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Women Entrepreneurs in Africa: Overcoming challenges to boost the continent’s development and economic growth

October 14, 2017

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One of the things that African market places in sub-Saharan Africa have in common is the active presence of women, sailing food, vegetables, clothes and many other consumers’ products. Women are very visible in most capitals, playing a vital role in the socio-economic fabric of the country. Unfortunately, their economic activities are often limited to the informal or domestic areas. Their potential is yet to be unleashed.

According to McKinsey institute in August 2016, in the private sector in Africa, only 5% of women are CEO’s, 29% are senior managers, and 44% have senior positions. Women do not only represent more than 50 percent of Africa’s population but various reports have shown that women spent their revenue in their household, therefore their economic empowerment will unequivocally bolster economies and have a positive impact on health, education and the wellbeing of the communities and the society as a whole. Such gender inequality has a negative economic impact on economies, with an estimated annual lost of revenue of $95 billion lost annually in Africa.

You cannot ignore over 50% of the population of a continent and still hope to harness and exploit its full potential. This is the shift that all decision makers need to make for the betterment of all.

Empowering women goes beyond feminism, or gender inequality. It is an economic imperative.

Although the importance of the role of women is recognized, we still have a lot of cultural and legal barriers that are preventing women entrepreneurs to turn into global businesswomen.

African women entrepreneurship paradox

Women entrepreneurship activities have intensified in recent years. Their global business activities have grown by 10 percent, reducing the gender gap by 5 percent since 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world, defying the odds but only few of these women-owned businesses reach national and/or global stage. They also have the highest failure rate of 8,4 percent.

Why?

There are several key constraints that hold back African women entrepreneurs such as education, cultural mindset, legal barriers, and lack of access to markets, capital, and networks.

In the banking sector for example, statistics show that close to 1 billion women have no access to financial services. Only 20 percent of women in Africa have access to financial services, more than 50 percent of them have it through their husband and only 1 percent has access to capital in the formal sector.

In the agriculture sector, women represent more than 70 percent of the workforce. They are very active in the entire value chain but yet also lack access to credit and have no land ownership, therefore no capacity to become competitive at the national and export level. Agriculture development is a prerequisite for Africa wants to boost economic growth and reach food sufficiency. For that, mechanisms need to be put in place to transform those women from being subsistence farmers into agribusiness leaders. If women were given the necessary tools, they could succeed like any man or any westerners. Living examples are successful agro-preneurs like Sirebara Fatoumata Diallo in Mali championing “Above ground cultivation”, Korka Diaw producing rice in Senegal and Mosunmola Umoru with Pretty farmers in Nigeria.

It is imperative that we overturn these traditional mind-sets and customs and promote inclusivity in business and in this particular industry, the agriculture sector, by tapping into the immense untapped resources offered by women.

There are several key constraints that hold back African women entrepreneurs such as education, cultural mindset, legal barriers, and lack of access to markets, capital, and networks.

We need to turn women from being job seekers into job creators, becoming entrepreneurs and businesswomen

How do we do that? The complexity of the challenges requires investment from all sectors of society and commitment from all stakeholders.

– The public sector should implement specific policies and create the enabling environment for women to prosper and become competitive. Setting up government agencies in charge of women affairs does not suffice. It needs to be accompanied by an intra-government approach integrating gender parity into all programs from various sectors. Furthermore, greater incentives should be given to encourage women participation into the procurement processes such as giving preference to women-owned businesses.

– We need to depart from postcolonial models of economic production and promote a “made in Africa” market. This will allow African industries to succeed by producing, through their own specific patterns, what they consume and consume what they produce. This approach will make women businesses profitable, especially in the agricultural sector where they are most active.

– Creating the ecosystem for women to create value-added products. Women should be able to turn raw materials into value-added products that can be sold in local and international markets, thereby increasing their income and economic power.

– Capacity building and training are two key tools for helping women understand and produce products for the wider market. Giving them access to information, sharing best practices, providing affordable business development services and improving their financial literacy will also help them access financial services and grow their business ventures.

Above all this, more importantly, women are master of their own destiny. Creating mentoring and networking platforms to share experiences, skills and best practices to support each other will go a long way. “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talents in the world” said Hillary R. Clinton. It is time to put all our hands to the task, take action and use all our human assets to make Africa’s economic transformation a reality.

*Source Medays.Angelle B. Kwemo is a lawyer by training, author of “Against All Odds”, Africa Director of Washington Media Group and advocate. She is the founder of Believe in Africa, a US based non-profit organization aiming at promoting Africa’ economic prosperity, women and youth empowerment.

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