How to narrow the gender gap in digital agricultural platforms

By Geoffrey Okidi
While digital agricultural platforms can boost farmer productivity, they also risk entrenching gender inequalities if not gender intentional. Research shows that only 25% of Sub-Saharan Africa digital agricultural platform users are women, and they are not served sufficiently.

Based on the best practices framework for incorporating gender into digital agricultural platforms developed by ISF Advisors and Value for Women (VfW) with support from Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) (December 2022), this blog identifies four key opportunities to create shared value for platforms and the women that engage with them.

  1. Embedding gender into the organisational strategy: To become gender intentional, a good place to start is for the platform to develop a holistic gender strategy, with clear objectives and targets defined using their data. This will enable the platform to unlock new market opportunities, improve organisational performance, and reach scale more quickly. The gender strategy should include key performance indicators to assess progress towards targets, and measure success (e.g., active usage, disaggregated by sex, measured quarterly; percentage of women in leadership, measured annually).With the gender strategy in hand, the platform should then develop a gender action plan, outlining specific actions that need to be implemented to reach the gender goals outlined in the strategy (with roles/ responsibilities, allocated resources/ budget, and the timeline for completion of each action).
  2. Leveraging sex-disaggregated data for better decision-making: The collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data is the typical starting point for increasing gender inclusion inside a company and through its products and services. Data can tell how many women a platform is serving, how well it is serving women, and the value being generated by women as customers and/or agents. Therefore, a systematic approach to data collection and data-driven decision-making can help platforms leverage their data for commercial and gender outcomes. Platforms can start to do this through the following:a) Target setting and prioritisation: Once a platform has defined their gender strategy and associated key performance indicators, they should establish a strategy-priorities-targets-measurement system centered around data. This will enable action on priorities.
    b) Understanding customer patterns: An important step is for platforms to sex-disaggregate existing data– such as customer ratings or satisfaction scores –to understand satisfaction levels for different sub-segments of women (and other users, such as men and youth). Platforms can also collect data through publicly available datasets, focus groups, and feedback pop-ups on the platform.
    c) Designing products: Insight into customer patterns from the preceding action can then be leveraged in the product design process. This could result in finding ‘quick wins’ (i.e., shifting land requirements from individual names to family names given barriers for women to access land) or more robust product shifts (i.e., designing products specifically for women
  3. Experimenting with women-focused innovations: Platforms can leverage their own data and industry leading practices to continuously innovate. A good place to start is by looking at the current platform offering with a gender lens to determine if there are any “quick wins” that can be achieved. Collecting user feedback on the offerings available and sex-disaggregating these findings could be helpful. Based on the context and platform model, there are promising platform innovations that provide inspiration. For example
    i. Use of in-person agents to increase registration for digital marketplaces (e.g., DigiFarm Village Advisors)
    ii. Use of interactive features, such as Interactive Voice Response technology, to make digital tools easier to use by digitally illiterate customers and to deliver capacity building and advisory to customers (e.g., Opportunity International Uganda)
    iii. Offering preferential terms to users earning income on the platform (e.g., zero registration fees, referral bonuses) as an incentive to onboard rural women customers (e.g., Jumia’s Women & Youth Empowerment Program)
    iv. Providing tailored training and services to increase the income-generating potential of women platform users (e.g., Copia’s asset financing product)Rural women should be embedded throughout the product and service design process. Concretely, this means including a representative sample of both men and women customers in market research efforts, testing prototypes with women, and collecting sex-disaggregated feedback.
  4. Increasing income generating opportunities for women as service providers: Evidence shows that women tend to be successful field agents. An IFC study of agent transactions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (May 2016) found that women were significantly more successful than male agents in terms of volume and value of transactions. The abundance of platform field-based positions provides a unique opportunity for women to integrate into more formalised labour, expand their earning potential, and pursue a career that works with their household responsibilities and personal aspirations.Of note is that capacity building is key to supporting women who earn an income on the platform. Tailored support could include:
    i) Providing digital literacy training,
    ii) Training on how to use the platform,
    iii) Value-added financial services (e.g., credit, insurance, or savings products),
    iv) Providing assets necessary for livelihoods earned on the platform (e.g., smartphones,
    v) Access to support networks within the platform ecosystem
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