Growth of Cell Phone Use Among African Female Entrepreneurs

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — As the population expands and economies of the nations of Africa grows, the citizens are seeing a return on their social enterprise. The cause of this change may be smaller than one might think.

Over 80% of Africans have cell phones, and the area of coverage is growing at a faster rate than any other nation in the world. The growth of the mobile technology is helping to transform the commercial landscape.

Experts believe that by the year 2025, Africa’s iGDP, the measurement of the Internet’s contribution to overall gross domestic product (GDP), will grow from the 1.1% it is currently to at least 5% or 6%.

That would match the iGDP of countries like Sweden, Taiwan and the United Kingdom and turn e-commerce into a $75 billion industry. Some countries in Africa have seen growth already. Kenyan businesses like Safaricom have seen an 88% increase in payments made by mobile devices.

But mobile growth is not just good news for businesses and economic development. It is also good news for women. In 2010, the GSMA Development Fund, along with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, did a study on women in countries with a weak economy. In the study, 85% of the women stated that they felt more independent with a cell phone and that the increase in mobility allowed them the chance to “pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures.”

The report also indicated that mobile retail sales allow for a “flexible and relatively easy business opportunity” for women looking to expand their economic input. In Africa, most of the mobile vendors are women, though a majority of them are working on the micro-level as opposed to the macro.

On May 1, a Gallup poll showed that nearly two-thirds of the households in Sub-Saharan Africa had at least one mobile phone in 2013, with an average annual growth rate of around 5%.

In other countries, however, the poll shows a significant growth. Zimbabwe, for example, has grown from 26% of households having at least one cell phone in 2008 to 80% of households in 2013. The country also has an annual 9% growth rate of the number of households that own a mobile phone.

This also benefits many business groups in the country, several of them run by women.

“Mobile phones have helped so much with the business—it is absolutely crucial for distribution and marketing,” said Juliet Alumenda, a member of a women horticulture business group in the Seke District of Zimbabwe.

A study done by the second largest mobile provider in Zimbabwe, Telecel, found that mobile phones have “increased perceptions of confidence and assist in increasing women’s economic activities”. They also note that female entrepreneurs reported a high sense of control of their business along with their personal and domestic life.

Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming the second-largest mobile technology market after Asia. It is also the fastest growing mobile technology market in the world. It is predicted that the number of mobile users in the region will grow to around 346 million in three years. Currently, the U.S. has 327 million people with cell phones.

Sources: Mercy Corps, BusinessFightsPoverty, TNS Global

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