“A year ago, I did a survey of my customers,” explains Patricia Zoundi Yao, founder of QuickCash and Plan International USA Global Women in Management alumna. “Less than one percent of women made up my customers. Only two percent of my distributors were women. When I realized that, it made me sad.”
Patricia founded QuickCash, a social enterprise in Cote d’Ivoire, to give rural farmers access to money transfer services. Three years ago, while working for an international money transfer company, she noticed that villagers would arrive to town after walking all day only to find the business closed. They would sleep outside because they did not have money for a hotel room. Often times, they were robbed before they could transfer their funds. Transferring funds could be an expensive proposition for villagers who were already struggling economically.
Identifying a niche, she was determined to find a way to make transferring money affordable for these villagers. After doing some research, she discovered she would need to create a new mobile phone platform. The other types of platforms that were available required internet and electricity, two things that were not consistent in most villages.
She found a platform designer and hired a team of two that began working out of her home, sharing one computer. The first year in business, they made no money. The second year, they barely made a profit and it was immediately returned into the business to pay for training and advertisement. Now, in their third year, the company is doing well with a staff of 15.
However, when Patricia realized she was not reaching women, she knew something had to change. During her time at the GWIM 65 workshop, she’s learned how to expand her business and reach more women.
Patricia understood clearly the struggles of rural women. Her maternal grandmother was accused of sorcery and thrown out of her village because her husband died before she did. She did not survive living out in the elements. An orphan at 9, her mother was sent to work for another family and eventually was promised as a second wife to a much older man. The man’s first wife, however, became very fond of her and convinced her husband not to marry her.
Eventually, Patricia’s mother married that couple’s son.
Because of her traumatic upbringing, Patricia’s mother never received an education, but she was not deterred. She wanted to make sure her 13 children were educated, so she established informal shops where she sold whatever she could to pay for school fees.
“All my brothers and sisters were educated,” Patricia said. “The oldest is a doctor, the second is an engineer, the third is a chef, I studied law, my sister studied law, another is an engineer. We all graduated from university. [My mother] would say, ‘I did not go to school, but you are going to do the best.’ When I graduated and I couldn’t find a job, she gave me a shop. From that shop, I moved on to start my own businesses. For me, my mother is my foundation of what I do.”
Wanting to ensure she was helping other women facing the same struggles as her mother, Patricia decided to design a product specifically for women.
“We did a statistical analysis of the product and realized that it was not meeting the need. We were not sure why,” said Patricia. “I never had training in gender. I never had training on how to design a product targeting a gender. I didn’t even know that existed.”
Serendipitously, Patricia received a phone call from a representative of ExxonMobil, which has generously funded the GWIM program through the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative for over a decade. The representative described the GWIM workshop and asked if Patricia was interested in applying. Fortunately, Patricia was one of the 26 participants from 18 countries that were accepted for GWIM 65, which took place in Washington, D.C. on July 18 through August 12.
The GWIM workshop is a four-week residential training that covers topics such as leadership, gender, economic empowerment programs, fundraising, project management, monitoring and evaluation, financial management, advocacy, and public speaking. While the workshop is designed for mid-career women from civil society organizations (local nongovernmental organizations, cooperatives, business women’s associations, social enterprises, etc.), their levels and areas of expertise differ. These differences provide a rich environment where the participants learn not only from the trainers and facilitators, but also from each other. The varied experiences also mean the impact of the workshop is different for each participant.
“It was something that just came at the right moment,” she said. “Every day when we finished, I had a Skype conversation with my team. I shared with them a part of what I learned. Sometimes I recorded it and I sent them the video. It is now clear to me how to design my product with gender in mind. I have already done courses in leadership, but you continue to learn because each training has specific things to learn. However, gender was something I had never done. I am now looking at how to make men a part of my product that targets women, because they are part of the women’s lives. I want to make sure they are not an obstacle for their wives to access my service.”
Patricia found that the workshop reinforced the things that she was doing well, but also helped her to identify where she could improve her business practices. One of those key areas for her was in raising funds.
“I applied for grants, but I wasn’t selected. Now I realized my mistakes, because they turn you down, but they don’t tell you why, so you continue to make the same mistakes,” she said. “But, with the GWIM training, I can see that my services were not what the donor wanted. Now, I have the tools to tailor my proposals to meet the donor needs.”
She now has a better understanding of how she can better connect women to her business. “This workshop will have impact that you cannot measure because impact will continue. It will have a direct impact on my customers,” said Patricia. “I learned from the examples provided what worked well and how to apply it. It will be a benefit for my community, but also a benefit for the country because if the community is good, it is good for all people.”
Patricia has a keen interest in seeing her country do well. And, she wants to be a catalyst to make that happen.
“I dream every day in color. My dream is to see women farmers have machines to help them have better harvests and that their children can go to school, instead of helping to plant and harvest,” she said. “My dream is to see the rural area transform. To see the people in these areas to have access to financial services, micro loans, and micro credits. And, I want QuickCash to be the transformer.”