Women's IT Sector Enterprises

Case Study No. 3


Rodwel Foundation Women's Cooperative: IT Training in Zimbabwe

 

Case Study Author

Gladys Mabaso, Enterprise Manager rodwel@telco.co.zw

 

Enterprise History

The Rodwel Foundation was formed in 1996 and registered as a women's cooperative by ten women who pooled their finances to find the initial capital required (about US$650). This purchased one PC, a printer and a photocopier. Another computer was donated by TIPS-UNDP. At this stage they had no modem. The intention was to train other women in the use of computers and their benefits.

 

Initially there were five employees four women and a man. By 2002, this had gone down to three because of financial problems but by 2005 it had increased again to six plus Mrs Gladys Mabaso, the Director/enterprise founder, making six women and one man altogether.

 

Enterprise Profile

Currently Rodwel has one telephone, four PCs, two printers and a 56K modem. The software used is Windows 95, Pastel Accounts Version 4, and Internet Explorer.

Rodwel offers short training courses ranging from a basic "Introduction to Computers" to training in specific applications such as MS-Word, Excel, Pastel Accounts, etc. It also offers training in e-commerce, international trade using the Internet, and the International Computer Driving Licence. The enterprise has also started offering Internet services to the community for those who wish to surf the Web or simply send and receive e-mails.

 

The short courses in IT are mainly aimed at individuals. Members of cooperatives, support groups and other upcoming entrepreneurs are trained in e-commerce through workshops.

 

Customers are mostly local women, usually unemployed housewives, who range from semi-literate to literate. Customers are also drawn from school leavers and young adults seeking computer literacy before securing employment or venturing into business. Curriculum vitae and project proposals are typed for these clients. For small companies, secretarial services such as typing are offered. (In addition to its IT work, Rodwel is involved in activities such as business consultancy services and training in handicrafts.)

 

Four of the five female staff are employed full time, one as an administrative assistant, one as a teacher/trainer and two as instructors/technicians. The teacher/trainer delivers the short IT courses; one of the instructor/technicians teaches e-commerce, small business management and use of the Internet; the other trains people on Internet use and assists those wishing to use the Internet.

 

There are two other members of staff, a man and a woman, both employed part-time, who teach City and Guilds Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses in Information Technology.

 

Enterprise Performance

The number of staff and value of sales have gradually increased since 2002 when three people were employed and the total revenue from the computer training and typing services then being offered was US$2,400.

 

In 2003 the number of staff grew to five and the total revenue from IT training, computer short courses, Internet and typing services was US$5,350. This growth may have been linked to the acquisition of a modem and the organisation's new ability to access the Internet.

 

In 2004 the number of staff rose to six. Revenue again increased, from e-commerce and IT training, computer short courses, Internet and typing services, and now equalled US$8,000. IT training (excluding the introductory courses) made the largest contribution to revenue (US$4,800), followed by typing services (US$1,600), introductory computing courses (US$1,300) and Internet access (US$480). This resulted in a profit of US$5,600.

 

In 2005 monthly income is running at US$1,470 and monthly expenditure at US$880, giving a monthly profit of U$590. E-commerce is now the highest earner, closely followed by IT training (generating US$530 and US$470 per month respectively). Typing and short courses continue to make significant and growing contributions (at US$240 and US$200 per month respectively) but revenue from Internet access seems to be proportionally less important than in 2004 (at US$33 per month). In 2005, salaries are the largest item of monthly expenditure, at US$530 per month, followed by maintenance at US$130. The other expenses (in decreasing order of size) are rent, stationery, phone and electricity.

 

Main Success Factors

1.      The level of training of employees, all of whom are well trained in information technology, e-commerce and entrepreneurship.

2.      A centrally located premises, easily accessible by all clients, customers and students.

3.      Offering services at an affordable rate to the community.

 

Main Benefits for Women

1.      An improved standard of living. Most of the women involved were not employed prior to joining Rodwel and now earn a net salary of around US$88 monthly.

2.      Raised levels of skill and training as the women are periodically sent for further training and refresher courses in their IT fields.

3.      Greater interaction with people from other communities and cultures via the Internet and the telephone. This has been a benefit to the women members of the cooperative society (and their customers) rather than to the women staff members: the cooperative members are now able to market their homemade crafts (from knitting, crocheting, weaving, pottery, etc.) to a broader market by using ICTs and networking with different organisations on the Internet.

 

Main Negative Impacts or Risks

1.      Being seen as deviants from social and cultural norms because of having broken into a male-dominated industry. Information technology is considered a male domain in Zimbabwe hence the women are viewed as intruders. Examples of problems caused by their entry into this 'male domain' include: failing to access funding from many financial institutions because of the belief that women are incapable; problems finding trained personnel as few are prepared to be employed by women; generally being viewed as 'intruders' by men already in the business since many believe it is their exclusive preserve.

2.      As noted, raising capital and funding has been difficult, as financiers are reluctant to fund women's projects especially in the IT field. The women have had to pool together what little personal resources they have at the expense of their families.

3.      Introducing the Internet to people, and so exposing them to different cultures, has been a risk as it is considered to lead to cultural decay and loss of tradition.

 

Good Practice in Management

1.      Employing staff who are skilled in IT and so ensuring the provision of good quality service to the community. Ensuring staff receive further training as and when necessary.

2.      Purchasing the best equipment they could afford. The computers used, though few, are quite reliable and efficient and have been able to cope with the demand so far.

3.      Advertising the enterprise in local newspapers, periodicals, posters and brochures. This has made the enterprise well known to the target market.

 

Main Challenges

1.      There was the initial challenge of getting IT skills as the initial members of the cooperative society lacked knowledge and expertise; e.g. particularly in more technical aspects such as installing, repairing and servicing ICT equipment.

2.      Finance is a second challenge given the limitations of funding (when PCs now need updating) and the increasing cost of overheads such as rent.

3.      Given expansion of business, the current Resource Centre is becoming too small; it needs to be enlarged or replaced with larger premises.

 

Case Photograph

 

Case Details

Author Data Sources/Role: Enterprise Founding and Management Role

Region: Southern Africa Start Date: 1996 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/rodwel.htm September 2005