How digitech can reshape women’s entrepreneurial landscape

Deployment of digital technology by companies and government agencies can unlock Africa's transformation.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The estimated 14.9 million registered small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya can play a big role in job creation and improved earnings.
  • This can enhance development, a significant part of the cycle of economic transition.

While travelling to Thika recently, I witnessed many women entrepreneurs selling products on the way. What came out clearly was how the women, locally known as hawkers, were meeting Kenyans’ needs through traditional, informal points of sales typically known as duka.

Within 10 minutes as I stood by the roadside, I saw many vehicles stop and buy vegetables, among other things. This showed how entrepreneurship is becoming a key engine of growth in Kenya.

I saw how mobile phones helped the women sell their products and avoid the long-distance commute to banks. But how can we make the women realise their potential as entrepreneurs? This is where digitech comes in, especially in accelerating sales of products and creating new markets.

Because most of the women face various challenges, I realised the importance of creating a framework where they can be trained in financial literacy and entrepreneurship for scalability. The impact of such programmes can be transformative.

At Strathmore Business School, we recently developed and executed a training session for women entrepreneurs. They shared their experiences and learned from each other.

One lady who sells honey said she now makes a profit of Sh50,000 in a good month. With a starting capital of Sh800, she has now become a leading entrepreneur in the sector.

Besides having a small retail shop in her small town, she has started supplying customers in other markets and stores. This example is a clear indication of how the capacity of women entrepreneurs can be propelled for financial growth.

The estimated 14.9 million registered small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya can play a big role in job creation and improved earnings. This can enhance development, a significant part of the cycle of economic transition.

But such enterprises operate outside the conventional frameworks and are cash-based. They can leverage business automation and all other industrial possibilities neglected by more established enterprises.

Digital payments

Digital payments, which gives women better access to the marketplace, is a transformational component of business. It has created an ecosystem where there is no need to travel far to deposit money. It has lowered barriers to mobility and ease of doing business.

Kenya currently has more than 500,000 dukas, despite the fact that most ‘street-smart’ duka owners have limited finance and accounting skills.

Besides a smartphone, they have no automation tools or systems. Most of them invariably suffer from a lack of access to credit facilities. This is where innovation on how to operate these ‘dukas’ can effectively make a difference.

It has the potential to provide the women with the tools and knowledge to better understand their activity and become professional in their work.

I came across an online platform called Dukamili. It is accessible through an android device on which shopkeepers can find simple tools to better organise their businesses. The platform creates a direct channel between retailers and manufacturers.

Kenya’s economy can be driven by the ‘Mama Mboga’. Their business may not bring in a lot of money initially but can help in creating jobs for more than five people.

The growth of these small businesses can significantly impact economic growth. However, many women entrepreneurs face market failures and obstacles such as value-chain, inefficiencies in the economic setting and lack of strategies; many SMEs have started and collapsed.

Feedback from the SME conference held at Strathmore indicates that there is a need for the establishment of legislative, legal and economic frameworks that facilitate entrepreneurial activities for these businesswomen.

Small enterprise development should also be addressed to unlock this sector’s great potential.

Contents of Sessional Paper 5/2020, on Kenya Micro and Small Enterprises Policy for Promoting Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) for Wealth and Employment Creation, outlines measures that can accelerate this sector.

This policy is the latest one targeted specifically at the MSME sector with the ultimate goal of creating an enabling environment for small business enterprises to grow, create jobs and increase their contribution to the social-economic development of the country.

To address the needs of women entrepreneurs, Kenya should focus on creating a good environment for them to thrive.

Some of these small businesses could end up being major trans-Africa corporations and global multinationals, despite their humble beginnings. Let us be guided by latent potential in waiting rather than humble present day reality.

The writer is the Executive Dean, Strathmore University Business School