Out of the Norm: myAgro Breaks Down Barriers to Serving Rural Women

Designing financial products and services that address gendered social norms is not only a win for rural women – it’s also good for business. This is one key takeaway from myAgro’s recent experience in Senegal, where early results from two new pilots suggest that by breaking down normative barriers, the social enterprise can drive up enrollment amongst women and grow its customer base. 

Beginning in June 2022, myAgro partnered with CGAP to investigate why women's uptake of its agricultural input layaway services in Senegal lagged behind its operations in neighboring Mali. What we found was that sociocultural norms dictating household decision-making, agricultural activities, and financial behaviors often prevent rural women in Senegal from accessing formal financial and agricultural services such as those provided by myAgro. In response, CGAP supported myAgro to design and launch two pilots aimed at addressing these gendered social norms. The pilots remain ongoing, but early results provide important insights into how companies can more effectively serve rural women.

Women’s savings groups can provide a safe space to try new services

For rural women in Senegal, informal savings groups – known locally as tontines -  provide a safe and familiar place to gather with their peers and save for business investments and other important expenses. Indeed, according to Findex, more than 40% of female adults in Senegal save with informal savings clubs or a person outside the family, while only 6% save using a formal financial institution. With over 16,000  savings groups gathering a total of 407,000 members (95% women) throughout the country, savings with informal groups are estimated at over USD 12.6 million.

myAgro flyerFor myAgro, savings groups not only offer an opportunity to leverage existing savings behavior but also provide a trusted space for women to be introduced to and try new services without interference from men. So, with CGAP’s support, myAgro decided to test a new approach that allowed women’s groups to sign up and save together for packages of inputs, while also benefiting from personalized agricultural trainings. The pilot was launched in early 2023, with myAgro introducing group savings in six villages in the Kaolack and Gossas zones of Senegal. The results from these villages were then compared with six neighboring communities not included in the pilot.

The pilot revealed that informal savings groups not only provide a safe space for women farmers to learn about new services and save and invest together but also offer an opportunity for myAgro to build upon existing savings behaviors and encourage regular contributions to layaway accounts. Across the four-month pilot, 624 women enrolled in at least one myAgro package and 79% finished their package payments. In the six villages where the new approach was introduced, the female enrolment rate was two times that of the control villages. Overall, these villages saw a six-fold increase in women enrollees compared to the previous year. 

Feedback from women farmers suggests that savings groups, where women already feel comfortable saving for personal and business needs, are a natural fit for myAgro's layaway-based approach: “I am really happy that myAgro asked us to collaborate with them, especially because their approach follows our existing habits," remarked Coumba, a leader of the ‘Bok Jom’ savings group.

“I am really happy that myAgro asked us to collaborate with them, especially because their approach follows our existing habits"

Coumba, leader of the ‘Bok Jom’ savings group

Finally, the pilot demonstrated that using savings groups as a forum for trainings tailored to women's needs and preferences was key to driving women’s interest in myAgro’s services. Whereas myAgro has traditionally held community-wide trainings that include both men and women, the pilot included three events specifically focused on female members’ farming interests, including trainings on bissap (hibiscus) transformation, the peanut market and best practices for peanut processing and packaging, and how to coordinate their activities through the creation of an economic interest group. Interestingly, 90% of women enrolled after just the first training. Women told us that they appreciated the opportunity to have fun with their peers and myAgro representatives, while also developing new skills that could help them to grow their farming activities and incomes.

Enlisting men as allies is critical to shifting attitudes toward women’s economic participation

While women’s groups offer myAgro a way to work around gendered social norms by meeting women where they already are, the company also recognized the need to work directly with men to shift how they view women's roles. In Senegal, men are important stakeholders and decision-makers in the household, and their attitudes and perceptions play a critical role in women’s economic participation. 

A Senegalese couple stand outside their home
Photo courtesy of myAgro

Recognizing the need to secure men's buy-in, myAgro set out to develop and test key messages aimed at convincing men of the benefits of women working with myAgro. To this end, myAgro combined qualitative interviews with 36 men and a quantitative phone survey with 168 existing male myAgro clients in the Bounkilling and Kaolack zones to test two hypotheses: 1) men will support their wives' participation in initiatives that bring benefits to the family, and 2) men will not object to their wives working with myAgro if the products offered are "female-oriented" (e.g., vegetable gardens or chickens) and do not compete with men’s own agricultural activities. 

Men contacted as part of the phone survey were presented with a set of messages and then asked whether they would agree to allow myAgro to approach their wives with product offerings. The messages tested included: i) positioning myAgro as a way for women to play a greater role in contributing to households expenses, ii) explaining how women's activities can help reduce the burden on men to provide for their families, iii) pointing out how women's production can help families to cope with increasing costs of living, and iv) describing women-focused packages that do not compete with men's activities.

Surprisingly, all of the messages we tested proved successful, with over 80% of the men surveyed providing their wives’ phone numbers and giving myAgro permission to contact them. Men particularly appreciated being consulted before a myAgro sales agent approached their wives, and appeared open to messaging emphasizing the important role women can play in supporting their households.

The results suggest that when men see women in their households as partners in income generation, they are more likely to support women’s decision to enroll with myAgro. The key was to position women’s earnings as contributing to their families’ well-being rather than individual profit. Indeed, the most successful messages – with 87% of men agreeing to allow their wives to enroll — emphasized the difficulty men face in financially supporting their families and how improving women’s incomes can help relieve their burden while also providing more resources for their families. “It's a good idea to include women in agriculture because life has become expensive,” observed one male farmer after myAgro explained the benefits of his wife using their services. 

“It's a good idea to include women in agriculture because life has become expensive"

Male farmer

Higher enrollment and package completion rates demonstrate the business case for tailoring services to the needs of rural women

In Senegal, women comprise 70% of the agricultural workforce and are responsible for producing 80% of the agricultural yield. Reaching myAgro's goal of supporting 1 million people out of poverty by 2026 will require investing in women's agricultural livelihoods. And meeting the needs of rural women is also good for business: myAgro's internal data suggests that across its operations in Senegal and Mali, women are 10% more likely to finish paying for their input packages compared to men. This means that women represent a significant, yet largely untapped, market opportunity for companies like myAgro. 

By addressing the gendered social norms that dictate women’s financial and agricultural behaviors within the community, myAgro is increasing enrollments and opening up a promising new pathway towards scale. Our experience in Senegal offers important lessons for how financial and agricultural service providers can work within social norms by leveraging women’s trusted social networks, while also tackling norms head-on by enlisting the help of men within communities.  

Sub-topics: Women

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