Cellphones broaden business opportunities for Tanzanian women
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
What would happen if Tanzanian women who never before owned or could afford a cellphone suddenly received one?
That's the question for which Phil Roessler, William & Mary government professor and director of the Center for African Development at W&M, has sought an answer. Joining him are Brigham Young University professor and former AidData chief social scientist Dan Nielsen; Dr. Flora Myamba, the director of social protection at one of Tanzania's leading research institutes, REPOA; and select students from both universities.
The W&M contingent received backing from the Roy A. Charles Center, the government department's Sturm Award and the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR). Roessler also received a faculty fellowship from the Reves Center for International Studies.
The researchers are working with Kidogo Kidogo – Little By Little in Swahili – a social enterprise founded to reduce the gender gap in mobile phone ownership in Tanzania, where women are significantly less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Kidogo Kidogo uses proceeds from the sale of smartphone cases designed by a Tanzanian-based artist to provide cost-free mobile handsets to low-income women.
FINCA, a micro-finance organization that gives loans to Tanzanian women, joined in. Because of the explosion of mobile money—in which users can seamlessly use their phones to save and send money—getting phones into the hands of its clients would make it easier for them to repay their loans.
The project has three phases, the first of which has been completed, the second of which is about to begin.
The first phase, conducted around the city of Dar es Salaam, was implemented in the summer of 2014. Sixty women, all small business owners and market traders, were targeted.
All were interested in receiving phones because they faced constraints in communicating with customers, in getting information on market prices in neighboring villages and in being able to obtain the cheapest prices for the best-quality merchandise from suppliers.
Roessler and his colleagues used an experimental design to test the impact of mobile phone ownership. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive phones and training at the outset of the study, and the other half also received the phone packages but not until after the two-month study period was completed.