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Innovation Hub

Hot startup of the month: Nigeria's Tech Herfrica

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Tech Herfrica was born against the backdrop of a visit to an informal trader in rural Nigeria, following a conversation on how difficult trading was and how much better it could be if digital literacy was utilized.

"In January 2023, while passing a village in Nigeria, I stopped to buy food items from a woman along the road. I was surprised that buying items worth around US$100 led the lady to burst into tears. According to her, she has never sold that much to a single customer," explained Tech Herfrica Founder Imade Bibowei-Osuobeni, in an interview with Connecting Africa.

Bibowei-Osuobeni said she was shocked because the items she bought could have cost her three times more in the city where she lived.

"So, in trying to understand the outburst and the problem, I asked her a couple of questions and I discovered that although she had a mobile phone and despite the relatively strong Internet connectivity in her village, she didn't own a smartphone – even if she owned one, she lacked the skills to use it effectively. She also had no idea about the benefits of e-commerce and how this could be a game changer for her business," Bibowei-Osuobeni continued.

Tech Herfrica's genesis

With everything in the world moving digitally, digital literacy is vital for fostering economic opportunities across the continent. However, the digital divide, plus the gender gap, especially in e-commerce, has negatively impacted rural women.

To remedy that situation, Bibowei-Osuobeni created Tech Herfrica which facilitates trade using WhatsApp from Tech Herfrica's end and text messages on the trader's end.

"In a couple of weeks, we had facilitated millions of naira in trade for her, helping her boost her income. With this new income level, she was able to purchase a smartphone," she said.

Bibowei-Osuobeni said after that experience, the company refined its whole approach to be holistic, covering key elements of digital and financial inclusion, birthing Tech Herfrica and HerLocal Market.

"Tech Herfrica is a social impact organization that is striving to ensure that rural women acquire digital and financial literacy, have access to smartphones, access to financial services and digital resources that they need to trade online, to improve their income by at least 50%," the Tech Herfrica founder explained.

Tech Herfrica facilitates trade using WhatsApp from its end and text messages from the trader's end. It is also striving to ensure that rural women acquire digital and financial literacy, and have access to smartphones.   (Source: Tech Herfrica)
Tech Herfrica facilitates trade using WhatsApp from its end and text messages from the trader's end. It is also striving to ensure that rural women acquire digital and financial literacy, and have access to smartphones.
(Source: Tech Herfrica)

A key part of Tech Herfica's work is its e-commerce solution, HerLocal Market, which connects rural female farmers and traders to buyers outside their local communities.

She added that with the solution, wholesale and retail buyers get access to food items at the best prices, while rural women earn competitive prices for their products.

"Although we are in the beta testing phase of the e-commerce web applications, sales are being facilitated using WhatsApp and social media," she continued.

In addition, Tech Herfrica conducts digital and financial literacy training in local languages, and the courses have been digitized in languages like Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and pidgin English, which are pre-installed on the women's mobile devices.

The company has trained more than 500 women across the West African country.

"That supports our physical approach to training, ensuring that it reinforces their digital and financial skills, learning how to use smartphone voice features, applications like WhatsApp business and Facebook groups, banking applications, and keeping simple business records," she explained.

In a short time, Tech Herfrica was selected from more than 300 organizations to participate in the Chat for Women's Livelihood (CWL) Accelerator, led by Turn.io with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Guided by the team at Turn.io, the 18-month CWL Accelerator will enable Tech Herfica to design and develop an impactful chat service on WhatsApp that will enhance online trading for target beneficiaries," she explained.

Nigerian regulatory pitfalls

Bibowei-Osuobeni explained that because the women the company was helping lived in abject poverty, she could not envisage a situation where they could afford to pay to acquire digital and financial skills or even a smartphone.

"However, with the e-commerce solution came the need for those women to earn income, to keep the impact sustainable and facilitate trade, considering the capital-intensive nature of e-commerce," she said.

"We needed to register HerLocal Market as a business and find a way to put governance around it so that we could have investors work with us to build the model," she explained.

She said that was a bit challenging because currently in Nigeria, there is no classification for registration as a social enterprise.

"It's either a company is for profit or a not for profit; although we have resolved this dynamic, it was a challenge for us initially," she explained.

She highlighted that Nigeria's regulatory environment is not particularly friendly to e-commerce businesses, particularly small startups with limited resources. Furthermore, she believes compliance with complex regulatory requirements requires significant time, effort and investment.

Funding and expansion plans

According to Bibowei-Osuobeni, Tech Herfrica is currently funded by partners, sponsors and donors.

"On the other hand, HerLocal Market we have been bootstrapping since inception and currently manage operations through income generated from commission on sales," she said.

She said the company has been speaking to other investors and believes negotiations are at an advanced stage.

Tech Herfrica aspires to improve the digital and financial literacy of 10 million women and girls by 2030.


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"It looks like a huge stretch, but we are actively working toward our goals. Moreover, HerLocal Market services five states in Nigeria and we plan to consolidate our presence in the states we currently serve, expand to new states, and significantly improve our customer base," she continued.

"We want to continue targeting more wholesale buyers and onboard more rural farmers and traders on our platform. With our current work with Turn.io, there is some light at the end of the tunnel," she concluded.

Related posts:

*Top image is of Tech Herfrica staff members with some of the rural women they have been helping. (Source: Tech Herfrica.)

— Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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