The ‘Magic Wand’ For African Women

By  |  March 8, 2024

This year’s International Women’s Day theme “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress” challenges us to rethink how we can empower women to the benefit of society.  It conjures Hillary Clinton’s mantra, “If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime. But teach a woman to fish and she’ll feed the whole village.”  But how?  What’s the magic wand that brings about this vision the world loves to pontificate every March?

This question is particularly interesting in the context of Africa, the only region in the world where there are more female than male entrepreneurs. Women make up 58% of the continent’s self-employed population, founding and running millions of small businesses which drive the informal economy, a sector that represents 40% of Africa’s GDP and is the main driver of economic growth on the continent. 

So how do we invest in African women to accelerate progress and feed this whole proverbial village?  At the ecommerce business I cofounded, which is designed to serve mass-market African consumers, we partner with 36,000 small business owners who serve as delivery points for our customers’ ecommerce orders. More than 80% of them are women, so I have a front-row seat, experiencing the entrepreneurial energy of thousands of indefatigable African businesswomen every day.  

And we’ve discovered a magic wand that fits nicely in their palms: smartphones.  

Before becoming Copia agents these women made $2-10 per day.  With a smartphone, these same women increase their incomes by more than 70% which is transformational; it can mean the difference between poverty and middle class.  A study in Peru corroborates our experience, finding that smartphones increased household consumption by 11% and reduced poverty by 8%.

It was way back in 2003 when Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus said that the quickest way to get out of poverty was to have a mobile telephone.  But at that time hardly any low-income women had smartphones due to the cost.  Finally today more than 20 years later, smartphones are now readily available and most importantly, affordable.  Seventy-three percent ( 2023 Kantar study of Copia customers) of middle and low-income Kenyan consumers now own smartphones, a leap from under 10% a decade ago. 

Not only does mobile-phone access reduce poverty, but smartphones drive gender empowerment; it has been shown that women with smartphones make more independent decisions.  Health outcomes also improve as women who own smartphones better understand sexual and reproductive health.  They overcome the socio-economic challenges facing women in rural areas, make strides as business owners, boost their economic independence and drive economic growth in their communities.

Given women are most often responsible for family household purchases, it makes sense that 75% of Copia’s ecommerce customers are women. With smartphones in hand, suddenly these women are transformed into informed, empowered global consumers. Copia board member and ex-CEO of Jumo Africa, Buhle Goslar, explains “Copia plays a critical role in reducing gender disparities by enhancing women’s digital access to education, health, financial services and household goods.  The potential to profoundly improve gender equality is incredibly inspiring.” 

So this International Women’s Day, let’s find ways to get more smartphones into their hands.  Enabling them to take part in emerging sectors such as e-commerce is a strategy for driving millions of dollars of newly-created wealth into the pockets of African women, the most potent driver of growth on the African continent. 

About the author: This article is authored by Tracey Turner. Tracey is Chair and co-founder of Copia Global

Feature image courtesy: Jorge Gardner on Unsplash

Most Read

Nigeria’s Crypto Traders Take Business Underground Amid War On Binance

Nigeria’s heightened crackdown on cryptocurrency companies over the naira’s slide is driving the

Kenya Is Struggling To Find Winners After Startup Funding Boom

Kenya, the acclaimed Silicon Savannah, is reeling from turbulence in its tech landscape.

The New Playbook Behind Private Equity’s Quiet Boom In Africa

Private equity (PE) investment in Africa has seen a remarkable upswing in recent