In the rural town of Ajasse Ipo, located in the Kwara State of Northern Nigeria, the local economy is built on the backs of industrious women who farm smallholdings of maize, cassava, and rice. Situated 50 km from the nearest major city, these women lack proximity to necessary infrastructure, such as consistent electricity supply and reliable roads, which hinders them from accessing the types of markets and services that will allow them to grow their annual output and expand their agri-businesses. This is a common narrative for Nigeria’s agrarian economy, given that women manage 70 percent of its smallholder agricultural production and processing. In recent years, Nigeria has seen significant investment into its agricultural sector, yet only about 10 percent of this capital is available to women farmers, symptomatic of a broader issue for women-led micro and small enterprises (W-MSEs) across Africa that face a gender financing gap of USD 42 million.

Two smallholder women farmers hold potatos
Two smallholder women farmers that are part of the HerVest network

While the emergence of digital platforms over the last decade has improved access to markets, knowledge, and capital across Africa, social barriers often preclude women from realizing these benefits and impede access to the critical services that women entrepreneurs need to build a profitable business.

As part of our ongoing work to enable women entrepreneurs to access digital marketplaces, Accion Advisory partnered with HerVest Nigeria and New Faces New Voices Nigeria, two organizations that are developing innovative approaches to address the market access, skills, and financial service gaps currently faced by women entrepreneurs.

HerVest seeks to address the skill and gender finance gap in rural agricultural communities by strengthening the knowledge and skillsets of over 30,000 women in agriculture and retail trade businesses, providing funding opportunities and enabling access to markets. To develop a sustainable model for accessing markets and buyers, HerVest determines the aggregate demand for a given cycle and offers input capital alongside tailored training to a network of women microentrepreneurs recruited through community savings groups and sector-specific cooperatives. HerVest empowers women entrepreneurs with the information, skills, market access, and capital they need to overcome the social and geographic barriers to economic prosperity.

New Faces New Voices (NFNV-Nigeria) works with women entrepreneurs across multiple sectors to build the digital literacy and technical skills required to succeed in a digital economy. Research conducted by NFNV-Nigeria found that 67.9 percent of women entrepreneurs adopted digital technology as a necessity for their business following the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing usage of digital channels led NFNV-Nigeria to develop tailored capacity-building programs and mentorship workshops for women entrepreneurs across the agriculture, small-scale production, hospitality, fashion, and textiles sectors across Gombe, Kebbi, and Oyo States in Nigeria. Through partnerships with service providers and financial institutions, NFNV-Nigeria equips women entrepreneurs with the knowledge, product offerings, and networks to navigate the digital ecosystem.

Accion Advisory’s collaboration with HerVest and NFNV-Nigeria advances our Digital Women Entrepreneurs Marketplace Enablement (WEMEN) initiative, which seeks to develop an ecosystem of partners that serve W-MSE in areas like Ajasse Ipo with limited access to the internet, marketplaces, and financial services. For partners like HerVest and NFNV-Nigeria, the initiative offers:

Partners can use these programs to complement their in-person training programs with sector-focused content on maximizing the potential of entrepreneurs, business management tools, and digital literacy development.

A woman is sharing insights during a session in the room
A digital skills training session held by NFNV-Nigeria for women entrepreneurs in Birnin Kebbi city, Kebbi State

Working with these two institutions to expand and enhance their existing capacity building and digitally enabled services has provided some learnings that are crucial in better adapting these solutions to the needs of underserved women entrepreneurs.

Rural W-MSEs in Nigeria expressed a desire to embrace digital solutions so it becomes imperative to equip them with the capabilities to overcome the social and economic barriers restricting their adoption to-date.   

Capacity building, through tailored sessions that cater to the various languages, norms, scheduling requirements, locations, and digital maturities is far more likely to strengthen relationships and reinforce learning among beneficiaries.  

Partnering with local partners across multiple service offerings will allow program beneficiaries to engage with the product or service that best fits the needs of their business and household. A multi-partner approach allows us to pool expertise, resources, and offerings and strengthen the overall value proposition for women entrepreneurs.

The initial phase of the pilot project benefitted over 350 women supported by both institutions. Among them, 57 percent are smallholder farmers who actively participated in capacity-building sessions focusing on financial services and agri-business best practices and were onboarded to the HerVest ecosystem, leveraging various channels to access financial and value-added services. Seventy percent of which are now benefitting from agri-off-taker services which provide them with a guaranteed market for the season’s produce, and 45 percent have accessed credit facilities through HerVest.

HerVest’s partnership with Accion for the Digital WEMEN Program catalyzed our commitment to empowering women farmers and W-SMEs with relevant training and skills to make informed financial and agribusiness decisions.

Solape Akinpelu, CEO, HerVest Nigeria

Concurrently, New Faces New Voices has been working with 43 percent of the total program participants, predominantly women entrepreneurs in general trade, micro production, and services, to provide capacity building, business management support, mentorship, and access to digital banking and savings products. Through the project, 124 women entrepreneurs were onboarded onto Accion’s LolaDigital edtech platform, where 68 percent of participants continued their self-paced learning by completing at least one educational module.

Over the next six months, the pilot project aims to reach more women entrepreneurs within our partner’s ecosystem while monitoring key impact metrics on the growth of each participating W-SME.

The women’s enthusiasm and resilience to put in practice the learnings from NFNV-Nigeria’s training curriculum and Accion’s Lola Digital platform have provided a booster to our work in helping women entrepreneurs participate in the digital economy.

Haijya Aishatu Debola Aminu, Country Director, NFNV-Nigeria

As our Digital WEMEN initiative continues to grow, Accion Advisory is collecting feedback from clients and building a knowledge base that includes data insights, research findings, and beneficiary success stories that will enable this work to be replicated across contexts and benefit women entrepreneurs like those Ajasse Ipo.

If you would like to learn more about Accion Advisory’s Digital WEMEN initiative or our other work in women’s economic empowerment, please visit our page or contact us below.

A phone shows the LolaDigital training application, developed by Accion for women entrepreneurs to gain critical skills and knowledge so they can grow their businesses
The LolaDigital training application, developed by Accion for women entrepreneurs to gain critical skills and knowledge so they can grow their businesses.

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