Business training for women by women using ICTs
Radio penetration is relatively high in Cameroon. With about eighty percent of the households having a radio, it is the most common communication technology in the east African country. Compared to computer penetration – which is quite low – radio can provide excellent educational opportunities. Protege QV, a Cameroonian organisation working for the betterment of the community through information sharing, trainings, and research, has developed radio-based training for women entrepreneurs to support them in setting up small businesses. Sylvie Siyam and Avis Momeni from PROTEGE Q, have sent us a report on a project they have recently carried out in Upper Nkam in Cameroon…
These women clearly identify the factors that limit their output. These include a lack of information regarding market prices; where to find funds for their activities; where to sell their products at a good price; local regulations concerning their activities; and how to improve their activities to enable them to escape from their precarious situation.
With a deep understanding of the women’s situation, PROTEGE QV, with the support of Commonwealth of Learning, realised a capacity-building project in 2005 and 2006. Its goal was to use radio-based learning and cell phones to give rural women skills that would stimulate their desire to move on from survivalist activities to professional engagement in micro-enterprises.
Finding out what was needed
To identify the needs of the women clearly, particularly those who had access to radio-based learning, a field study was realised in seven localities: Bakou, Bana, Banwa, Bafang, Kekem, Dschang, and Bandja. There were 300 female participants, 59% of whom were micro-entrepreneurs and 41% who were considered as potential micro-entrepreneurs.
The women interviewed considered expertise in following areas to be important factors for success: financing (91.7%), techniques of production (82.8%), management techniques (78%), commercialisation and promotion of products (82.8%), the taxation system (53.8%).
From the needs assessment, it appears that their capacities should be reinforced by addressing the following topics:
- How to choose a business and how to start
- Sources of funds for small business at the local and national level,
- Business management,
- Where to find production equipment,
- Opportunities for trainings in production techniques,
- The marketing of products,
- The taxation system related to small business and how to deal with taxation departments,
- The improvement of agricultural and animal production.
The semi-rural context suggested a plan that would involve women who already had status in women’s groups to be developed as animators or communicators to train other women. Since the potential multipliers are considered role models and speak the local language, it would be easier for them to transmit messages.
How did we choose the participants?
We evaluated their influence zone in the community by identifying the various associations in which they are active members, the positions that they hold in these groups, and the number of registered members in their groups. In our specific case, we were potentially able to reach 7262 people in 103 groups through the women selected for the programme.
We then decided to train these women to become communicators who would use radio, letters, telephone calls, SMSs, meetings, as well as informal means to share information in the community. The women selected were then trained to be able to search for information or the Internet on a specific subject, to prepare (write the script) and present a radio programme with the results of the search, to run a group discussion, and to train the other women how to initiate or improve a small business. During the training, they attended three workshops: an introduction to computers and use of the Internet to search for information on a specific subject; radio script writing, speaking on the radio, and running a group discussion; and how to communicate in a network using SMSs (Short Message Service).
Who helped us?
PROTEGE QV was in charge of the overall coordination of the implementation. The broadcasting was done by RADIO RURALE FOTOUNI, a community radio station in the Upper Nkam division, and the local department of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MINCOF) assisted in identifying the real needs of the beneficiaries and in seeding the sustainability. The women’s groups were beneficiaries and were also in charge of the sensitization of the women to encourage them listen to and take part in the radio-based learning. Finally, the MC² BANKA, a credit and loan cooperative, helped in finding appropriate funds for the women’s micro-enterprises and in giving appropriate trainings to manage loans.
During these six months and within a programme entitled “Women and the Pride of their Being”, twelve radio programmes were recorded with the support of PROTEGE QV and broadcast on Saturdays, from 6.30 – 7.00 pm on Radio Fotouni. The following subjects were dealt with:
- the role of women’s micro-enterprises in rural development
- how to choose a business
- studying the market
- the pricing of products
- parts of a successful business
- managing a business I and II (finances, administration, …)
- the improvement of agricultural production
- the improvement of animal production
- the taxation applicable to small business
- financing small business
The communicators conducted three group discussions for small business promoters at Bafang. The themes were:
- “Reinforcement of your small business”, with the support of the Local Departement of Women Affairs;
- “Improvement of animal rearing”, with the support of the School of Agriculture and Animal Rearing of Bafang;
- “Keeping business records: financial management”, with the support of the MC², a community credit and loans cooperative.
To distribute information from PROTEGE QV to the communicators or among them, SMSs are now used, and the women involved greatly appreciate the difference in costs. The network that was created ensures the sustainability in the reinforcement of the capacities of women in small businesses. They are now able to communicate with each other, share best practices, and help each other. PROTEGE QV will continue to support the network through knowledge sharing, some material, and regular refreshing courses.
Some reassuring signs regarding sustainability are already visible:
- Precise requests from the listeners to broadcast some programmes twice or more;
- The number of messages received regularly by SMS from the trained women;
- Five self-help groups have opened their account at MC² BANKA;
- Two self-help groups have applied for credit at the Gender Program Credit of the Ministry in charge of Women’s Affairs.
- Considering the quality of our programmes, Radio FOTOUNI offered to continue the broadcasting for two more months for free.
How does this project help alleviate poverty? First of all, women remain in survival activities – meaning poverty – because they lack the knowledge to practice trades in a professional manner. That knowledge is provided to them in this project through radio-based learning on relevant subjects that have been identified during the field investigation and group discussions. The project improves their access to information that can be beneficial for their activity and subsequently their wellbeing.
Women also remain in poverty because they fight as individuals. Creating a network that permits them to combine their efforts will reinforce them, and exchanges within the network will enrich the members.
Even if the real impact of the project will not be more perceptible for at least six months, we think it is necessary to reinforce the seeds of sustainability to ensure a positive impact.