In 2020 and 2021, we interviewed a selection of women entrepreneurs in Kenya and Nigeria who are using free tools to harness their business potential.

Gender equality is still a long way off. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report suggests that economic equality will only be reached in 105 years’ time.

While this may seem like a gloomy statistic, some organisations are doing inspiring work to speed up the process.

Last September, we interviewed several women in Kenya and Nigeria, who were users of HerVenture – a free mobile app that offers business training to female entrepreneurs. The app was invented by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, whose aim is dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries in order to close the gender gap.

Most women entrepreneurs go into business out of necessity, rather than choice. As women often have less access to formal education, and may face discrimination during hiring processes, a home-based, small-scale business provides an opportunity for them to earn money for their families on their own terms. Free apps like HerVenture, offer the perfect opportunity for women entrepreneurs to extend their business knowledge, without having to pay for, or attend a formal training.

The app features seven learning “tracks”, focusing on a range of needs, including how to launch a business, product innovation and expanding market access. Following the pandemic, a new track focusing on e-commerce was added, encouraging users to move their businesses to online platforms.

This simple app has had far-reaching effects on women, as well as their wider communities.

Wangari Mwaura, the owner of New Star Organics, an organic soap and skincare business in Nairobi, is the sole breadwinner for her family. With the arrival of a newborn baby during the pandemic, the app has helped Wangari not only to develop a stronger business identity, but also to manage the balance between her work and homelife. “My situation with a newborn baby is definitely a serious challenge but these digital tools like the HerVenture app, have enabled me to run my business and keep learning even when I’m at home and taking care of my baby.”

Wangari Mwaura arranges organic soaps that she produces in her small workshop in Kenol town, Nairobi. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

“Before [the app], we were running blind, so the app is like a light in the dark; it helps us to know what to do in business. It gives us access to tools in order to address any difficulties we may have with our businesses.” Wangari explains.

Although women own almost half of all Kenyan microbusinesses, only 9% of medium-sized businesses are female-owned. This indicates that many women may struggle to grow their businesses because of gender barriers.

“Women go through tremendous challenges, one is financial inclusion, and another big challenge is the balance between work life and homelife.” says Wangari.

Wangari Mwaura uses HerVenture to balance her books every day. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

This type of accessible and free business training provided by the app can teach individuals, like Wangari, how to manage their finances and income stream, helping them to realise their business potential.

Juliet Kathendu, another HerVenture app user, runs a roadside stall that sells fruit and vegetables in Nairobi.

“Before the app, I didn’t know much about business; but I have a good picture now. It has helped me to have courage and to move forward and know what I’m capable of.”

Juliet Kathendu poses for a portrait in her roadside stall, where she sells fruits, vegetables, and household commodities in Nairobi. Fredrik Lerneryd / Arete / CBFW

Thanks to the app’s recent e-commerce addition, Juliet has been able to start an online business, selling shoes through social media.

“Online business has really helped me, and I learned it from the HerVenture app. Now, I also sell shoes online. In the future, you won’t find me here. I will be an international businesswoman; that’s my dream and vision.” Juliet laughs.

The Foundation’s work doesn’t stop there; they have also launched a series of training and mentorship programmes across several African countries.

For Ene Adasen, owner of Ene Naturals, an organic skincare and haircare manufacturer in Lagos, Nigeria, the societal expectations of women have proven to be the biggest challenges in developing her business.

“For women, we are mothers, wives, and daughters, we have to take care of our children and family, we are burdened by these responsibilities. This is one of the greatest challenges we have; to be able to manage our homes before managing our businesses.”

Ene poses for a portrait in front of the range of organic skin and haircare products her business manufactures in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

In Nigeria, “Road to Growth” is a training and mentorship programme designed to build the business skills and financial literacy of female entrepreneurs. By using practical trainings, as well as the HerVenture mobile app, this blended learning style offers beneficiaries a range of advantages, from in-person networking, to everyday tips from the app.

Women in Africa are at the forefront of entrepreneurship, forming almost 60% of the continent’s self-employed population. Most of these women start their own businesses because they lack formal education, and a need to provide for their families. Accessible tools, like the HerVenture app and the Road to Growth programme, can help unleash the business potential of women entrepreneurs, thereby strengthening the communities they support.

Women like Ene can use the app in the comfort of their own home, while attending to familial responsibilities, and can also attend the workshops, enabling them to connect with and share their challenges and victories with other women entrepreneurs.

Ejiro Jakpa is the owner of Nicnax Enterprise, a manufacturer of healthy and affordable snacks. Ejiro’s business is a proudly women-centric manufacturer, with 50% of their sourcing from female-owned businesses. The networking opportunities offered by the programme has helped her expand her social circle and surround herself with likeminded entrepreneurs.

“It was great meeting fellow women in business and even greater meeting women in business that complimented what I do.” she explains. “Thanks to the Road to Growth training, I have developed working relationships with 3 women I met in the training.”

Ejiro Jakpa poses in front of the range of healthy granola that her company manufactures in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

Arewa Tobiloba, participant of the Road to Growth programme in Nigeria, owns of a textile design business called Adire World. The training gave her a much stronger business identity, allowing her to expand her company exponentially.

“Through the Road to Growth programme, I have learned to position my business better, communicate with the target audience, and get their attention. The growth in my business has really helped my family in many ways, like supporting them with my salary, helping people around me, and being impactful to society. I literally used to work under the sun at home, but now I have team members and a fully functioning workshop.”

Arewa Tobiloba hangs a wet fabric to dry in preparation for fabric dyeing at her workshop in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW
Female entrepreneurs of the Road to Growth programme pose for a photograph after class at the Enterprise Development Centre in Lagos. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW
Arewa Tobiloba and her staff pose for a portrait at her workshop in Lagos. Thanks to the Road to Growth programme and the training from the HerVenture app, Arewa’s business is now able to employ several staff members. Benson Ibeabuchi / Arete / CBFW

Footnotes

Text by Dana Toerien. Photos by Fredrik Lerneryd (Kenya) and Benson Ibeabuchi (Nigeria).