Women's IT Sector Enterprises

Case Study No. 7


Joint Female-Male Creation of a Cyber Café in Ile-Ife, Nigeria

 

Case Study Author

Soriyan Hettie, Information Systems Researcher/Practitioner hasoriyan@yahoo.com

 

Enterprise History

The cyber café was established in 2002 by two academics who had lived abroad for a number of years and wanted to meet some of the communication needs in Ile-Ife; a city in South-Western Nigieria.  They conducted a local feasibility study and got more ideas from Lagos.  Realising that the venture was capital intensive and the interest on bank loans was too high, they decided to bring on board a number of people to raise the financial base.

 

A group of three families came together and met for several weeks.  Two of the families paid part of their contribution to the venture.  They decided to start small, sharing the facilities with another cyber café in Ile-Ife.  All the details seemed to be sorted out.  But just after most of the equipment had been purchased, the third family that had yet to contribute stopped attending meetings and carrying out most of their agreed responsibilities so one of the other two families had to take on these tasks.  When this third family was asked at a meeting to state clearly if they were still interested they decided to opt out and eventually the second family also said that, since they had invited the third family to join in the venture, it would not be appropriate for them to continue either.  They then asked for their initial capital to be returned.

 

The family that had contributed the most decided to continue but was not in a position to return the deposit until the business had taken off (that was agreed and the money was in fact repaid in 2003).  The remaining family took soft loans from friends and the cyber café started operation in 2002.  At the time, there was only one cyber café in Ile-Ife.  All the technical details were handled either by the original family or friends who required only a token payment.  30 personal computers were purchased from the US, the network was designed, and all the cables laid and terminated.  The communications mast was constructed by iron casters, and installed once the line of sight had been established.  The lightning/thunder arrestor was also installed and electrification of the site completed.  The servers (billing, printer and proxy) were installed as was the radio.  The switches were put in place and all connections completed and tested.

 

After the network was established tests showed that it was too slow and reflectors were needed at both ends (the site and the Internet service provider (ISP)).  These were ordered from the US and installed a few weeks later.  Then the venture took off providing Internet services to the public in the Ile-Ife area.  The initial capital was estimated at US$45,000.

 

The phone uses a Max 4 gateway.  The hardware includes personal computers and printers, telephone boxes, switches, masts, Motorola radio, scanner, webcam, and a fax machine.  The software includes a billing software package (Café Pro) and a virus scanner (Norton).

 

Enterprise Profile

The enterprise is owned by a man and a woman who also manage it jointly with one other male employee.  At inception the woman owner/manager purchased all the hardware (computers, peripherals, network cables, clips, clipping tools, RJ 45, etc), and supervised the business set-up (designed the network cabling, and supervised the laying of the network cables, and carpentry work such as tables and partitioning).  She is now in charge of hiring staff, with input from other members, and actively participates in problem solving and management decisions.  The day to day operation of the enterprise is handled by the other male employee.

 

Five women are employed full time together with three more men (two full- and one part-time) in the enterprise.  These female staff essentially assist the customers in accessing the Internet, surfing the web, sending and reading email messages, transferring and saving files, Internet telephoning, and sending or printing fax messages.  They also print tickets for the customers.  They purchase net-2-phone credits from the representative in Lagos.  They also maintain the systems, switching them off and on, and updating the files.  If the system slows down, they check for viruses, and also that they can check the radio on the mast by pinging the radio both at the site and the providers end.  They also check to ensure the volume of bandwidth consumed is as requested.

 

The female co-owner has a PhD, one of the women workers has a High National Diploma from a Polytechnic, one an Ordinary National Diploma in Computer Science, and the remaining three have High School certificates.

 

Enterprise Performance

The enterprise has grown since being established in 2002 with four male staff.  In 2003 it expanded and took on about 50% more staff with another smaller increase in 2004, of mainly women staff members.  There is a high staff turnover but now there are never less than nine including part-timers.

 

A loss was incurred in the second half of 2004 (though a small profit was still achieved over the full year) due to a thunderstorm that destroyed the radio and a number of systems, and later electrical power problems.  The power generator was replaced in December 2004.  On average, the average monthly value of sales in 2004 was US$3,375.

