Changing mentalities, removing obstacles and finding new tools to boost female entrepreneurship in Africa

Changing mentalities, removing obstacles and finding new tools to boost female entrepreneurship in Africa

“The first thing that women need to do is to change their opinions of themselves – that is how they can excel, project themselves and develop their businesses, going beyond survival and the basic needs of their family,” said Irene Karuga, founder of Lemik Leasing Limited, a company in Kenya specialising in leasing.    

Ms Karuga was speaking on Tuesday 28 May 2024 in Nairobi at a panel discussion on women entrepreneurship organised on the sidelines of the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB Group), being held in the Kenyan capital from 27 to 31 May.   

Entrepreneurs, financial players and members of African civil society came together at the meeting organised by the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), a not-for-profit development organisation that supports innovative businesses in the agri-food and renewable energy sectors to reduce rural poverty, promote resilient communities and create jobs.    

Discussions focused on the challenges and opportunities associated with the financial inclusion of African women. The panel also included other women who are prominent in their fields, including Rubelyn Alcantara, CEO of Supivaa Advisory Group, and Ada Marmion, AECF Director of Partnerships, Knowledge and Impact.   

“The first and fundamental aspect concerns digital transition and artificial intelligence. These two combined have the potential to streamline the risk management processes of financial institutions to make more funding available to women,” said Rubelyn Alcantara.    

She pointed out that the AfDB initiative, Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) is supporting the advance to greater financial inclusion of women by providing guarantees to financial players so that they can commit more financing to small and medium-sized enterprises run by women. This pan-African initiative, backed by the AfDB, aims to close the USD 42 billion financing gap that affects women in Africa.   

Ada Marmion pointed out that lack of resources alone cannot explain the under-representation of women among African entrepreneurs. “In order realise the potential of women entrepreneurs we need above all to change mentalities,” she said. “We need to work together to overcome the structural and cultural barriers that stand in the way of women’s initiatives. We must act on all links of the value chain and ecosystem, because women entrepreneurs need the support of various actors in their environment in order to succeed and develop.”  

 The discussions highlighted a series of obstacles to female entrepreneurship: limited access to the official financial sector, the digital divide and lack of digitalisation, and shortcomings in training and financial education. They also addressed the specific challenges faced by African women entrepreneurs, such as restrictive socio-cultural practices in certain societies with patriarchal traditions.   

Participants shared their experiences and successes and set out the various feasible alternatives for strengthening the financial inclusion of women in Africa.  Their exchanges also highlighted the need for targeted action to create a more favourable environment for female entrepreneurship, including support policies, appropriate financing instruments and intensive awareness-raising work to change cultural and social perceptions of women entrepreneurs.