Bring Education to the Women: Why We Should Build Business Schools in the African Market
When I think about female micro-entrepreneurship in sub-saharan Africa, I often think about the women of Yaba market in Lagos. I wonder how they and their businesses have survived through the years and how I
When I think about female micro-entrepreneurship in sub-saharan Africa, I often think about the women of Yaba market in Lagos. I wonder how they and their businesses have survived through the years and how I can help make their businesses more profitable and sustainable. During my last trip to Nigeria, I spent a few hours buying gifts at Yaba market and engaging different micro-scale womenpreneurs. My goal was to gain insight as to how these women got started in business, how their businesses were structured and what their biggest needs were.
Unsurprisingly, many women brought up the difficulty of gaining access to loans and credit. However, I was more struck by the desire of many of these women to get an education. The conversations inspired me to think of creative ways to empower women in this market with business education.
The biggest challenge to getting formal education for many of these women was time…
I decided to dig deeper to gain a clearer understand on what could be done to empower the women, many of whom didn’t complete secondary education, but who still have a strong desire to obtain some formal education. The biggest challenge to getting formal education for many of these women was time; they simply could not leave their shops during business hours to attend class at a school that would most likely be far away.
After hours of design-thinking my way through different models, I concluded that to empower the most vulnerable of women business owners, we needed to bring the education to them—literally.
The model I crafted is a daily or weekly lunch-and-learn program in which micro-womenpreneurs leave their kiosks for 45 minutes to an hour and take business classes at a location within the market infrastructure. For this program to be successful, it had to be very skills focus and it had to be offered in a bite-sized digestible format. Many of these women manage shops, stalls and boutiques and therefore need an education that is timely, tailored and convenient.
In further brainstorming sessions, I identified four reasons why having a skills-focused business school in the market will be beneficial to small-scale womenpreneurs:
1. Timeliness and Applicability of Information
Given the focus on skills-based learning and real-time application of information, womenpreneurs can learn about how to build a budget and implement their knowledge in their businesses the very same day. Their learning is further complemented by their respective business challenges which serve as case studies from which other women can learn. Additionally, this model allows these womenpreneurs to obtain real time advice from their professors and fellow womenpreneurs
2. Creation of a Womenpreneur Ecosystem
A market-based schooling approach creates network of entrepreneurial women who come together to share business lessons, experiences and form a coalition. This creates a support system whereby women can rely on each other for support or even micro-credit. An ecosystem where women can share issues they are having in their businesses and find ways to learn from each other’s experiences promises to create trust. Women may also discover they are serving different levels of the business chain and decide to integrate or partner, thereby creating potential value to be realized in efficiency gains.
3. Convenience & Flexibility
It is difficult to convince a middle aged woman who is the breadwinner of her family to leave her kiosk for hours at a time to go attend school. However, if that education is right there in the market and is fitted into mini-educational sessions, it creates a more compelling story. Bringing education to the micro womenpreneurs creates the flexibility that has been missing in obtaining an education.
4. The Girl Effect
Many of the women I’ve seen running shops over the years usually have some help in another woman that is younger than them. Usually, it’s a daughter or a niece or a relation of some sort. Some of these relationships with younger women can be structured as apprenticeships with defined learning outcomes which further fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of the young women. Coupling that structure with formal education (right there in the market) can create a powerful domino effect for years to come.
Many of the issues women entrepreneurs face, though hard, are solvable.
A program of this nature can take many forms. There are a number of parties from the private, public and non-profit sectors who could come in as partners. The program can also be structured as a public-private partnerships. Many of the issues women entrepreneurs face, though hard, are solvable. And while education continues to be an issue, with some creative thinking we can work around the problems and modify solutions as we go along.
Nduka Nwankwo works as a buy-side investment analyst, focusing on structured debt securities. He is passionate about women’s economic empowerment, early educational opportunity and social impact investing. Nduka received a B.A. in Economics from Pepperdine University and lives in San Francisco.