mention that by the time their in-person orders were processed and delivered, the level of demand often changed and they would lose time and money as a result.

In response, the Cherie Blair Foundation, the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) and the Vodafone Foundation in India developed an award-winning mobile application which enables the women entrepreneurs in the network to capture sales and place orders for additional stock via SMS using their basic feature phones.

With this simple solution, the RUDI network has increased its turnover by over 7% since the launch of the application. Pushpa has doubled her monthly sales. One thousand women like Pushpa were trained to use the solution since January 2013. Gone are the days before the application, when women would have to travel long distances to the RUDI centre, not only wasting time and money, but also worrying about finding suitable childcare every time they were gone.

And the benefits extend far beyond the women who are able to earn additional income. Their families and communities also benefit, as the women entrepreneurs are able to pay school fees and as the network is able to offer new employment opportunities. Increasing sales have allowed the RUDI network to expand, with 300 new women entrepreneurs inducted into the salesforce, as well as 45 new workers brought on board to work in the RUDI processing centre since the start of the project.

Having access to mobile technology is critical in the global fight against poverty and this is just one of many examples. Yet, globally women are 21% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low and middle income countries. The figure increases up to 37% if she lives in South Asia. By closing the gap in access to mobile devices and value added services, so many lives can be transformed.

Sevi Simavi, CEO of Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, will be speaking at the Connected Women Summit in London on 3 March.