Women are at the heart of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Developing the digitalization of these MSMEs is essential to enable them to better face current and future crises. Financed by the European Union and implemented by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Belgian cooperation agency Enabel, the DIRECCT program supports 18 projects, including 5 in the MSME sector. Specific support has been focused on women entrepreneurs, and initial results are encouraging.


Reducing inequalities of access

The possibility of working remotely without having to travel, saving time and economic resources (…), the use of digital technology enables women entrepreneurs to work despite their precarious situation and the burden of childcare“, explains Malick Ndome, head of Oxfam’s DIRECCT project in Senegal. The 5 projects, supported by Expertise France, Oxfam and Enabel, represent an opportunity to work towards the development of women’s entrepreneurship, in particular by reducing inequalities between women and men in access to digital technology. For example, in 2020, the gap between men and women in mobile Internet use was still 16% in low- and middle-income countries[1].

That’s why project leaders have benefited from specific support to take better account of this issue in the implementation of their projects. “Without organizing single-sex sessions for women, we wouldn’t have been aware of all the difficulties they encounter. In the single-sex sessions, they were able to talk about them,” explains Malik Diallo, who works on the E-Tchite project for the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a partnership with Expertise France. Over and above the project leaders’ target of having at least 50% women among the final beneficiaries, it is the obstacles to women’s participation that had to be identified and removed in the training and support initiatives.


Removing obstacles to digital training for women entrepreneurs

The first difficulty is the increased precariousness of women,” explains Ayo Job BIAO, head of the E-Tchite project. “Some women found out about the training. They came, but they didn’t have a phone or a laptop,” adds Malik Diallo.

“100 km by motorcycle to attend the training course”

This precariousness also limits the possibilities of traveling to training centers, when they are too far away. “One lady told us she had travelled 100 km by motorcycle to attend the training course. She asked us what we could do to ensure that other women in her home town would also be able to take the course,” says Malik Diallo. To overcome this obstacle, it has been decided to roll out training sessions in the capital cities of Benin’s various regions, and other localities could be involved in 2023.

We also offer “pictorial training courses to deal with illiteracy”

Illiteracy is (another) difficulty, and it affects women more than men, especially those in the informal sector. It’s a difficulty when it comes to using digital tools,” explains Adja Sanogo, coordinator of the E-Djaouli project run by the Côte d’Ivoire Chamber of Commerce and Industry in partnership with Expertise France. That’s why, during the training sessions, staff provided specific support to these women so that they could learn to use digital marketing tools. Faced with the same situation in Senegal, Malik Ndome explains that pictorial training courses have been organized to teach women how to use cell phones and social networks.
The difficulty of arranging childcare or travelling without children when they are breast-feeding also limits women’s participation in training courses. “We have created spaces for breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed during training sessions,” explains Ayo Job BIAO.In the single-sex sessions for women, when they come with their children, it’s not a problem because they’re among themselves. Some of them wouldn’t have come otherwise,” adds Malik Diallo.
The concrete results of taking into account inequalities between women and men in project implementation are already visible.

Encouraging initial results

By learning to create our own digital marketing tools, we’ve saved a lot of money by paying less for services (…), we’ve become autonomous“, explains Aizan Gnima, manager of AGF Entreprise, which transforms natural products into cosmetics and foodstuffs, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. “The development of our communication on social networks and the creation of our website has enabled us to broaden our customer base (…), and our sales have already increased a little“, she adds.

I’ve learned how to use Facebook to advertise (…), and I can reach people beyond the surrounding area, because there’s a lot of competition here“, says Youssrath Chabi-Ota, Director of CAY Ldt in Parakou, Benin.

This digital capacity-building also enables beneficiaries to be better equipped to face the competition. “I’ve learned to use Facebook to advertise (…), I can reach people beyond the surrounding area because there’s a lot of competition here,” explains Youssrath Chabi-Ota of fruit juice producer CAY Ldt in Parakou, Benin.
“Now I can use online payments (…) and more customers are coming,” says Firmine Bessan of IT services and school supplies company VIF La Victoire in Azove, Benin, who was able to set up her website and learn to use new tools thanks to the training courses.

Malick Ndome concludes: “Women in inaccessible areas have difficulty communicating with suppliers to buy their products. By using cell phones and digital tools, they can buy and sell without having to travel,” explains Malick in Senegal.

Knowledge and mastery of digital tools is a major asset for any micro, small or medium-sized enterprise. Thanks to these training courses, women can make these tools their own and deploy their full potential in their businesses.

[1] Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022. GSMA | The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 – #BetterFuture