Top 10 recommendations for reaching women with mobile across low- and middle-income countries

Drawing on our research and work with operators and other partners across Africa, Asia and Latin America over the last decade, we have distilled 10 key recommendations for reaching women with mobile.

While our recommendations are based on our experience working closely with mobile operators, we anticipate this guide will also be useful for other organisations offering mobile-related products and services to women in these settings, including other industry players, policymakers, NGOs and the development community.

Our 10 recommendations are grouped into three main areas, providing a summary framework approach to reach female customers with mobile.

Click a recommendation below for more information.

Include a focus on female customers at the organisational level

1

Set gender targets that are endorsed and communicated by leadership

1
1

Set gender targets that are endorsed and communicated by leadership

  • Set a tangible numeric target to encourage action

  • Ensure the target is endorsed and communicated by senior leadership

  • Link to existing strategy and targets

Recommendation in action

Mobile operators have made formal public commitments to reach women with mobile internet or mobile money as part of the GSMA Connected Women Commitment Initiative. Each Commitment includes a letter signed by a senior sponsor setting a target percentage of female customers to reach by 2023.

Learn more

The Commitment was very useful as it led us to put more focus on female acquisition. This is also driven by our parent company Axiata Group, which provides an additional influence.

Shahed Alam, Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Robi Axiata, Bangladesh
2

Nominate an appropriate department to champion reaching female customers and involve the wider organisation

2
2

Nominate an appropriate department to champion reaching female customers and involve the wider organisation

  • A commercial department usually leads, involving others across the organisation as appropriate

  • When the lead department is CSR / corporate affairs, involve the commercial side of the business from the outset to help amplify impact and longevity

  • Collaboration across the organisation is crucial

It frequently happens that Consumer [commercial] and CSR work together and all products are eventually under commercial departments.

African mobile operator

Understand the opportunity and challenge of reaching women

3

Get on top of your data, but don’t let a lack of quality gender data prevent you from taking action

3
3

Get on top of your data, but don’t let a lack of quality gender data prevent you from taking action

  • Analysing gender-disaggregated data helps reveal the opportunity and challenge of reaching women, and the impact of operator action

  • Ensure existing data is fully utilised

  • Improve the underlying availability and accuracy of gender data, e.g. strengthen collection at registration, use customer call centres to document gender, and use machine-learning tools

  • A lack of quality gender data should not delay leaders from setting bold targets to reach women and taking action

Recommendation in action

Operators can use machine-learning tools such as our Gender Analysis and Identification Toolkit (GAIT) to estimate customers’ gender based on call patterns and other behaviour of a known customer sample.

Learn more

My advice to other operators would be to know the data. If you are not aware of what is going on — what is the share of women, how they use the product, etc. — you cannot do anything. You need to be conscious about the gender gap to build something.

Abdirahman Shire, ZAAD Services Manager Telesom Somaliland

Our core mission is to connect everyone for a better future; the reason why we invest extra efforts in our KYC to get better gender insights on our customer needs and quality gender data.

Anaiah Bewa, Executive Head of Corporate Affairs Vodacom DRC
4

Understand both women’s aspirations and challenges in your market

4
4

Understand both women’s aspirations and challenges in your market

  • Invest in consumer insights research

  • Combine with an analysis of internal data

  • Interview customer-facing staff

  • Access free third party data

There are 5 common challenges across low- and middle-income countries that prevent women from owning and using mobile phones:

1

Access

Women are less likely than men to have access to formal identification, agents and handsets.

2

Affordability

Women are less likely to be able to afford handsets, data plans and transaction fees.

3

Relevance

Women are less likely to believe that mobile products, services and content are relevant to their lives.

4

Knowledge and skills

Women are less likely to be literate, have confidence in their digital skills and have an awareness and understanding of mobile.

5

Safety and security

Women are less likely to feel safe when using a mobile handset and mobile internet.

Recommendation in action

After Grameenphone Ltd. conducted user experience research on its GPAY app, it introduced design changes that helped increase the proportion of its female customers from 12 per cent to 19 per cent.

Learn more

My advice would be to really understand the drivers of usage that lead to a gender gap in order to address them. When we conducted our research, we realised that women were more likely to receive money than send money.

Yvette Ces, Head of OTC Marketing and Customer Experience Wave Money, Myanmar
5

Establish the commercial opportunity from the outset, at both an organisational and project level

5
5

Establish the commercial opportunity from the outset, at both an organisational and project level

  • Women are half the potential market, and an important commercial opportunity

  • Without a business case, the scale and sustainability of activities to reach women will be constrained

  • Operator initiatives to reach women need to be both commercially sustainable and socially impactful to succeed over the long term

  • Establish the commercial opportunity at both the organisational and project level

When our customers upgrade to a smartphone, they increase their data usage by up to 15%. Also, once a customer acquires a smartphone and starts using it for financial services, their velocity of using M-PESA also increases quite dramatically. As a business, we have seen a very straight correlation between our commercial objectives and work around connecting more women to the internet.

Charles Wanjohi, Consumer Business Unit Director Safaricom PLC, Kenya.

