Nigeria is certainly a growing hub for enterprises in Africa. Increasingly, more people are beginning to depend less on paid employment and look to starting up their own businesses in order to thrive both small and large scale enterprises. Of this growing number, women constitute a significant proportion of people who are becoming entrepreneurs in the Nigerian society. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes

THE disparity between the women and their male counterpart in access to basic Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) may have been identified as a huge constraint in Nigeria’s quest to become a major economic bloc in the African sub-region.

Traditionally, due to the role of women in many cultures in Nigeria, they have faced several challenges when it comes to starting a business or taking a leading role in corporate organisations. As found in many other African countries, Nigeria holds conservative values and traditional customs in undertaking business activities.

Entrepreneurial roles, including those in corporate institutions have long been recognized to be an occupation for men, stemming from the fact that men play the role of heads of the home. Prevailing traditional beliefs create barriers for women who aspire to become entrepreneurs.

Coupled with this, the responsibilities required of a woman as a mother as well as lack of access to funds also constitutes challenges to women being on equal ground with men in the entrepreneurial landscape.

Indeed, a study by a women entrepreneurship advocate, Phillips Koelllinger, showed women have lower propensity for entrepreneurship compared to men.

This may be attributable to the inherent constraint women face in their entrepreneurial ability, which continued to be a stumbling block for their entrepreneurial growth and success.

Recognising the importance of the female folks in economic development, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in its charter, enshrined gender equality and women’s empowerment in it.

According to ITU Secretary General, Dr Hamadoun Touré, “ICTs are tools that can help accelerate progress towards achieving the target of using the power of ICTs to provide new digital opportunities to women globally.”

Just recently, and as part of development initiative for women, Nokia partnered with Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, United Kingdom and MTN Nigeria to bring Business Women Service via Nokia Life to Nigeria. At the Forum, which had in attendance female folks from various fields of live in the country, the need for women to become more innovative in business decisions was stressed.

According to the Foundation, Nokia and its partners planned empowerment for the women with the provision of essential business entrepreneurship tips, delivered via SMS to them.

Beside, Cherie Blair Foundation, chaired by Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, also claimed that one of its missions for women was to bridge the imbalance amongst the female folks entrepreneurship in Nigeria, because it observed that women are faced with significant barriers in scaling up their businesses, including access to affordable resources, marketing channels and training inputs.

Research conducted by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, supported by the ExxonMobil Foundation, showed that 93 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Nigeria were willing to use a valued-added mobile service like Business Women to address the core challenges they face in their business; and 75 per cent of them felt that addressing these challenges would lead to a significant increase in the value of their business.

Consequently, the foundation believed that ICT has the potential of making women competitively, adding that using a service based technology such as the Nokia Life tools to pass information across more women while targeting the next billion people to be connected.

According to her, “Giving women the chance to become financially independent and make the most of their talents is the key to higher living standards and stronger economies.”

Statistics have also shown that women face diverse challenges in the Nigerian business world. Recently, the World Bank condemned the low percentage of women in the Nigerian business environment, saying there are only 15 per cent women in business.

The Country Director, World Bank, Marie Francois Marie-Nelly made the assertion when the bank launched investment climate assessment report in Abuja.

According to her, “Nigeria’s business climate was unfair to women”. She noted that women make up half of Nigeria’s population, lamenting that over a half of the manufacturing firms in the country do not employ a single woman.”

A similar survey carried out by the Department of Business Admin and Management, Kano State Polytechnic using 30 samples of women entrepreneurs within Kano metropolis showed that women running businesses faced similar challenges which were centered on cultural challenges, family responsibilities, lack of funds, and lack of access to enabling information.

According to the study, 76 per cent of the respondents noted that if they had access to knowledge that could help them start or grow their enterprises, they would be better off as opposed to the 45 per cent who cited finances as their major challenge.

As such, at the Nokia and Cherie Blair Foundation forum, where the women service initiative on the Nokia Life Tools platform was unveiled, the service was targeted at women in rural areas who may not have access to Internet services but make use of mobile phones. The service runs through a short message service (SMS), which is available to everyone using a mobile device and enables them to receive information, which could educate them on how to better manage their business concerns.

The partnership was formed with the aim of achieving Nokia’s goal of development through access to information as well as empowerment of women in business, which is also the main focus of the foundation. The service is facilitated by MTN on the network side. Hopefully, more networks will come aboard this new innovative service from Nokia.

According to Blair, the new information service aimed addressing the imbalance by providing essential entrepreneurship tips, delivered via SMS to mobile phones with the Nokia Life service. “Women entrepreneurs present at the launch of the service expressed optimism that the new information service would assist them in overcoming some of the social and economic barriers preventing women from reaching their economic potential,” she said.

Speaking on the development, Chairman of WIMBIZ, a women’s organisation dedicated to recognising and supporting women in business, Ms Adeola Azeez, said that with proper information, other barriers facing women entrepreneurs could be surmounted.

According to her, with the Nokia Life Tools Information Service for women, women in rural areas would have access to financial information which would help them to better plan their finances and overcome financial challenges and also how to better position themselves in the ever-changing competitive marketplace.”

Nigeria was the first country in Africa to benefit from the Nokia Life Tools, which is aimed at emerging markets across the globe.

The Vice President of Nokia West Africa, Mr. James Rutherford, said, “Nokia Life is by far the world’s largest mobile information services suite helping consumers in emerging markets learn, live, and share information better.”

According to him, the information services has over 6.3 million users in these markets with services which cover healthcare, agriculture, education, entertainment and more recently, advisory information for women.

Rutherford stated that Nokia was committed to aiding development within the ecosystem in which it finds itself, adding that women are integral to the development of any society and empowering women through information is the first step in bridging the gap in entrepreneurship.

“There are over 101 million active mobile phones in Nigeria out of which only a third of this number are smartphones. The Nokia Life Tools seeks to connect with this large population of mobile phone users and give them the opportunities that they ordinarily cannot access without a smartphone”, he stated.

Another advocacy group, Women In Technology Development in Nigeria (WITIN), chaired by Mrs. Martha Alade-Omoekpen, also stressed the need why women and girls must embrace ICT and equal opportunities must be given to the female folks in the country.

In chat with The Guardian, Alade-Omoekpen said the disparity between the men folk and women in Nigeria in having access to basic ICT services has led to gross limitation of Nigerian women in their quest of becoming a major economic bloc in the African sub-region.

According to her, some identified challenges hindering young girls from pursuing careers in ICT include: ignorance of the opportunities and benefits of ICT; lack of female ICT role models; unhelpful influence of parents and teachers to teach young female at very early stage of life; thinking by girls that ICT is more of hardware, mathematics, algorithms and programming, among others.

She noted that using ICT to promote socio-economic empowerment of women and address equity issues with regard to gender, disadvantaged groups as well as those in rural and under-served communities has become a matter of urgency in Nigeria, if the country must achieve her Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


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