Etisalat Group, the overseas business unit of the UAE telecoms provider, has launched ‘Weena’, an entrepreneurship and financial autonomy initiative focused on African women in Benin and Togo with support from the GSMA mWomen Global Development Alliance.

GSMA mWomen aims to increase women’s access to mobile services in developing markets, targeting ‘resource-poor’ individuals who may experience low income, low empowerment, limited access to education or social isolation due to limited mobility or remote locations.

In order to reach traditionally underserved women, Weena uses a distribution mechanism of female “Weena agents”, often the most influential women within the villages, who are given point of sale materials and trained to service other women within their own communities.

“This initiative is spreading the benefits of mobile technology, raising standards of living and encouraging commerce all at the same time,” said Essa Al Haddad, Etisalat’s chief regional officer. “By targeting women in rural communities, we are helping to empower a group that can become a powerful agent of economic and social development.”

The training covers not only basic mobile products, but also more advanced services, such as mobile money, while the Weena agents are provided with an additional source of revenue through a commissioning scheme, complemented with a micro-loan to start their activities.

Through analysis of consumption and recharge patterns of female users in rural areas, Etisalat has designed a specific offer to better meet their needs, including preferential rates within their community and loyalty scheme encouraging mobile money use through bonuses.

“Etisalat is the first operator in Africa to develop a holistic and integrated initiative for low-income women,” said Max Cuvellier, senior GSMA mWomen programme manager, noting that Etisalat’s Weena initative “draws on all of the lessons learnt from existing mWomen projects, and an understanding of local dynamics” from the group’s Moov affiliates.

Weena agents will also receive virtual bonuses towards community CSR projects designated and managed by the agent in cooperation with the local operator, Moov in Benin and Togo, which will assist in investing the community’s loyalty bonuses towards the best projects.

Cuvellier added: “We look forward to helping them demonstrate the impact and the value of such an ambitious approach, both for women and for the operator, and to encouraging others to follow in their footsteps, in Africa and beyond.”

GSMA mWomen Global Development Alliance is a programme launched in October by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in partnership with USAID, Austrialian aid organisation AusAID, GSMA and Visa.

Etisalat Group’s initiative was introduced following its win of the mWomen Innovation Fund Grant from the GSMA, which a global trade association representing the interests of mobile operators.