 

Salaries are the largest expenditure (currently US$7,200 a year) but in 2004 this was almost equalled by the cost of replacing damaged equipment (US$6,750).  Power, equipment repairs, printing materials, international phone cards and bandwidth cost are the other costs.  There is no external financial subsidy; this is a privately-owned small enterprise.

 

Main Success Factors

1.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>Management's involvement in the day-to-day running of the establishment and their strategy of leading by example (mentoring).  The quality of interpersonal relationships.

2.      <![if !supportLists]>The composition of the management staff, and the willingness of every member of staff to understand the technicality of the business.</SPAN><![endif]>

3.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>The enthusiasm of the staff, especially the women, to overcome limitations imposed by the organisation and by society.  For example they are encouraged to take decisions as the need arises although most women have not been trained to take on such responsibilities.  Social limitations include difficulties for women working late at night and a tendency to consider them too weak for jobs such as climbing masts and unfit for technical tasks such as switching on the power generator, etc.  Their enthusiasm to overcome such limitations may be as a result of the encouragement given by the management since, although there are established management positions, the ethos is not hierarchical.  Anyone can cover for anyone else.  When one person is not available, someone else takes the initiative to cover any gaps.

 

Main Benefits for Women

1.      The opportunity to work and earn money in a traditionally male-dominated business.

2.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>The opportunity for self development and the acquisition of IT skills.

3.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>The fact that wages are not gender-dependent but determined by educational level.  For example, a female with High School educational level starts on the same amount as her male counterpart.  One of the women earns US$720 per year.

 

Main Negative Impacts or Risks

1.      The male chauvinism present in the enterprise's early days.

2.      </SPAN><![endif]><![if !supportLists]>The risk of l</SPAN><![endif]>osing their jobs to men especially when they were in the minority and it appeared the men were more confident on the job.  This was particularly evident when the business was threatened by the thunderstorm and the subsequent electrical power problems.

3.      Social constraints such as some Muslim customers preferring to be assisted by men despite the women being able to provide such help.

 

Good Practice in Management

1.      The management style is participatory.  Anyone can suggest changes to the operation of the cyber café.  Suggestions are then addressed at a meeting and accepted or amended collectively.  For example, in 2004 there was a series of problems with the ISP, so the staff suggested early in 2005 that the management should purchase a VSAT for the café.  Also in 2004, another café emerged a few metres away and the staff took the initiative to visit it as customers to assess its facilities without the managers even knowing.  Based on their visit they suggested improvements to the services e.g. more uninterruptible power supplies and the purchase of a new generator to provide a smooth service when the national electrical power fails.  All these changes were initiated by the staff.  Night browsing was something the owners did not wholeheartedly desire but since the staff wanted it, the management ratified it.  The café is run with the underlying concept that everyone has a stake in it.

2.      </SPAN><![endif]><![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>Staff empowerment – creating an enabling environment for men and women.  There is no discrimination against any member of staff, male or female.  The exception to this was that, when night browsing was initiated, the owners suggested that no female staff be allowed to be on night shift.  The men who participate are paid a commission, a percentage of the tickets sold for the night, for working through the night.

3.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>A policy of openness which means that all the café documents are available in designated files for any staff or anyone with questions to read.  For example, the daily sales are on file and records are kept by one of the staff in the system.  But the system is open to all and the operations are transparent.

 

Main Challenges

1.      The technical nature of the job

2.      <![if !supportLists]></SPAN><![endif]>The need to regularly update their ICT knowledge to respond to customer requirements.

3.      <![if !supportLists]>Making decisions that affect the organisation.

 

Case Photograph

 A woman member of staff checking information on a PC for a customer

 

Case Details

Author Data Sources/Role: Enterprise Advisory Role

Region: West Africa  Start Date: 2002  Submission Date: March 2005


The "Women's ICT-Based Enterprise for Development" project is coordinated by the University of Manchester's Institute for Development Policy and Management.  The project is funded by the UK Department for International Development's Knowledge and Research programme.

 

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 http://www.womenictenterprise.org/ileife.htm  August 2005