The women swapping shops for smartphones


The BBC profiles three African women – a former shop owner, a teacher and a taxi driver – who have boosted their income since they embraced digital platforms.

The coronavirus pandemic forced many people to rethink how they earn a living.

Independent research group Caribou Digital has found that women in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana are benefitting from the digital economy’s low barrier to entry and flexibility – which allows them to earn their own money while maintaining childcare duties.

Short presentational gray line

Short presentational gray line

Sharon Tarit

Ms Tarit (pictured above) did not expect to double her income in nine months.

The Covid pandemic had forced the closure of her baby clothes shop in Eldoret in western Kenya, and subletting properties through online platforms like Airbnb seemed like a handy stop-gap measure.

But Ms Tarit, 29, is now among a growing number of African women finding new careers using platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and ride-hailing apps like Uber and Bolt.

She launched her business with one property nine months ago and now has seven – taking on long-term rent agreements and subletting on Airbnb.

“I’m making much more money than the business I had before the pandemic,” Ms Tarit told BBC Business Daily.

People who use her business are mostly tourists booking holiday accommodation and business people who would rather stay in an Airbnb than a hotel.

“During Covid a lot of my friends lost their jobs and started using digital platforms to earn money. Now they are selling groceries online and working as delivery drivers,” Ms Tarit said.

Josephine Adzogble

A normal day for Ms Adzogble, 32, starts by posting adverts for products on WhatsApp and Facebook from her home in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

She is taking advantage of one of the biggest shifts in the African economy – the rise of online market places.

She sells mobile phones, air-conditioning units and televisions by advertising and posting on groups she has made on WhatsApp and Facebook, as well as existing ones such as her church group.

Ms Adzogble gave up a job teaching French to concentrate on her online business.

“It pays better than teaching. I can sell one item and earn more than a month teaching. I am a mother. I need to give my children the best education possible and they motivate me to get my financial independence,” she said.

For Ms Adzogble, building strong relationships with customers is key to making money online.

“That way they will buy from you and give a good review,” she said.

Ayobami Lawal

Ms Lawal, 34, works for ride-hailing firms Uber and Bolt in Nigeria’s main city, Lagos.

However, it has not been easy – the single mum of four said some men refuse to be driven by a woman.

“When I started driving taxis in Lagos all the men canceled their trips when I arrived to pick them up,” Ms Lawal said.

“Lagos is a bit rough and you have to be very strong to drive around the town. Men don’t think I have the strength. I have to convince them to get in the car,” she added.

The study by Caribou Digital also found that many women using digital platforms to earn a living worry about their safety.

“A lot of the women we spoke to said they have been sexually harassed when picking up rides,” lead researcher Grace Natabaalo told the BBC.

“While governments young women to take up this work they need to recognise the other side – that there are dangers and they should be taken seriously by the police and encourage government departments,” she said.

But Ms Lawal said the positives outweigh the negatives.

“It’s important to earn a living for yourself but also I want to contribute to the wider economy by paying taxes. I want to grow myself and Nigeria’s economy,” she said.


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