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Using Mobile Technologies to Close the "Access Gender Gap"

In my work with Wireless Reach, our mWomen initiatives have always been important to me. These programs have confirmed for me what I have long thought to be the case: that for many women in developing economies, there is no shortage of ideas and ambitions that are needed to succeed, but that women suffer from an “access gender gap” —they lack access to business skills, education, technology, networks and capital.  I believe that mobile can help women close this access gender gap by linking them with tools, mentors and opportunities to create new ways of communicating, doing business and delivering services.

For this reason, I was excited to participate as a speaker at the Global Summit of Women, where like-minded women and men who are passionate about maximizing the potential of women travelled from all over the world to Kuala Lumpur for a discussion on ways to advance the economic success of women worldwide. 

At the event, I shared Qualcomm’s experience in implementing mWomen initiatives such as our Mentoring Women in Business program in Malaysia, where we work with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Foundation for Women’s Education and Vocational Training, and Maxis, to connect women entrepreneurs in Malaysia to a community of skilled business professionals and entrepreneurs around the world. These mentors provide information, advice on marketing, business and technical skills, and are able to guide the Malaysian entrepreneurs in their ventures. Through the program, mentees receive a Snapdragon®-powered tablet with complementary 3G connectivity that they can use to access technology training and share information through their e-mentoring platform. The program enables these women to become more confident and independent, build digital literacy, access new information and prospective markets, and improve their incomes.

After almost a year of running the program, we have gathered positive feedback from both the mentees and the mentors and have been overwhelmed with the project results.  Of the mentees who responded to our last survey, 92 percent reported that their mentoring relationships were having a positive impact on their businesses. More than 80 percent of women indicated that they improved their ICT and English-language skills and 90 percent reported improvement in their confidence and knowledge of technology. As a result, we are planning to extend the program to an additional 50 mentees in 2013.

One of the mentees of the Mentoring Women in Business program, Aini Othman, joined representatives from the project partners and a number of local journalists for a group interview around the Global Summit of Women. It was interesting for me to hear about her experience as a mentee and how she was able to turn her idea into an actual product and launched her skin care business in February this year with the help of her mentor. In the course of a year, they worked closely together to develop a business model, business registration, marketing plans, website, and the actual launch of Aini’s brand. She told us that the program also helped her build her ICT and communication skills, which enabled her to develop an online presence for her business.

Micro-entrepreneurs like Aini are small business owners, which in developing countries, contribute greatly to economic development. A report from the GSMA shows that in places such as Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia, micro-entrepreneurs generate 38 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Micro-entrepreneurship takes tremendous confidence and effort, and through this process of establishing a business and running it, individuals are empowered and enriched by this experience.

While some progress has been made, I know that we still have a long way to go to close the gender access gap. Unfortunately, research shows that a woman in the developing world is 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than her male counterpart. And in Southeast Asia it is even higher—women are 37 percent less likely than men to own a phone. There is still an incredible opportunity to address the mobile phone gender gap. However, I left Malaysia feeling inspired after hearing from so many influential public sector and business leaders and being surrounded by more than a thousand people with a common goal to maximize opportunities for women and unlock their potential.

For more information on our Wireless Reach initiative, please visit our website. Take a closer look at the Mentoring Women in Business program in Malaysia on our website and video.

To apply to be a mentor for the Mentoring Women in Business Program, please visit: http://www.cherieblairfoundation.org/mentoring/.

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