Editorial note: This story comes from a virtual client visit from UNSGSA Queen Máxima's virtual country visit with Côte d'Ivoire in June 2021.
In December 2016, Guillaume Gnankou planned to ring in the new year with a new dress. She saved informally, accumulating approximately 12,000 Central African CFA Franc (CFAF), or USD $16 at the time, for the occasion. With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, her thoughts for how to spend that money drifted from a dress to doughnuts—not to buy and eat, but to sell.
Born in a peri-urban area called Adjamé, a municipality of Abidjan, Miss Gnankou, now 27 years old and pursuing a Master’s degree in marketing management, originally learned the doughnut trade from her mother.
She often assisted with the business during school holidays when she was younger, beginning at 8 years old, waking up together before dawn to start the process: Go to market. Prep—water, flour, mix. Cut them up and fry them. Roll them in sugar and a few secret ingredients. Place the finished doughnuts in the display case. Sell and repeat the next day.
However, after 15 years, her mother was too tired physically to continue the long hours that selling food in a market demanded.
So, on the heels of an internship and defense of her undergraduate studies, Miss Gnankou’s entrepreneurial spirit overcame her desire for a dress. She decided to use her very limited savings, along with her experience and knowledge in the doughnut trade, to start her own business. She was able to purchase some of her mother’s equipment and invested in the necessary ingredients.
Gnank Inspiration, the name of her company, was up and running in the Abidjan neighborhood of M'pouto by 4 January 2017. Today, Miss Gnankou has grown that business to include one full-time employee and another part-time, two stalls, and offers the company's services online as well as with home deliveries through external service providers.
Miss Gnankou had long sought financing to support her business, as well as a safe place to save money. Traditional banks, however, were out of reach. After making enquiries, she determined that procedures were burdensome, questions onerous, and she did not always meet eligibility criteria.
Advans, Côte d’Ivoire’s third largest microfinance institution (MFI) with a focus on digitization, provided Miss Gnankou the opportunity to access formal financial services and build up assets. In February 2020, she opened a savings account with Advans, opting for the “mobility service” that enabled her to make deposits into the account digitally through her mobile phone. The savings account is free, with no opening fees nor monthly management fees—making it more accessible. Users of the service are required to maintain a minimum balance of CFAF 1,000.
Similar to many small businesses, COVID-19 was particularly difficult on Gnank Inspiration. The slowdown of local markets directly affected sales, eventually leading Miss Gnankou to pause services. The savings she built up via the “mobility service” helped her to weather this period.
Faced with this, Miss Gnankou also took a loan of 400,000 CFAF (approximately USD $740) with Advans in March 2021. This credit helped Miss Gnankou to restart her business, as well as to later acquire a second stall to support business expansion. Now she is back up and running, operating Monday to Saturday. Furthermore, she has grown her revenue to approximately 20,000 CFAF per day.
Looking ahead, Miss Gnankou has her sights set on graduating from her Master’s program and applying those skills to further professionalize and expand her business to new markets, with an enhanced focused on online platforms.