Currently, only about 30% of Africans have access to the internet and digital skills. With the world now being a digital village, this low number translates to low productivity and reduced growth capacity for small businesses in both formal and informal sectors across the continent.
In Cote d’Ivoire, 98% of all registered companies are SMEs and they are the largest employers of labour, especially youth labour. In spite of this, the contribution SMEs make to the Ivoirian GDP is only about 20%. One key reason for this is entrepreneurs’ lack of access to digital tools. Although a great number of these young entrepreneurs are eager to learn about these digital tools, the majority of them, especially women, cannot afford to pay for the necessary training.
This is the problem that DigiFemmes is working to solve.
TechCabal: Can you please tell us what DigiFemmes is about?
DigiFemmes: DigiFemmes is a holistic technical assistance program to enhance the capacity of women in Cote d’Ivoire to run and grow successful businesses by participating in the digital economy. We believe that in order to become innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders, young women in Cote d’Ivoire need to be empowered with the digital skills and access to technology and markets that are essential to thrive in an increasingly digitised global economy.
TechCabal: Why data and digital skills? What kind of gap exists for women in Cote d’Ivoire and how far do you think providing access to digital skills will go towards improving their businesses?
DigiFemmes: We noticed that women face constraints in accessing and leveraging new technologies for their businesses. Female entrepreneurs in Cote d’Ivoire face challenges due to limited access to capital, a lack of support mechanisms that provide them with safe spaces to learn and grow, as well as gender biases that hinder their development. Digital skills are vital to strengthening women’s participation in the economy. A study conducted with about 800 SMEs across the country revealed that only about 9% of respondents could afford to pay for training to learn data and digital skills, even if they understood the impact it would have on their businesses and were eager to learn. This data motivated us to think of ways to provide female entrepreneurs with these skills in order to support them in unleashing their full economic potential.
About the programme
TechCabal: What digital skills and tools do you hope to introduce to the participants?
DigiFemmes: We’re looking to offer development training in core digital and data skills. Other skills we help build include coding, data analysis, and design skills using tools like Canva, which will be useful in designing images for marketing or creating invoices. By the end of the training, these women should be able to make strategic, data-driven decisions for their businesses or work in a tech-related role.
Also, our consortium of organisers also offers training to shape the mindset of participants in the long term. This includes other connected skills like critical thinking, negotiations, interpersonal and organisational skills, leadership skills, how to ask the right questions and secure answers, etc. We want to teach them industry-specific skills and provide holistic training by aligning them with useful soft skills.
TechCabal: What criteria do you use in selecting eligible participants for the program?
DigiFemmes: We aim to be as inclusive as possible, so participants do not require any educational background. However, our program addresses 2 categories of women.
- New entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs: This is for women who are not yet entrepreneurs but are looking to develop their skills in order to become entrepreneurs or work in large companies in Cote d’Ivoire. The criteria for this category are simple: they must be 18 years old or older and must also be literate.
- Existing entrepreneurs: This is for women who already have existing businesses. We will train them on how to apply data and digital skills to scale, as well as the best practices to cater to their data and digital needs. We are also targeting ecosystem stakeholders that have a vital impact on the ecosystem.
TechCabal: You have plans to work with 600 women across the country, and one of your plans is to create a pipeline of new female entrepreneurs. How important is having a community for female entrepreneurs?
DigiFemmes: Community is a key element for the success of this program. We have adopted a collaborative approach such that throughout the training, participants will be required to work with their peers in order to make sure that they develop relationships. In addition, we have partnered with local ecosystem stakeholders to help these women get integrated into existing communities in order to learn from other successful women entrepreneurs. Such a community will help them build relationships that can benefit their businesses.
TechCabal: How is the program being funded? Did you face any particular challenges in accessing funding?
DigiFemmes: We are currently funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, USAID, and Microsoft. The participants won’t have to pay for anything—it’s entirely free. We didn’t and aren’t facing any issues with regard to funding. However, we are exploring other sustainable mechanisms to self-finance the program so that it can remain free for all participants, such as a system where graduates of the cohorts who either launch their own businesses or get well-paying jobs can contribute to the funding for other cohorts or agency fees when participants get jobs through our talent agency.
Partnerships and Impact
TechCabal: What kind of strategic partnerships with other organizations have you had so far?
DigiFemmes: We are working with a consortium of locally rooted partners on this program. Other partners include USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Empow’Her. Empow’Her will lead the short-term training conducted in all six cities and also support community-building efforts. We will also work with Edu01, which will provide an online platform for the training. Another partner is Dalberg’s Abidjan office, which provides us with strategic advisory services and supports the monitoring of our programme to ensure that we are on track to meet our goals.
TechCabal: What kind of impact are you aiming for with this program?
DigiFemmes: We hope to have a sustained socio-economic impact on women in Cote d’Ivoire. We want to have more women that can take care of themselves in a good way. We will facilitate the creation of profitable women-led SMEs that will foster job creation and also reduce the level of unemployment by providing women with digital skills that increase their employability.
The DigiFemmes’ program will provide participants with collaborative workspaces, reliable internet connections, and a supportive community in San Pedro and Abidjan. Women who have already founded a small to medium-sized business, women who are aspiring to have their own businesses, and women looking to gain additional data and digital skills are welcome to apply for the program. Each track will run once a year for an initial 3-year period, with the potential to continue on a rolling basis. You can pre-register to be a part of the first cohort here.