ITU data from 2020 show that 93.1% of the world’s population is now within reach of a 3G mobile network. Consumer pricing of mobile voice and data packages continue to decline. All of this is encouraging but the near universal coverage does not mean people are connected. ITU data from 2020 also indicate that 3 .7 billion people have never gone online and of the 4 billion who are online many find that the cost of connecting limits their engagement in the digital economy. The connectivity gap has shifted from the need to build more infrastructure to one of affordability and digital skills.
Africa continues to be the most expensive region to purchase mobile voice and bundled with 1.5 G of data1. In many developing countries achieving the Broadband Commission on Sustainable Development’s target goal of internet access falling below 2% of GNI is an unrealized vision. This is especially true for those in the lower 40% of their country’s income strata.
For women, the cost of exclusion is high. In 2021, GSMA again reported affordability and literacy as the top two barriers contributing to the 7% gap in women’s ownership of mobile phones and 15% gap between women and men’s use of mobile internet services. Outside of Asia, GSMA reports the level of smartphone ownership by women in low and middle income countries stagnated between 2019 and 2020. When women do own a phone they are more likely than men to own a basic phone, rather than a smartphone. In Sub-Saharan Africa 37% fewer women than men use the mobile internet.
We need to find ways to support women in building their economic livelihoods especially after the COVID-19 pandemic which has disproportionately affected women. For women entrepreneurs developing strategies to ease their way to smartphone ownership and mobile internet use is one way we can keep gender at the center of our recovery work. We want to understand and test solutions for addressing the affordability and skills gap - so we have designed the Smart Phone, Smart Business project.
Through the Smart Phone, Smart Business pilot project in Ghana, we will work to develop evidence and answers to 6 key learning questions:
Q1: At what level of subsidy will Ghanaian women micro-entrepreneurs opt in to smartphone ownership and purchasing of a data plan?
Q2: What digital financial behaviors will women entrepreneurs who are assisted with smartphone /data acquisition pursue?
Q3: What impacts does smartphone ownership create among women entrepreneurs in terms of: (a) Business revenues / profits, and (b) Other dimensions of empowerment
Q4: What aspects of smartphone use do women entrepreneurs find most value-add to their business?
Q5: Is smartphone usage sufficiently valuable to women entrepreneurs that they plan to pay for unsubsidized data after the intervention?
We will also look to see if women used the incorporated digital literacy content to build their digital skills and confidence in evaluating digital financial service offerings.
Working with four local partners in Ghana we will support women entrepreneurs in acquiring smartphones supported by data plans.