A report entitled ‘Women Entrepreneurs in the Mobile Retail Channels - Empowering Women, Driving Growth', which studied the role of women entrepreneurs in the mobile phone industry has revealed that women have an important role to play in the mobile channel, which benefits both communities and business.
The study was undertaken by The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, STC and research firm TNS and looked at 14 leading operators in 11 markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East and researchers also talked to stakeholders such as NGOs, government representatives, members of the public and women themselves. .
The report found that there are 300 million women in those regions, who could have access to mobile phones, but do not, which according to Cherie Blair, Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation, translates into a loss of $13 billion for mobile phone operators across the globe.
"My foundation's focus is on women entrepreneurs, helping them to grow their business in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. We do this by building what we call the three C's; building capability, building confidence and helping women get access to that very important C, capital. By doing this women can grow their businesses, which means a brighter future for themselves and also for their families and their communities," said Blair.
The study also looked specifically at how women entrepreneurs could utilise value-added mobile services to expand their businesses in developing and emerging markets and found that the mobile retail channels were a great opportunity for the advancement of women entrepreneurs.
"The research found that women stand to gain greatly if they are included in the mobile value chain. Why, because mobile businesses are relatively flexible and it is easy to fit them in with their other commitments. It is a perfect partner if you want to keep your family commitments and also build a business," said Blair.
Developing a mobile vendor business as a woman also provides them with a sense of empowerment and provides them with a steady income.
It is also not just the women who benefit from being in the mobile market, but it also makes business sense, according to Blair.
"Our report found that women tend to bring special advantages to mobile operators and in three ways; firstly women seem to have higher revenue potential, secondly women seem to lead stronger branding for the mobile phone operator and thirdly women break access into new markets, markets that otherwise it is difficult for the mobile phone operator to reach," she said.
The report also showed regional variation in the amount of women participating in the mobile channel.
In India, Indonesia and the Middle East, it was found that the majority of participants in the mobile vending chain are male, but in Africa, South Africa in particular, and the Philippines, most mobile vendors were women.
However, in none of the regions covered in the report, were women included higher up the value chain in the better paid roles as distributors or owners of large scale retail outlets, except in very exceptional cases, according to Blair.
The Cherie Blair Foundation has developed three recommendations for mobile operators in the Middle East, Asia and Africa on how to generate better female participation in the mobile sphere.
The first recommendation is that mobile operators and distributors collect data on the performance of retail agents from a gender perspective, Blair said that it was very difficult to gather information for the study as very few operators conduct research based on gender.
"Secondly we say to governments and NGOs that they need to create targeted initiatives that drive female participation in the mobile value chain, because the bottom line is that increased collaboration and involvement in women in the mobile value chain increases sales and brings tangible economic advantages to the women, the mobile phone operators and the overall society," she added.
A successful example of mobile operators investing in women in the Middle East region is Vodafone Qatar's Al Johara initiative.
"Al Johara means diamonds and it is a great example of how that collaboration works in practice. What happens is that the project provides women with training so that they get the skills in order to carry out their business that leads to increased confidence and participation from the women, which results in increased sales for Vodafone" said Blair.