Women's IT Sector Enterprises

Case Study No. 1


Building a Women's Digitisation Business: Pandora Box in Maputo, Mozambique

 

Case Study Author

Fernanda Cabanas, Partner and General Manager (panbox@mail.panbox.co.mz)

 

Enterprise History

The two women founders of the small enterprise "Pandora Box" had been working for nearly twenty years trying to rescue dying libraries in Mozambique and becoming disillusioned because, due to lack of funds for staff, any initiatives tended to fail after just a few months.  In 1997, they decided to try to leapfrog this problem by digitising documents and delivering them direct on CD-ROM to the users.

 

They looked around for a product and selected the official government gazette (Boletim da Republica); which contains all laws and regulations of the country.  They looked around for support but found difficulties.  The public sector was rather suspicious since there was a culture of secrecy about information, and a lack of comfort in dealing with the private sector.  Donors did not see sufficient demand, nor did they see the fit with particular sectoral interests (agriculture, fisheries, etc) that they might have.  In the end, then, the project had to be undertaken with family savings.  They also relied on the goodwill and understanding of their husbands.

 

It took visits to ten libraries to put together an (almost) complete set of the gazette.  The founders then travelled to South Africa to find a scanner that could scan from a loader at 25 pages per minute.  However, there were immediate problems – the musty old pages of the gazette kept jamming the scanner.  They weren't allowed to unbind some borrowed volumes, and so had to go back to using a flatbed scanner.  In all some 35,000 pages were scanned, followed by days and nights of checking image files for quality control and creating PDF bookmarks and links to facilitate access.

 

By mid-April 1998 they had burned 6 CDs containing all gazettes from 1967 to 1996.  A few clients prepaid so they could cover the costs of replicating 200 copies.  A launch ceremony was held, attended by clients, just a few government officials who had collaborated, and no donors.

 

By 2000, they had created a searchable database with summaries of 12,895 pieces of legislation published in the gazette since Independence, classified by subject keywords.  Sales are slow because the market is tiny and costs are necessarily high in Mozambican terms but step-by-step a community of users is building.

 

In 2004 they opened an "Internet Cafe with contents" where all their CDs are made available.  Those who cannot afford to buy the CDs can search, retrieve and print the information they need, paying only for the time they spend using the computer.

 

Enterprise Profile

In total 19 staff are employed full time, of whom five are men.  The 14 full-time women employees range in age from 22 to 61 and are highly qualified.  Nine are graduates, including one PhD and one Masters; the others have professional qualifications.  Areas of expertise include information management, information systems, computer science, law and, perhaps less predictably, psychology and forestry.  Nine other staff cover data entry, production, customer care, maintenance and support services.

 

Pandora Box has one server, 15 PCs, ten landline telephones and one mobile. Software used includes CDS/ISIS – Winisis, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Flash Macromedia, PixEdit, FineReader and FileOpen

 

The enterprise does data entry work but also IT training and web design. Data entry it its main activity and, as explained above, it repackages local data for distribution via CDs and internet. Examples include:

·        A database of laws and regulations published since Independence in the Official Gazette

·        Database of companies registered in Mozambique

·        Laws and regulations relating to the family

·        Statistical data from the National Institute of Statistics such as population census, HIV/AIDS in Mozambique, etc

·        Export/import information on Mozambique products

·        Official results of Presidential and other legislative elections

·        Human Development Report of Mozambique produced by UNDP

·        Income tax data (for individuals and institutions)

 

Enterprise Performance

In 2004 total sales amounted to US$175,000 including 243 CD collections.  The volume of sales has increased since 2002 but the value has decreased because, once CD sales had covered the costs of preparing the information, the enterprise reduced its prices by more than half.  Because of the heavy investment in the Internet café a loss of US$25,000 was recorded that year.

 

Currently income is running at $12,000 per month compared to monthly outgoings of $10,000.  The enterprise operates without any subsidies.

 

Main Success Factors

1.      Quality and reliability of products – a team of proofreaders double check every product to ensure the fewest possible errors.

2.      Refusal to become engaged in locally prevalent corrupt practices such as bribing contractors. The enterprise is known for its honesty.

3.      Good working environment where all staff are able to speak openly, the environment is cooperative and people enjoy their work.

 

Main Benefits for Women

1.      Monthly salaries averaging US$350.

2.      Acquisition of excellent IT skills by local standards.

3.      Flexible working hours – staff work an eight-hour day of their own choice within a twelve-hour period.

 

Main Negative Impacts or Risks

1.      Inability to afford to retain trained staff, who move on to better-paid IT jobs in other organisations.

2.      Small market size for IT-related products in Mozambique, hence the risk associated with investment in any new digitised product, which might not be recouped.

 

Good Practice in Management

1.      A participatory approach: involvement of staff in the decision making process, weekly team leader and team meetings, chatroom-style electronic communication between all workstations enabling questioning, clarification and document distribution.

2.      Investment in training, both through regular courses and on the job which enables staff to cover in each other's absence.

3.      Honesty and openness, for example, reducing prices of CDs once initial digitisation costs had been met

 

Main Challenges

1.      Small size of the local market for IT-related products but the focus is on growing local market so as to help Mozambique rather than entering global market as it appears donors would prefer.

2.      All software documentation being in English when Mozambique's official language is Portuguese – time must be allowed for translation.

3.      Shortage of good marketing skills.

4.      Corrupt expectations of potential partners. For example when discussing potential public—private partnerships money may be expected 'under the table'.

 

Case Photograph


 

 


Case Details

Author Data Sources/Role: Enterprise Manager Role

Region: Southern Africa  Start Date: 1997  Submission Date: March 2005


The "Women's ICT-Based Enterprise for Development" project is coordinated by the University of Manchester's Institute for Development Policy and Management.  The project is funded by the UK Department for International Development's Knowledge and Research programme.

 

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 http://www.womenictenterprise.org/pandora.htm  August 2005