LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES – AFRICA: Nasser Marafih, Group CEO of operator Ooredoo, stressed the importance of bringing products to market specifically targeting female users, stating that “we cannot go and develop countries and the sector we are in by excluding 50 per cent of the population”.

The executive said that his company had encountered four key challenges when attempting to boost the take-up of mobile services by women across its operations in North Africa and the Middle East: affordability, content, cultural barriers, and education and literacy.

Marafih said that it had looked at the market in Iraq, where women accounted for 20 per cent of mobile phone customers. In addition to affordability – “a family could afford only one phone, and that phone would go to the man” – cultural issues were found related to safety and security of women signing up for mobile services.

In order to address this, the company increased the number of women working at the point of sale and in call centres to manage contact with women, which also had the benefit of increasing the number of females among the workforce.

“We were able to raise penetration from 20 per cent to 40 per cent, which roughly translates to adding two million customers in a year and a half,” Marafih said.

And in Myanmar, the company has created an app to address one of the major issues in the country – maternal health. “It’s not just pushing basic services, but to push services that are useful to people. That is where content became very important,” he said.

The app has been described as “very successful in attracting women”, with more than 11,000 users.

Noting that the company has worked with partners to deliver local content, the CEO claimed “this is just the start – we are looking for other apps that drive women to use the mobile phone”.

In addition to increasing use of mobile services among women, Marafih also stressed the importance of increasing the number of females among the workplace. “We know that women understand the needs of women better. That’s why it’s important for us as an industry to employ women,” he said.