After graduating from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris, Rokhaya Solange Ndir joined Sonatel, the incumbent telecommunications operator in Senegal, in 2004. Firstly in marketing, where she worked on the mobile prepaid go to market strategy; and then in Corporate Social Responsibility. Today, she is head of relations with the digital ecosystem within Orange Senegal. She also takes care of the m-Women programme, which promotes digital as a tool for women’s economic and social inclusion and empowerment.
“Senegalese women are traditionally entrepreneurial. They must now dare to put themselves forward into the world of ICT, where they can be the source of great success, as evidenced by the Linguère Digital Challenge!”
Rokhaya Solange Ndir, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Orange Senegal
“The Linguère Digital Challenge is a competition dedicated to women’s digital entrepreneurship. It was created in 2015 as an extension of the “Women and digital” stakeholder dialogue. The purpose of this dialogue was to promote the financial empowerment of women and encourage them to start businesses in the ICT sector. Even though there are many women entrepreneurs in Senegal, few fully embrace digital technology or take advantage of new technologies.
The Linguère Digital Challenge aims to inspire new women’s initiatives by rewarding and giving greater visibility to female business leaders in the ICT sector. It is achieving its objective: in 2015 there were 20 candidates, increasing to 41 in 2016, and 107 in 2017. We hope to reach 200 applications this year.
Prizewinners are selecting for their innovative use of digital communications channels in their start-up’s business activities, their tangible social and/or environmental impact, and their viability. Every year, even more cutting-edge and high quality projects are presented to us.
Since the first edition, winners have gone on to achieve great success. One such example is the start-up Yaay (opens in a new window), the 2015 winner and community of digital mums, which today lies at the heart of Sonatel’s m-Women strategy. Another is Les Gourmandises de Karelle (opens in a new window), a culinary blog that provides content to Orange. AwaleBiz, Les Gourmets and Dakar Lives, the three 2017 prizewinners, will also no doubt enjoy a bright future!
I hope that these successes will encourage women to invest in the digital world, which is still very male-dominated, even if women are welcomed. Senegalese women need to understand that they can take ownership of ICT and start their own business. They’ll benefit from lots of support: from associations and networks, and from the most experienced experts mentoring the newcomers… just dare to begin!”
AwaleBiz is a Senegalese start-up that has designed an e-commerce platform for small producers of art, crafts, beauty and well-being, African fashion and agri-food products. It aims to expose talent by giving producers global visibility and connecting them with international buyers. We talk to Nafy Diagne, founder of AwaleBiz, who won 1st Prize at the 2017 Linguère Digital Challenge.
“We have to be bold, gain in confidence, take advantage of opportunities… and above all innovate!”
Nafy Diagne, founder of AwaleBiz, who won 1st Prize at the 2017 Linguère Digital Challenge
How did the idea of AwaleBiz come about?
After graduating with an engineering degree in France, and after spending 17 years in Europe, I conducted a study on African IT for Ericsson, my employer at the time. I found that globalisation enabled Senegalese and Africans in general to access products from around the world, while local products were not available online. Local entrepreneurs, artists and artisans needed a digital boost! Following a two-year study, I created AwaleBiz (opens in a new window), a pan-African e-commerce platform for marketing local products locally and internationally. Today, 80% of buyers are outside Africa. Local producers and artisans can reach a global market via AwaleBiz! We’re also working to develop the local market by studying the buying needs of local consumers.
What motivated you to take part in the Sonatel competition?
My delivery partner is DHL, and its Director of Operations strongly supports my project and encouraged me to apply. And of course, I hope to strengthen my relationship with Orange, so why not through a partnership!
What advice would you give to women looking to start their own ICT business?
E-commerce, which is just starting to take off in Africa, will generate 75 billion dollars by 2027: so now is the time to invest in this market and launch local and global initiatives. Women must be bold, gain in confidence, take advantage of opportunities… and above all innovate! We can’t give in to the temptation to reproduce something that already exists; we have to come up with a brand new idea.
Ramatoulaye Diallo Cisse founded Les Gourmets , a Senegalese start-up that created an online sales platform for food products. Its goal is to help busy women save time by allowing them to centralise their purchases and have them delivered quickly and simply. Les Gourmets won 2nd Prize at the 2017 Linguère Digital Challenge.
“We have to stop talking about ‘women’s entrepreneurship’, as it implies that entrepreneurship is inherently male!”
Ramatoulaye Diallo Cisse, founder of Les Gourmets and winner of the 2nd Prize at the 2017 Linguère Digital Challenge
How did your project come about?
In 2014, I started offering a Facebook page for home deliveries of meat and poultry ordered by phone. A year later, I launched my first full e-commerce site, Les Gourmets (opens in a new window), and also extended the range of products to meet customer demand.
Did you encounter any difficulties?
Yes, several: entering the male-dominated butchery market, overcoming the reluctance of customers who are used to hand-picking their products, finding local and high-quality suppliers, ensuring an unbroken cold chain…
Why did you take part in the Sonatel competition?
I had evolved my strategy and it was perfect timing for my project. Winning this prize is a ‘quality label’ for validating my initiative. Now I’m starting to target professionals such as caterers and restaurants. This means I have to ramp up in terms of scale, increase my volumes, reorganise my sourcing, and recruit a salesperson…
What advice would you give other women looking to start an ICT business?
Don’t be afraid of failure, and above all don’t skip any steps: you have to progress slowly, learn, and secure success… But also stop talking about ‘women’s entrepreneurship’, as it implies that entrepreneurship is inherently male!”
Dakar Lives is a digital community that aims to promote Senegal in terms of its culture and landscape to locals and tourists. This creative platform and cultural hub was developed by a Senegalese start-up. Olivia Ndiaye, co-founder of Dakar Lives, which won 3rd Prize at the 2017 Digital Challenge 2017, tells us more.
“The competition is a chance to develop and create new tools while increasing our visibility”
Olivia Ndiaye, co-founder of Dakar Lives, which won 3rd Prize at the 2017 Digital Challenge 2017
Can you describe how you started out in a few words?
Dakar Lives (opens in a new window) is the story of four creative friends, who opened a common Instagram account, not to highlight themselves, but to showcase the beauty of their country and take a fresh look at the places known to local Dakar people. The initiative generated a lot of enthusiasm. An entire community formed around the hashtag #dakarlives. People living in other countries wanted us to extend the initiative, and companies asked us to promote their establishment, so we became the ‘reference tour guide’. Today, we’ve expanded to Morocco, Togo, Mali and Guinea Conakry. Success arrived before the start-up!
Why did you take part in the Linguère Digital Challenge?
Initially, we wanted to do everything ourselves. Today, we need funding to grow and develop new tools, and we also need to increase our visibility. The competition offered us both!
What’s your main objective for 2018?
Firstly, finish the app and offer it to our community. Then, consolidate our business and expand our reach into new countries.
What advice would you give to women looking to start their own ICT business?
Act with sincerity! That’s what turned our passion into a start-up… and a profitable business. And don’t hesitate to take advantage of personal development and use women’s support networks to gain in confidence and self-assurance.