… subsidies required to boost financial inclusion, close gender inequality
Women micro-entrepreneurs in the country would be willing to spend around US$15 to purchase smartphones, believing the device will significantly enhance their businesses according to learnings from a recent pilot in Accra and Kumasi.
The Smartphone Smart Business Project was implemented by NetHope, Inc. – a non-profit organisation and Strategic Impact Advisor – over a six-month period in 2021.
In the baseline survey for the pilot, 85 percent of the 604 women with an average monthly income of US$43 cited cost as the primary barrier to their acquisition of a smartphone.
At the time of the survey, when US$1 was approximately GH¢6, more than half of them were ready to purchase entry-level smartphones if the devices cost GH¢185 – a subsidy of 50 percent; and 96 percent indicated they would purchase at a cost of GH¢195 – a subsidy of 75 percent or one-third of the average monthly income.
Commenting on learnings from the project – which received principal funding from financial services provider, VISA Inc. – Africa Lead at Strategic Impact Advisors, Wisdom Alorwuse, explained that the package came with 1GB of free data each month and was preloaded with a financial literacy audio content in local languages; and showed the importance of getting smartphones into the women’s hands and building their skills to use them.
“Smartphones have become an essential tool in driving financial inclusion and closing the financial gender gap, but the cost has remained a barrier… we were happy with the results which showed the eagerness of women micro-entrepreneurs to purchase and use smartphones to expand their businesses if they can afford the devices,” he stated.
With approximately GH¢200 being the maximum many of the participants were willing to spend on entry-level smartphones a year ago – regardless of the potential returns to their businesses, Mr. Alorwuse called for a joint stakeholder approach to further subsidise the devices; especially as persons within the demography will be among the biggest beneficiaries of smartphone usage per capita.
“The benefits are enormous; however, the constraints for women micro-entrepreneurs are equally high. We are hoping this begins to start the conversation around lowered smartphone and mobile data prices for micro-entrepreneurs,” the digital finance expert said, adding that some of the women were willing to use mid-range smartphones with enhanced cameras and Internet capabilities but cost was a high barrier.
In a survey of women who purchased smartphones in the pilot, 67 percent of women micro-entrepreneurs reported that smartphone usage improved their businesses – raising their profits by 49 percent on average during the pilot period.
The most frequent use of data by the pilot participants was for social media, where they used the platforms for advertising, attracting customers or expanding sales. This was closely followed by communication with customers and suppliers, as well as tracking and managing their finances.
The women also used their smartphones to research their businesses and the wider market, take and send pictures to clients, and to utilise mobile money.
In the endline survey, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of women participants reported they are likely to continue purchasing data for their smartphones due to its value to their businesses and personal lives. “This result shows that easing the pathway to smartphone acquisition can create more sustained digital activity,” the project organisers noted.