Empowering Women<br/>Agri-entrepreneurs

Empowering Women

A mobile application unlocks efficiency gains in India
@ Cherie Blair Foundation for Women/ Matthew Strickland
Empowering Women

Head, Gender Secretariat, IFC

Estefany Marte, a woman entrepreneur from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic recently wrote in a blog “I went into the fruit business because I fell in love with it and had the opportunity to take it over from my father. The fruit industry is not famous for being frequented by women entrepreneurs, so it was a challenge to win respect from my suppliers and staff, especially since they had been working with a man for the past 30 years.”

Here it will go the credit

Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Estefany is not alone. Women — who produce more than half of the world’s food — are often shut out from land ownership. They tend to have smaller plots, travel longer distances to markets, lack market price information as well as agricultural inputs. As a result, they are less productive and miss out on valuable earnings, money that could feed their families and educate their children.

At the same time, poor information flow in rural markets can impact productivity and there is a critical need for technological innovations to improve the supply chain. The use of a cell phone with the right application can address some of these market failures, including inefficient stock management processes.

One innovative example of improving rural supply chain challenges through the use of mobile phones can be found in Gujarat, a highly entrepreneurial state in India. Here, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the Vodafone Foundation in India and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women have joined hands to develop a mobile-based Management Information System (MIS) for SEWA’s rural agricultural distribution network.

Agri-entrepreneurs-graphicThe members of the network procure farm produce from farmers at market prices, which they then process and package before selling it through a network of saleswomen. The network’s reach and scale has increased dramatically, exposing the challenges of paper-based inventory management and sales reporting.

The MIS solution is a user-friendly application targeted at 2,500 women entrepreneurs. The women can capture sales and place orders for additional stock via SMS in their mobile phones. Data is captured on a central database providing information for the network’s managerial, financial and audit requirements. With the help of training, the women can generate simple reports on their handset, giving them essential information to improve their business.

The project aims to increase overall sales by 25%. Since its launch in December 2012 many women have reported significant increases in their monthly sales, in some cases up to four times as much. Travel time to markets has been reduced, commodity stock outs largely avoided, and the women report that they are able to run their businesses much more efficiently. Local farmers, in turn, have reported increased sales.

In February 2014 the application won the Best Mobile Product, Initiative or Service in Emerging Markets award at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

We know that integrated gender technology solutions work best only when they are context adapted and locally owned. If linkages in the supply chain are significantly flawed, no tech solution in the world can solve the problem alone.

No application – however innovative — will mend persistent and deep rooted gender inequalities in India. But as female small farmers in Gujarat have discovered, sometimes just a mobile phone and an innovative approach can help get goods to market on time and at the right price.

Read another article about this initiative here.

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