THE BLOG
11/21/2014 01:50 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

Financial Inclusion: A Powerful Agent for Strong, Inclusive Growth in Development

Education creates a strong foundation for women entrepreneurs because it aids in the development of critical thinking and is one of the most effective ways to expand opportunities for women and their daughters.

The World Bank estimates that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) represent 51.5% of GDP in high-income countries, as opposed to 15.6% in low-income countries. At the same time, 47.2% of GDP in low-income countries comes from the "informal" or micro-enterprise sector, which is more often the realm of female entrepreneurs. Building the micro-enterprise sector and creating additional economic access and opportunities for women entrepreneurs will increase economic development, lead to a rise of human capacity and achievement, reduce poverty and spur full gender equality in Nigeria.

Institutional research performed by the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) demonstrates that women-owned businesses are often excluded by micro-finance organizations and commercial banks, despite having proven themselves capable of sustaining revenue streams. Nigeria's women entrepreneurs require training to build their business development abilities and financial management capacities if they want to be included in the financial sector. In 2014, with support from MasterCard, YTF expanded its Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services initiative providing financial capabilities and business skills training to 1,800 women entrepreneurs in the "missing middle" with the goal of giving them new ways to enter the financial services business.

At YTF, we invest in youth, as they have the longest productivity cycles and are co-creators of powerful ICT solutions. Likewise, we invest in women, many of whom are the economic pillars of the communities that we serve. For over 14 years, Youth for Technology Foundation has equipped women entrepreneurs in the Small and Growing Business (SGB) segment in Nigeria with technology and entrepreneurship skills. YTF's strength lies in its ability to assess entrepreneurial needs, access business opportunities, create and implement best practices training programs, and provide needs-based custom instruction that empowers youth and women to rise out of poverty. YTF understands that technology has a role to play in bridging the economic and financial divide separating so many Nigerians from each other. Additionally, addressing the financial literacy of women empowers them to make their own financial decisions, which YTF does through its innovative entrepreneurship and ICT-based programs. Financial literacy is needed not only to improve women's management of their personal and business finances, but to empower them to choose and access appropriate financial services and products while managing their entrepreneurial activities. Only 26% of Nigerian women may have a formal bank account (World Bank, 2011), but YTF's programs aim to increase that number significantly.

YTF's training programs in business and financial capabilities skills have inspired the creation and expansion of over 9,500 women-owned businesses in Nigeria. Since 2012, when the Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services initiative was first launched, YTF has implemented over 400 business skills and financial capabilities workshops, training 3,500 women entrepreneurs across four industries: wholesale/retail, light manufacturing, social services and hospitality. For the entrepreneurs involved, the training has paid off. With an average of 74.5 customers per week, 93% of them have reported increased business activity, 18% have expanded through satellite/secondary businesses, 78% feel more confident in hiring additional employees, 97% have improved their book keeping practices and 90% feel more empowered within their households and communities.

In a recent survey conducted by YTF, results showed that 97% of women entrepreneurs in the Nigerian states of Imo, Akwa Ibom , Abia and Rivers will very much encourage their grown-up daughters, close relatives or friends to pursue entrepreneurship as a career, fueling the next generation of women entrerpenuers.

On November 19, we celebrate Women's Entrepreneurship Day, but one day is not enough to give these women their due. Women's Entrepreneurship Day is representative of a wider, richer, and far more enduring movement to empower and support women entrepreneurs worldwide. That includes women entrepreneurs like Abia State's Mrs. Esther, the owner of Goshen Decorates, who shared with me memories of how other women entrepreneurs mentored her as she built her business, and why she now donates her time by organizing programs to pass skills on to young girls in her community. It includes women like Imo State's Mrs. Chika, the owner of Decency Paints, a paint manufacturing company, who recalled how difficult it was to hire her husband, and how resentful her family became about "giving her husband responsibilities." These women are doing it against some of the most difficult odds in the world, including stringent gender biases, without a supportive entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Women entrepreneurs lead the way in fueling Africa's economic expansion. They are a dynamic force in transforming their communities and driving growth, both on the continent and elsewhere in the world.