We realised from the start that women account for half of the population and that we can’t ignore them.

Abdirahman Shire, ZAAD Services Manager Telesom Somaliland

Target women through new or existing initiatives

6

Ensure offerings holistically address women’s barriers and aspirations in your market

6
6

Ensure offerings holistically address women’s barriers and aspirations in your market

This framework shows how the key barriers and aspirations that women face in your market should be considered at all stages of product and service design, marketing and distribution:

Product and service design Marketing and distribution • Access • Affordability • Revelance • Knowledge and skills • Safety and security Barriers Aspirations
Product and service design Marketing and distribution • Access • Affordability • Revelance • Knowledge and skills • Safety and security Barriers Aspirations

Recommendation in action

As part of their Maisha Ni Digital Initiative, Safaricom’s low-cost smartphone offering focuses on the key barriers preventing Kenyan women from using mobile internet: affordability, digital skills and relevance.

Watch video

My recommendation would be to identify the opportunity and barriers and work hard to reduce the barriers.

Agnes Kinga, Head of Terminals Safaricom PLC, Kenya
7

Consider whether adapting your mainstream products could reach female customers effectively rather than developing female-specific ones

7
7

Consider whether adapting your mainstream products could reach female customers effectively rather than developing female-specific ones

  • You do not have to design female-specific products and services to reach women effectively

  • Most of the offerings successfully attracting female customers at scale are mainstream, and either purposefully consider women in the design, or naturally appeal to women disproportionally

  • There are fewer examples of products and services designed specifically for women

  • Consider adapting mainstream products to reach women, through design, marketing and distribution

Recommendation in action

Reliance Jio’s JioPhone addresses many of the barriers to smartphone ownership and mobile internet use that disproportionately affect Indian women.

Learn more

Some commercial initiatives such as loan or savings may resonate more with women given the role they play with their family, friends and in society.

Anaiah Bewa, Executive Head of Corporate Affairs Vodacom DRC
8

Proactively ensure your marketing and distribution are tailored to reach women as well as men

8
8

Proactively ensure your marketing and distribution are tailored to reach women as well as men

  • Operators that do not purposefully consider reaching women as well as men during marketing and distribution activities are likely to inadvertently exclude many potential female customers

  • Standard mass marketing approaches typically reach more men than women, and speak to men and their aspirations more than women

  • Without proactive efforts to the contrary, distribution networks tend to be male dominated

We always have a female character in our communication campaigns. We also make sure that our communication campaigns are very educational and simple, with practical life situations most women can relate to.

Anta Sylla, Head of Marketing Orange Money, Senegal
9

Incorporate women in distribution activities to influence and onboard female customers

9
9

Incorporate women in distribution activities to influence and onboard female customers

  • In many settings, women are more likely to trust and feel comfortable talking to other women, especially where the role of men and women are very different

  • Recruit women to influence and onboard other women (e.g. agents, merchants, local influencers)

  • Widespread evidence suggests that female agents are more appealing to women customers

Recommendation in action

MTN Ghana is accelerating female merchant payments by recruiting female merchants in open markets where women represent the majority of buyers and sellers.

Learn more

Trader associations are the most important local associations to work with. Each market has a Market Queen who can be an influencer.

Ruth Badoo, Senior Manager MFS Operations and Service Delivery, MTN Ghana

I would have two pieces of advice for an operator wishing to increase women’s uptake with mobile money: (1) Focus on the foundation, by relying on a solid agent network. Enabling this foundation is key to build an impact. And women only can have a similar language with other women. (2) Ensure you have quality and educated female agents. Marketing aspects like product relevance, ease of use, pricing, visuals, etc. will come in handy once you have the distribution in place.

Airtel Money team Airtel Rwanda
10

Consider using partners to extend your reach or bring complementary strengths

10
10

Consider using partners to extend your reach or bring complementary strengths

  • Operators are successfully partnering with other industry players, banks, NGOs, research agencies and governments to successfully reach female customers

  • Partners can bring complementary strengths, resources and expertise

  • Partnerships to reach women are proving successful across different types of activities, including design, marketing and distribution

Recommendation in action

MTN Uganda has partnered with the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) on its MoKash mobile money savings and loans product. The CBA was responsible for the technical elements of the design, including setting the loan interest rate. As a market leader, MTN Uganda brought its large customer base and led the marketing and communications activities. MoKash has improved access to formal financial services for women and delivered strong commercial returns.

Learn more

The role of partnerships in our journey has been phenomenal. We have made use of partnerships, including financial service providers, agents, and women-led groups and organisations.

Godwin Mashiri, General Manager Econet EcoSure, Zimbabwe

Google came on the journey with us because we had shared objectives to get more smartphones into people’s hands and grow data usage.

Charles Wanjohi, Consumer Business Unit Director Safaricom PLC, Kenya

Webinar on Demand

Listen to Dominica Lindsey, Senior Director of the Connected Women programme and author of the report, present the key findings and recommendations in this webinar.

Top 10 recommendations for reaching women with mobile across low- and middle-income countries

The Connected Women Programme is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and is supported by the GSMA and its members.

Font Resize
Contrast