For many households in Kano, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their fortunes in ways they never imagined possible. The pandemic and the attending restrictions to curtail its spread exposed many, especially the women, to business opportunities they never thought possible without huge capital, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Today, small businesses – even one-person “social sellers” – can run as global entities, thanks to the growing availability of inexpensive digital tools that allow them to source, ship, deliver, pay, collect and visualize other key aspects of their operations. The fast-developing e-commerce ecosystem, which includes marketplaces, payment gateways and online logistics is helping to reduce barriers to trade across borders.
In Nigeria, the rise of e-commerce among women (particularly in Northern Nigeria), is closely linked with the Corona Virus pandemic, where the aftermath of lockdown and job losses made a lot of people take a closer look at their skills, and find ways to become their own bosses.
A report by the World Bank noted that in a broad number of emerging markets, companies that take part in global trade are also more likely to employ more women than others with more traditional, male-dominated business models. Female participation in the labour market, in turn, co-relates strongly to societal gains in health, education and overall prosperity.
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In the same vein, the International Trade Centre (ITC) says four out of five small businesses engaged in cross-border e-commerce are women-owned, while just one in five firms engaged in offline trade is headed by women.
This is in addition to being the mothers and wives the culture and religions want them to be, especially in the North West and North East, where it’s largely known that economics is a male-dominated area. But as luck would have it, young female entrepreneurs are now breaking the glass ceiling and proving their mettle by using digital platforms to their advantage.
Daily Trust on Sunday spoke with founders of four inspiring small-scale businesses, who were able to turn their passions into businesses and really thrive, despite the additional obstacles they faced as young women in the Hausa community.
Many entrepreneurs stumble upon their business by accident, but not Mariya Alhassan Isah (Mrs. Saminu). The fortress she is building was a clear dream in her mind from its inception, and it all started with her love of hair care and the passion to help women transform their lives. Yet, her discovery of her talents in sales was quite by demand.
“I have always loved the idea of hair care and mixing natural ingredients that can improve and aid hair growth. Initially, the plan was to post hair-care/growth tips and remedies on the internet for people who are interested in hair growth to try at home. The demand for the formulation grew and so my best friend and I decided to start selling hair growth oils online, and then named the business Sabmar Hair Growth Products,” she said.
Another entrepreneur, Zainab Aminu Bakori, a chef and baker who runs Emgees_seam Empire, said she was inspired by her mother, who is a great cook.
“I learnt almost everything I’m selling from her. She is the type that doesn’t like sticking to one type of food everyday, and almost every weekend there is a specific snack she’ll make for the family. So, from there I memorized almost all the recipes she makes for us.
“There was a day we were travelling to Kaduna for my cousin’s wedding, and chatting excitedly, then one of my aunts started telling us how things went awry between her and a chef that was supposed to prepare the wedding snacks because the price he gave her was outrageous. That’s when the rest of the them suggested that I should start the business. And that was the beginning of this glamorous journey,” she said.
Maryam Muhammad Garba is another entrepreneur in Kano State, and her story is quite different from the rest, as it all began with the Corona Virus pandemic lockdown period.
“During the Covid-19 days, I was at home lazying around. So, I came up with the idea of starting an online fashion line as there was lockdown everywhere. It’s a very difficult journey to date, but we keep pushing because the business is still not at its peak in Northern Nigeria,” she said.
Zahra Halilu on the other hand said she started her business she called Dessertparlour because she wanted to be her own boss!
“It started 6 years ago as a passion, and I have already started working towards opening a bakery in Kano.
For many others, the starting point has not been as smooth as others, but doggedness and passion has kept them afloat and the opportunity of the digital space has kept them creative.
Mrs Saminu explained that she invested N200,000 at the start and it proved to be successful.
“So far, the business has been and is still growing; it started as a small-scale production and distribution, but now we have about five distributors in five different states in Nigeria who also sell our products online.
“Now, we have customers in virtually all states in the country as well as overseas in countries like Ghana, Mali, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
“In Kano, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna where we have distributors, delivery is made within the states with dispatch riders, while across Nigeria and outside Nigeria we use courier service.
Bakori on her part explained that she “began by posting some pictures of the snacks we made at home and my contacts were amazed, and placed orders. But before then, I enrolled into snacks and baking school for more lessons, and how to go about the business aspect.
“The first step of that journey was very rough, because I felt like giving up. Do you know why? Because I can go for a whole day or sometimes weeks without anybody buying from me. And then, there will come a time I’ll have orders for 7 days in a row that I would have to reject some, especially during festivals or weddings.
“But Alhamdulillah, now I receive orders through our customers, and I try as much as possible to satisfy their needs.”
Fifty thousand Naira was all it took for Halilu as a startup but the business wasn’t profitable initially as she had envisaged until things gradually picked up and the profit exceeded her expectations.
“The hardest part is I am a student, so handling business and school is not easy at all, especially because I am responsible for handling deliveries, upgrading products to standard, and so on.
“But now, my business cuts across Kaduna, Jigawa, Abuja and Katsina, as I now offer delivery services, all thanks to the opportunities provided by the digital innovations,” she added.
Future plans for the businesses
Mrs Saminu disclosed that her business is growing steadily and winning her customers satisfaction, and that’s what actually makes her the happiest.
“I consider it a success because we started as an online store, but now we have decided to open a physical store to meet with our clients for one-on-one consultation, in order to widen our audience and increase sales.
“A lot of our customers desire more than just purchasing the products, they want to consult us about their hair growth journey too.
On her own part, Zainab Bakori disclosed that the plans she has for her business will surely make her customers happy.
“There are a lot of plans on ground that I don’t want to disclose, but it is something big, and I’m sure my customers will be very happy about it.
Many residents spoken to in Kano said they believe that at least 7 out of every 10 women on their contact lists are involved in one business or the other with WhatsApp statuses, Facebook posts majorly from the women about their products or services.