By Sarah Martin
For years analysts have said that “Africa is Rising,” but now it’s really happening. With an expanding population and steady economic growth, social enterprise in Africa is today seeing real returns on investment. This “double-bottom line” success — financial plus humanitarian gains — is drawing new attention to Africa to not only advance, but also yield change.
Africa is a continent comprising 55 distinct countries and not all are emerging at the same rate. But a few early movers like Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana are leading the pack. Nigeria made headlines recently after becoming the wealthiest nation in Africa, an overdue GDP revaluation. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and one of the top investor hotspots because of its large consumer base.
Mobile on the Move
What’s driving this boom? Mobile. More than 80% of Africans have mobile phones and coverage is growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world. Mobile technology is transforming the commercial landscape, extending access to ICT, financial and health and social services never before imagined.
From micro- to macro-finance, impact investors are committing to Africa. McKinsey predicts that e-commerce alone will become a $75 billion industry by 2025. One of the biggest hits is the M-Pesa mobile-money service in Kenya. Safaricom, a major mobile player, says it has seen an 88% increase in mobile payments from its subscribers using this program.
Mobile Means Mobility
Mobile growth is providing new opportunities for women. Throughout most of Africa, women are less likely than men to work in the formal sector. They instead juggle multiple roles as mothers, heads of households and informal small and medium enterprise (SME) operators. Women also control the purse strings, paying the family bills or sending money to friends.
Just like anywhere else, women are strapped for time and value the convenience and ease of using mobile money. With more flexibility on when and where to handle family costs, women have greater freedom to generate extra income. In 2010, 85% of women surveyed by the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) reported feeling more independence with a mobile phone. This increased mobility empowers them to pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Mobile phones have also revolutionized the way SMEs deliver goods to market. Time and investment costs have plummeted as women can now connect with friends to pool resources, coordinate transportation to manage supply chains, and get real-time market information to arrive at peak selling hours.
Mobile operators are beginning to recognize the potential of women as a powerful economic force. In Tanzania, mobile provider Tigo conducted an in-depth survey with women to understand their priorities and develop products for their specific needs. Among women’s top goals: more business opportunities. Tigo is now working to create services unique to women and customizing its advertising to speak directly to them.
More Market Share for Mobile
Outreach to women is still nascent. In 2010, the GSMA found that women are 21% less likely than men to have a mobile phone. They estimate that this discrepancy could account for 300 million potential subscribers and $13 billion in revenue for mobile operators. Providers like Tigo are working to close this gap by deploying more female agents to meet women in their communities and build trust and customer loyalty through face-to-face interactions.
As Africa grows, opportunities to support women and make a lasting impact will compound. By 2035, Africa will house the majority of the world’s young people and much of the continent will have evolved into a middle-income market. Africa is today poised for prosperity and positive development. Now is the time to become a part of that future, to catalyze real growth and realize real change.