Women are at the heart of micro, small and medium 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 given to women entrepreneurs and the first results are encouraging.

Reducing inequalities of access

“The possibility of working remotely without moving, saving time and economic resources (…), the use of digital technology allows women entrepreneurs to work despite their precariousness and the burden of children” explains Malick Ndome, head of the Oxfam DIRECCT project in Senegal. The 5 projects, supported by Expertise France, Oxfam and Enabel, represent an opportunity to work on 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 women and men in the use of mobile Internet remained at 16% in low and middle income countries[1].

For this reason, project leaders received specific support to better take this issue into account in the implementation of their projects. “Without the organization of single-sex sessions for women, we would not have become aware of all the difficulties they face. In the single-sex sessions, they were able to talk about them” says Malik Diallo, who works on the E-Tchite project of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin, a project in partnership with Expertise France. Beyond the objective of having at least 50% women among the final beneficiaries that the project leaders set themselves, it is the obstacles to women’s participation that had to be identified and removed in the training and support actions.

Removing obstacles to the training of women entrepreneurs in digital technology

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

“100 km by motorcycle to attend the training”

This precariousness also limits the possibilities to travel to the training centers, when they are too far away. “One lady told us that she had traveled 100 km by motorcycle to attend the training. She asked us how we could make it possible for other women in her home town to be trained as well” says Malik Diallo. To remove this obstacle, it was decided to deploy training sessions in the capital cities of the different Beninese regions and other localities could be involved in 2023.

“pictorial training to face illiteracy”

“Illiteracy is another difficulty and it affects women more, especially those in the informal sector. It is a difficulty for the use of digital tools” explains Adja Sanogo, coordinator of the E-Djaouli project of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Côte d’Ivoire, a project in partnership with Expertise France. This is why, during the training sessions, staff members provided specific support to these women so that they could learn to use digital marketing tools. Faced with this same situation in Senegal, Malik Ndome specifies that pictorial training sessions have been conducted to learn how to use cell phones and social networks.

The difficulty of looking after children or moving around without them when they are breast-fed also limits women’s participation in training. “We have created spaces for breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed during the trainings” explains Ayo Job BIAO. “In the single-sex sessions for women, when they come with their children, it is not a problem because they are among themselves. Some of them would not have come otherwise” says Malik Diallo.

The concrete results of taking into account inequalities between women and men in the implementation of projects are already visible.

First encouraging results

“By learning to create our own digital marketing tools, we have made big savings by paying less for services (…), we have become autonomous” explains Aizan Gnima, director of AGF Entreprise, which transforms natural products into cosmetics and food, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. “The development of our communication on social networks and the creation of our website has allowed us to expand our customer base (…), our turnover has already increased a little” she says.

I learned to use Facebook to advertise (…), I can reach people beyond the surrounding area because there is a lot of competition here” Youssrath Chabi-Ota, director of CAY Ltd. in Parakou, Benin.

This digital capacity building also allows beneficiaries to be better equipped to compete. “I learned how to use Facebook to advertise (…), I can reach people beyond the surrounding area because there is a lot of competition here” explains Youssrath Chabi-Ota of the fruit juice production company CAY Ldt in Parakou, Benin.

“Now I can use online payments (…), more customers are coming” says Firmine Bessan of the computer services and school supplies company VIF La Victoire in Azove, Benin, who was able to create her website and learn to use new tools thanks to the training.

Finally, Malick Ndome concludes that the sustainability of the business has improved: “Women in inaccessible areas have difficulty communicating to buy their products from suppliers. By using cell phones and digital tools, they can buy and sell without having to travel” says Malick in Senegal.

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