04/11/2014 09:04 GMT | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Mobile Phones Drive Women's Economic Empowerment in Developing Countries


Businesswomen in developing countries face countless barriers on their path to economic and social empowerment. However, SMS on mobile phones can literally transform lives as it is a cost effective and efficient way to deliver information and skills to women entrepreneurs in rural areas.

In August 2012, in partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation and Nokia, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women rolled out a new mobile service in Nigeria, Indonesia and Tanzania called Business Women, which reached over 100,000 subscribers. Business Women was a service which delivered information straight to mobile phones through SMS which women business owners could subscribe to.

A business training curriculum was developed with content apportioned into bite-size messages and tailored to local conditions by an international educational consultancy, before being vetted by local NGOs. Each subscriber received five to six messages per week, which provided information on bookkeeping, customer relations, personnel management and sources of capital to grow their businesses.

We then commissioned an independent evaluation from the Michigan State University, to gain a deeper understanding of the impact this new service had on women entrepreneurs. This was done through multiple interviews and surveys completed by subscribers.

Launched last week by Cherie Blair at the International Council for Women's Business Leadership at Georgetown University, the report, 'Evaluating Business Women, a Mobile Value Added Service for Women Entrepreneurs', showed that the content left subscribers "feeling more self-confident, with greater entrepreneurial optimism, and less constrained about their life-chances".

  • 90% of subscribers felt the service gave them "practical guidance" on making their businesses grow and "offered an inexpensive way to become better-informed businesswoman."
  • 80% said that the service showed them how to find new customers.
  • Over 67% said the service gave them pointers on how to find affordable and easily accessible credit options.

In Indonesia the name of the service was translated to Usaha Wanita and three out of four subscribers reported that their businesses were making more money because of what they learned from the service. Business owner Catharina Ikawati said "the application was the first tool in my life to teach me how to do the business".

The story of Idorenyin Samual (Doren), a business owner from Nigeria who used the Business Women service, illustrates the value of this type of regular advice. Doren supplies purified water sachets to local shops, universities and market traders in the city of Uyo. She established her business in a male-dominated industry and is now mentoring other women entrepreneurs who are learning from the challenges she faced. She reports that "the service helps women so much by giving them strategies to handle business". Doren was introduced to the idea of satisfaction surveys through Business Women. She now learns from the feedback her customers give her and is constantly improving her business.

We are proud of the Business Women service which has demonstrated the huge potential of mobile technology projects in developing countries. Our research into this project suggests future collaborations could potentially benefit millions more women entrepreneurs.

To quote the World Bank: "Mobile applications not only empower individual users, they enrich their lifestyles and livelihoods, and boost the economy as a whole".

We hope this report will inspire NGOs, development partners, and the mobile industry to work together and use technology to help further women's economic and social empowerment in the developing world.

Our next step is Business Women 2.0. We are asking the industry to help us shape an enhanced version of this valuable tool, if you would like to lend your expertise to help us please do get in touch via our website