ICTs Proved Vital for Economic Development: How ICTs are Helping Business Growth Among Women in Africa
A project in Uganda has shown that ICTs can greatly contribute to the economic empowerment of women though increasing access to relevant information.
Evaluations for the CEEWA-Uganda ICTs Project show that most business women who were trained and helped to utilize ICTs like mobile phones, radio, computers (internet), photocopying, television were able to register marked business growth after starting to utilize these ICTs as tools to improve their businesses.
The project was implemented by CEEWA-Uganda (Council for Economic Empowerment for Women of Africa-Uganda Chapter), an NGO committed to the economic empowerment of women in Africa.
Baseline for ICTs Role in Business
Under its Women and Entrepreneurship Development program, CEEWA-Uganda in 1999 commissioned a survey to find out the information needs of women entrepreneurs in business information and entrepreneurship skills.
The survey revealed that women entrepreneurs at the grassroots (entrepreneurs in small-and medium-size businesses)—lacked information on credit facilities, credit and savings management and ways of improving their products and services. Samuel Sefunka, the Program Offier of CEEWA-Uganda says this was in addition to the businesswoemn not always knowing market prices, costing and pricing.
Speaking in an interview, Senfuka says the baseline study found that the women entrepreneurs also lacked computer and writing skills. “Many of the respondents expressed desire for training in enterprise development. It was from this survey that CEEWA-Uganda developed the ICTs Project,” Senfuka says.
With support from International Development Research Centre- IDRC, (1999-2001), CEEWA-Uganda was able to mobilize economically active rural and peri urban women entrepreneurs and pilot test the Project in three districts of Mpigi, Wakiso and Kampala in central Uganda.
Business Information and Skills Website
Under the ICTs project, CEEWA-Uganda designed a database driven website with information on best practices in agriculture, business skills, market prices, trade related issues, finance support institutions and women network groups. CEEWA-Uganda also developed training manuals on ICTs use in furthering of businesses.
“The Humanistic Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos) came in to support CEEWA – Uganda to continue implementing the ICT project, now in six project sites/districts extending to eastern Uganda in Budondo Sub-County, Jinja district and Bulamagi sub county Iganga district as well as Mukono district,” Senfuka says.
ICTs Benefits to Business Women
According to the review of the CEEWA-Uganda ICTs project, beneficiaries realized a lot of achievements, especially being able to order for and sell goods on phone; getting market prices from sms, radio and internet; being able to pay or contribute to school fees for their children, increased power to negotiate and better business relations.
Teo Kamya of Sango parish, in Mpigi district, central Uganda is one of the beneficiaries of the project. “I also learned to use a mobile phone to send text messages to look for markets and new products,” Sango says in an interview.
“I had been selling milk but couldn’t tell how I was spending the money until CEEWA-Uganda trained us in book keeping and best practices in animal rearing. I have bought an incubator that breeds 120 chicken at ago which I sell at sh700 each. In addition, I have got a heifer cow that produces 15 liters of milk a day,” Sango adds.
Challenges of Women Entrepreneurs
Despite the good achievement, the evaluation of the ICTs project did raise a number of challenges women entrepreneurs are facing, which challenges must be addressed if entrepreneurs are to enjoy full benefits that ICTs bring to businesses.
Edith Mwanje, the Chairperson of CEEWA-Uganda says that their evaluation of the project noted that apart from the multiple gender roles of women beneficiaries that constrains their time, women are not able to maximize the benefits of ICTs use because of limited access to ICTs, which is mainly due to infrastructure problems such as unavailability of connectivity, power supply, long distance to centers, high cost of ICTs and maintenance of the ICTs.
“High illiteracy levels among the beneficiaries also hinder maximum use of the ICTs. Stakeholders also need to address the high levels of poverty and relevancy of ICTs to small size of Small Micro Enterprises,” Mwanje says.
Increasing ICTs Role in Women’s Empowerment
Senfuka and Mwanje believe that these challenges are better addressed in the framework of improving the Uganda National ICT Policy. The Government of Uganda in 2002 put in place an ICT policy to guide the government’s role of supporting the access of relevant ICTs in all parts of the country.
“The ICT Policy needs to be gender sensitive by ensuring most women at the grassroots can access ICT services. It is not enough to have an ICT center in the town when most women do not have transport to go there. The access of ICTS needs to also be supported by reliability of ICTs so that women really save time,” Mwanje says.
The government of Uganda has been laying a fiber optic cable in different parts of the country. Uganda together with her East Africa Community partners (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) are also working together to connect to the Under Sea Fiber Optic Cable that is expected to greatly reduce internet connection and related costs, and thus improve access to most ICTs and reliability of ICTs for most Ugandans.