Is Selling Mobile Phone Airtime Really Entrepreneurship?

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Ooredoo and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women made a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to enable 30,000 women by 2016 to become entrepreneurs by selling prepaid Ooredoo airtime to their communities. They will equip each woman with a business kit containing a mobile phone, promotional materials, and an operating manual. The women will also receive hands-on training on how to run their businesses.
When I first head this, I was quite skeptical. I didn’t see how selling airtime was really entrepreneurship, versus a survival tactic when employment options were rare to nonexistent. Yet, research by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and GSMA mWomen convinced me otherwise.

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In “Women Entrepreneurs in Mobile Retail Channels: Empowering Women, Driving Growth“, they make a clear case for women’s participation in the mobile value chain and the benefits of such participation both for mobile network operators and for women entrepreneurs.
When we interviewed women participants in the MVC, clear benefits emerged which outweighed the risks. While the profit from the small-scale selling of basic mobile products is not adequate to provide a livelihood, it is helpful as a supplement to other commercial activities due to the steady demand for these products.
Monthly income generated through mobile sales varied across markets, but ranged from USD42 to USD298. Selling mobile products is also a relatively simple business with low barriers to entry, providing women with an easy opportunity to gain experience and business skills as independent entrepreneurs.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Myanmar as these women become more business savvy and the government starts to notice the huge impact all these businesswomen will have on their communities. It will be even more interesting when government and NGOs start to think creatively on how to leverage the mobile channel as a service delivery mechanism.