Through EDC-Kenya, a group of 52 (28 female and 24 male) entrepreneurs established and enhanced their new or existing businesses using digital tools and online business strategies and practices. Within one project, hese concepts targeted future and current female and male business owners and under-utilized artistic talents of refugees to overcome the barriers that prevent them from self-employment while creating an empowering and technologically forward space. Alongside learning digital marketing strategies, they were trained on tools such as Canva, WordPress and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram. The 65-day program was divided into life skills training and digital entrepreneurship, where participants either created small businesses with digital components or added digital elements to their existing businesses. The training was followed by an 8-week mentorship process, which included hands-on advice from the trainers, who reviewed the trainees' business practices and external mentors. These mentors were matched with mentees based on common goals, talents, interests, and aspirations and had different expertise in digital spaces, such as social media influencers and the finance industry. These mentors provided group mentorship in areas such as general entrepreneurship and business, financial literacy, and business management skills. The needs of women refugees were explicitly addressed by providing childcare assistance and transportation fare and incorporating flexible schedules for the training.
• At least 52 trainees could actively use digital spaces (TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram) to market their newly established and existing enterprises.
• About ten new digital businesses were opened after the training, and with the majority being musicians, they were supported in having their art on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.
• Twenty-One existing businesses were improved after the training through strengthened record-keeping, online marketing and savings.
• The training was followed by an 8-week mentorship process, which included receiving hands-on advice from the mentors who gave feedback and reviews to the trainees.
2. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
Findings were collected through a baseline, midterm and final survey for participants and trainers. Feedback was collected throughout the program from the participants and those close to them, including family members and friends who witnessed the participants' growth throughout the program. Focus groups of all women, all men and mixed genders were conducted about their views on women in business and other gender-related issues and how participating in the project impacted their views on gender.
Use of social media
• Social media is a vast platform for doing business in Kenya and the world. Social media platforms such as WhatsApp, text messaging, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter are some that are currently in use. It helps in marketing, advertising, and communicating with customers. The beneficiaries of EDC-Kenya were trained to use these social media platforms to advance their business opportunities because most did not use these platforms in the beginning.
• While 100% of male and female respondents used social media before the training, most (84%) said they learned new ways to use these social media platforms through EDC Kenya training. The most common in use were Facebook (91%), Instagram (91%), TikTok and YouTube (84%).
• Women and men reported using different social media platforms recreationally (looking up news, accessing services, etc.) and when interacting with customers. Although some platforms such as Facebook, TikTok and YouTube had similar use rates, men were higher users of Twitter, whereas more women used Snapchat. These preferences will change as social media platforms rise and fall in popularity. Programs that use social media as part of their digital entrepreneurship training should keep up on how social media is used as a marketing and business tool and how women and men use them with a baseline assessment.
• Participants were trained to use social media and digital tools for various practices, including advertising, promoting products, and conducting business transactions through mobile payments. Women were more likely to have a non-traditional business (no storefront), and almost two-thirds of those businesses added digital components that most business owners said worked effectively or very effectively. Women were generally just as comfortable as men in promoting their businesses online, although more men than women said that digital tools had increased their income.
Increased digital literacy and confidence in using technology
• Participants in the program reported a significant increase in using digital devices, including smartphones, desktops, and laptops. Women were more comfortable using portable devices, such as smartphones and laptops, whereas men were more familiar and grew more comfortable with desktops and laptops. Research shows that once women own smartphones and gain confidence in using them, they use them on par with men for social and economic needs (GSMA, 2021). As smartphones become more financially accessible, programs should embed digital literacy to give women more pathways to flexible earning opportunities.
• Most respondents (63%) said they use online digital marketplaces to sell goods and services. Another 50% said they use online platforms to do the actual sales, while another 20% said they purchase their products online.
Impact of Digital entrepreneurship on creative-based businesses
• When asked if they could access livelihood opportunities in creative business ventures through the digital space, 97% of trainees answered in the affirmative. About 81% of the respondents said they have already utilized or leveraged an online digital marketplace to monetize their creative talents.
• Creative talents ranged from using platforms to advertise singing and event services, monetizing songs, music production, creating knitted or handmade goods and clothing, hairdressing, tailoring, and design work. This training program did not teach creative talents. Instead, it allowed individuals who already possessed creative skills to establish realistic expectations and strategize on how to earn an income from them.
Impact on economic empowerment and opportunities
• When looking at the monetary income of the businesses, male-owned businesses tended to be of two extremes with incomes of either Ksh. 2000- 4500 or above Ksh. 10, 000. However, female-owned businesses were more consistent, with 70% of their income ranging from Ksh. 4500-10.000.
• For the male respondents, future business prospects included electrical shops, voice coaching, and production companies. For the female respondents, these businesses included full-time singing, starting an electrical shop, voice coaching, doing nails, music production, selling clothes, and water purification businesses.
3. LESSONS LEARNED
• Seed funding. The feedback from the refugee participants indicated that economic barriers were one of the major hurdles they faced in setting up their enterprises or scaling up their businesses. Because of their status, refugees do not have the documentation to open a bank or apply for a loan, so programs should be prepared to support refugees in finding or providing start-up funding.
• ICT support. After finishing the program, participants did not have the funds to invest in the tech or digital tools needed to start or enhance their businesses. The project granted access to the training center's ICT equipment procured through the project. After graduation, CAP-YEI also continued to facilitate the mentorship network.
• Transportation fares. Transportation to and from the training center was a challenge as it was expensive and would affect the attendance rates of the trainees. A transportation fare was provided to cover the cost of travel to and from the center, which ensured high attendance rates and enabled them to practice spending from an allocated budget. This allowance also gave participants to practice budgeting, saving and accounting on a small scale.
• Gender Strategy Adjustments. After the initial gender assessment was conducted, the team found several gaps relating to inequalities for women, including a lack of awareness of digital entrepreneurship and gender issues in the community and a lack of time for women to engage in running a business or attending training due to household obligations and care work. The gender strategy moved to bridge these gaps through several different paths:
◦ Ensuring to engage men and community leaders, especially in churches or cultural hubs, to change mindsets about the importance of women's empowerment through livelihoods, including having male trainees see firsthand the capabilities of female trainees in a gender-positive classroom setting
◦ Showing e-commerce as a flexible way for women to operate a business while caring for children and households
◦ Working with local childcare facilities and costs to allow female trainees to attend programs o and providing gender equality training to trainers before beginning sessions to prepare for issues that may arise in the class.
• Gender dynamics between female and male peers. Trainers reported that male trainees were more outspoken in the beginning weeks of classes, and women felt uncomfortable speaking up in classes with male peers. However, trainers found after addressing gender issues and relationships during the first week through explicit life skills training helped both female and male participants to relax. Ongoing and structured conversations throughout the course positively impacted changing mindsets. The gender specialist was instrumental in defining and pointing out issues in gender and how gender discrimination and inequality are problematic to everyone in the family, community and the whole continent. In addition, one trainer explained how by understanding trainees' cultural practices and beliefs, it was easy to address any sensitive issue touching on gender.
• Interdisciplinary nature of the course. The training program consisted of several specialized components (i.e., digital literacy, entrepreneurship, gender equality, creative arts, and learners in vulnerable contexts), requiring instructors that can support trainees in multiple sectors. Trainers said the pre-program training in gender equality and digital tools by the Humber SME had a positive impact and gave them the confidence to deliver the course effectively; however, they found they needed to do personal research in the creative arts industry to support refugees in starting a business in those sectors. The mentorship component, which also pulled in expertise from the creative arts sector, supplemented the expertise brought in by the trainers.