By Ana Singh, Communication & Marketing Manager at ConsumerCentriX and Ida Ingabire, Secretariat at New Faces, New Voices Rwanda

Investing in women’s entrepreneurship is good for business and essential for socio-economic growth. Women are more likely than men to invest a higher proportion of their income back into their families and communities; yet, most women-owned businesses across Africa remain stagnant at the micro-level, unable to grow.

The reasons holding them back are well-documented. First, women are less likely to access sufficient financing to grow their businesses, greatly hindered by challenges due to information asymmetries that put them at a distinct disadvantage to their male counterparts. In comparison, men are more likely to have access to the right information, training, and guidance to inform their dealings with financial institutions and plan effectively for their businesses in the long-term.

During “business as usual,” information asymmetry makes it challenging for women entrepreneurs to keep up. During a global pandemic, when updates related to financial products or services and government measures are issued multiple times a day, the information gaps can become even more unbalanced – leaving women entrepreneurs even further behind.

In late March, our team recognized the hardship that all entrepreneurs were facing when finding the right COVID19-related information for their businesses. After noticing there was no centralized platform that housed all the crucial updates happening across Rwanda’s private and public sectors, the SME Response Clinic platform was launched to address this gap and support entrepreneurs with relevant information. ConsumerCentriX, in partnership with Access to Finance Rwanda and the Private Sector Federation of Rwanda, created the website.

After reviewing data of the SME Response Clinic platform’s performance from the first few weeks, the team immediately recognized a gender problem when it came to web traffic. Only 30 percent of all visitors were women. Read this article to learn how we closed the gap. Only 30 percent of all visitors were women. Through further examination and analysis, it became apparent that the gender gap in web traffic was a symptom of the gender-neutral content and promotion of the platform on social media.


Recognizing a Problem 

As a new platform beginning with zero followers, we relied heavily on an aggressive social media strategy. We launched a Twitter campaign and regularly targeted users on Facebook who exhibited entrepreneurial behavior and interests.

However, this social outreach strategy was not reaching women. For Twitter, a look into the data revealed that a staggering 93 percent of accounts using the campaign’s hashtag were men. While the gender gap on Facebook wasn’t as stark, men were still 73 percent more likely to see an advertisement and 80 percent more likely to engage with the content.

Two possible explanations shed light on our limited initial success in reaching women entrepreneurs in Rwanda. First, women in Rwanda are less likely to have access to phones with the internet and are less likely to be digitally literate than their male counterparts. Web traffic data indicates that roughly 80 percent of the SME Clinic website’s visitors access content through a mobile phone – putting women at a clear disadvantage.

The second barrier was the content itself as there was no particular gender lens in our early articles and videos. Instead, by producing only gender-neutral content, we were exacerbating the existing information asymmetries. We knew that we had to urgently switch up our strategy to reach women entrepreneurs with the right information to support their businesses throughout the economic downturn.

Mobilizing women entrepreneurs to access the right information for their businesses

In this video, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Governor of National Bank of Rwanda and Chairperson of New Faces, New Voices Rwanda, and Ida Ingabire, Secretariat of New Faces New Voices Rwanda, explain the barriers women face when accessing information for their businesses and how SME Response Clinic can bridge that gap.

Developing Content through Partnerships

To create more compelling and meaningful content for women entrepreneurs, the SME Response Clinic partnered with New Faces New Voices Rwanda. From their own experience engaging with women entrepreneurs, New Faces New Voices emphasized the importance of making information available online and the necessity of mobilizing women to access the knowledge through a personal touch.

Though the partnership with New Faces New Voices, the SME Response Clinic delivered new content specifically for women entrepreneurs. Once finalized, we promoted on Facebook, specifically targeting women users who exhibited entrepreneurial interests.

However, to be seen as a platform that women could trust required a more involved personal touch. We decided to produce a Facebook event specifically for women entrepreneurs. The event allowed women entrepreneurs to ask high-level government officials, including Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, a Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, and private sector leaders about new government measures in place to support their business survival and growth.

While previous events hosted by the SME Response Clinic were held in English, the decision was made to have the conversation in Kinyarwanda at New Faces New Voices’ recommendation. By using the native dialect of Rwanda, there was a shared goal to make the event more accessible for women entrepreneurs, particularly those at the micro-level.

To increase attendance, New Faces New Voices reached out directly to their member through phone calls, bulk SMS, email and WhatsApp group messages. This outreach effort then turned into technical assistance support during the event, as staff helped users who were having issues accessing the live stream video. In the end, the panelists’ star power and the hard work of the organizers paid off. Even though only women received promotions for the event, the total number of users who viewed the live session outnumbered the turnout of our previous events on Facebook Live.


Final Thoughts

The event’s success meant that for the first time since the launch of the website, we were able to achieve gender parity in our weekly visitors. In the weeks and months following the event, we have learned that we can continue to achieve parity in weekly visitors if we publish content and produce events specifically for women. If we do not publish this targeted content, the gender gap returns without fail.  While this overall shift in strategy requires more work and depends on successful external partnerships, women entrepreneurs’ benefits are too significant to ignore. In the coming months, the SME Response Clinic will continue to engage women entrepreneurs with events and relevant content for their businesses.