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How to create technopreneurs in Nigeria, by Harry

Njideka Harry is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Youth for TechnologyFoundation (YTF), an innovative non-profit organization focused on using the power of technology to transform the lives of youth and women living in developing countries. YTF’s strength lies in its ability to access market demands, design developmental programs and provide linkages that accelerate customized ICT and entrepreneurship training programs. Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) is doing quite a bit of work around 3D Printing and teaching this technology to youth and women to inspire STEM learning and entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
Harry has a global reputation as key thought leader in the area of ICTs and an advocate of participatory development through gender and technology. She has moderated and served on hundreds of panels in international forums and her work has been featured in world-renowned journals, books on ICT and development, in Forbes and the Huffington Post.
DOLAPO AINA spoke with Harry on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Rwanda.
Why the focus on technology and entrepreneurship?We believe that the powers; that technology has to influence sectors such as entrepreneurship are myriad. For instance, looking at an entrepreneur and how they grow their business; what tools they are using and in all this; technology has a huge part to play. And when we talk about technology in that sense, we are really looking at what is appropriate for the client. If it is women entrepreneurs we are working with, we have introduced mobile banking services to develop women entrepreneurs as banking agents. We have introduced just the basic use of mobile value-added services on the mobile devices to help them engage with their clients efficiently (to call their customers and vendors to transfer money between accounts via online banking.) The power that the mobile technology has in that respect is huge.
The focus on female business owners from the Niger Delta is based on what ?
Actually, we work across Nigeria and our offices are based in Imo State. We have worked in Nigeria for fifteen years since 2000. When we commenced work in Nigeria; our programmes were centred on youth development. But very quickly, the young people we were working with told us that the services we were providing to them, their mothers, who for the most part, the breadwinners and backbones of the families, could use a lot of the training. Whether it was as basic as digital literacy training or entrepreneurship and life skills.
Our young people actually told us, “Our mothers need this training.” We found that women are resilient and economic pillars of their families, investing as much as ninety percent of their household income back into developing their families; into their children’s education; children’s health and in creating sustainable communities.
For Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), investing in women was not a second or afterthought. It was really the smartest economic thing to do, in order to build these communities that we work in.
And when did Youth for Technology Foundation commence its work?
Youth for Technology Foundation began as a Non Profit Organisation in 2000.
What are some of the successes of this Foundation?
We have learnt a lot over the last fifteen years. We have grown and developed multi-stake partnerships across board. As an organisation, we work in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya as well as Columbia. Our impact to date (since we take monitoring and evaluation very seriously) reveals that we have reached about 1.7 million youth and women. We work across 3300 communities and we have inspired the creation of over 10,900 businesses, 3,000 of which are youth led.
Why set up an office in Columbia in Latin America?
We just started working in Columbia in 2013. The way we expand is through a well thought out social franchise model. Individuals a Eequesting to replicate our vision in their communities. What we found is that Columbia has very similar situation amongst its youth population similar to a country like Nigeria and Kenya. Unemployment rates are high, young people are graduating from schools and not going into the universities. Or not been able to have the skills set to take on vocational areas. And so, looking at the social demographics of those countries, there are very similar and we found a way to expand and deepen our work there as well.
How has the Foundation been able to infuse financial inclusion into her projects?
We provide financial literacy and business skills to women entrepreneurs in Nigeria. And we have been doing so since 2006 through our structured programmes for entrepreneurship for women. We work across Nigeria in partnership with multi-stakeholders like MasterCard. And what we do is, we provide these women with a series of types of classes. First is classroom training which is in the form of workshops where we cover everything, from how do you register your business; to how do you hire employees in the most efficient way possible? How do you expand to other locations? Also, to, how do you manage your money?
We discovered that a lot of the women we work with have a problem with keeping assets separate, so they merge all their assets, which include business and personal. So, we have done a lot of work in that space, teaching them the importance of keeping these assets separate.
We work with a lot of women entrepreneurs primarily from four industries (retail and wholesale, light manufacturing, hospitality and social services). We also work with Ministry of women affairs, other community-based organisations, opinion leaders and traditional rulers to recruit women from communities across Nigeria.
Have you had success stories from those who came to Youth for Technology Foundation?
I think people’s success (a lot of it is attributed to education). And so, we take financial education, very seriously. We have had young people and women who have come in and have grown their businesses in the way they know how but they have not been able to access capital because of their book-keeping skills and their money management skills. Being able to teach them how to manage their assets properly; how to refrain from extending credit to certain customers; or set bailer’s guidelines on how credit is extended is extremely important.
And so, we found that a lot of our women entrepreneurs that we have worked with; are more confident in their ability to access capital after they have gone through our training.
There is a video that went viral online about a lady from the Eastern part of Nigeria, which Youth for Technology Foundation was involved in. Do shed more insight on the video?
Mrs Afoma is one of our women entrepreneurs. She owns a beauty salon in Owerri in Imo State. She moved to Owerri in 2004 and became involved in our programmes about three years ago (2013). Since then, she has grown her business exponentially. She is more confident in her ability to hire and retain high quality employees, particularly female employees. When we first met Mrs Afoma, her business was all cash-based. She would extend credit to a particular customer; she would receive cash and give out cash. But since she participated in our training, she has gotten a better idea of what it means to go cashless. And for her; being a woman in this type of industry, of course, security was a key risk for her. The ability to be able to process payments, pay her vendors and suppliers using her MasterCard was a lot better for her.
What other projects is the Foundation working on?
Our work is centred in the education and entrepreneurship segments. And we have partnerships with schools, where we introduce technology as well as basic literacy and life skills with training in schools.
Looking at the holistic view of the financial space in Nigeria; we know that today in Nigeria, 54 per cent of women are financially excluded. 74 per cent of those women are under the age of 45. Another thirty four percent of these women have never received formal education. And eighty percent of them still live in rural areas. A large proportion of the women we work with fit this statistics that have been highlighted. A lot of them don’t have confidence in the banking system either because of proximity to the banking location. Also, may be due to the fact that they are in the informal industry (maybe before coming to YTF, their businesses weren’t officially registered because they were a bit sceptical of the tax implications.) So their businesses are operating within the informal economy.
And also, the issue of trust comes into play. A lot of these women use local saving mechanisms like Osusu instead of going to the bank. So a lot of our work involves education from the perspective; letting them understand that, they can trust the commercial banking system and they can build relationships and they can build their businesses side by side; so that at the long run, they would be able to access capital.
We have seen a tremendous amount of progress. We know that the Nigerian financial inclusion strategy was outlined a couple of years ago, which indicated that the goal by 2020 is to reduce financial exclusion in Nigeria from about forty six percent to twenty percent, which is achievable but we cannot do it alone. We need the support and partnership of firms like MasterCard in the private sector who have supported our work in helping us to reach these goals of educating the women entrepreneurs and bringing them up to speed. We also need the government and public sector as partners as well since no organisation or entity can do this alone.