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Female entrepreneurs need help to grow their businesses

By Nitin Gajria | July 16th 2021

A woman working in a commercial kitchen of a bakery.[Getty Images]

The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world, so goes an old adage. While some might find depth and truth in this saying, others might beg to differ based on realities that determine the social challenges women face the world over. So, as we move rapidly toward the middle of the 21st century, how can we be effective allies in support of the cause to level the playing field and empower women in Africa with tangible opportunities for stepping into the leadership role proposed by this idiom?

The Balance defines economic power as the ability for countries, businesses or individuals to improve their standard of living. This increases their freedom to autonomously make decisions that benefit them, while reducing the ability of any outside force to impact their freedom. The key to dismantling the structural challenges women face, therefore, lies in strengthening their economic power.

These challenges are numerous and, according to the African Development Bank, they continue to drive gender inequality and limit the continent’s progress. In a similar vein, challenges identified, at the Africa Union Gender Pre-Summit on the 2016 African Year of Human Rights, as pressing for women included, economic exclusion and discrimination from financial systems.

Despite these odds, however, African women repeatedly feature at the top of global surveys on entrepreneurship with the UN reporting that the 27 per cent female entrepreneurship rate in Africa is the highest in the world. The UN, however, warns that most female-led enterprises in Africa are small businesses with few growth opportunities while also citing that female entrepreneurs are not evenly spread across the continent.

The reality-check list on the continent’s state of female entrepreneurship is long and includes greatly uneven access to funding for women. For example, from January 2019 to April 2020, 13.4 per cent of the 276 disclosed deals went to firms with at least one female on the founding team and this was just 5.7 per cent of the total invested capital. Within the first four months of 2020, this declined to 3.2 per cent.

Moreover, while venture capital funding for startups across the continent in 2017 reached an all-time high of more than $500 million, representing a 53 per cent year-on-year increase, only $30 million (5.3 per cent) went to companies with female co-founders. Of the $725.6 million in funding that was invested across Africa in 2018, only 2 per cent went to women-owned or women-led businesses. Meanwhile, the e-Conomy Africa 2020 report by the IFC and Google highlighted that women comprise 20 per cent of the total population of developers in Africa.

Even with the numbers noticeably low, African women constantly endeavour to push through, despite the structural hurdles they face. The startup ecosystem has begun to create opportunities for women who code across the region.

Google.org has partnered with Tony Elumelu Foundation giving a $3 million grant to provide rigorous entrepreneurship training, mentorship, coaching, access to networks and key markets to at least 5,000 women. There will also be $5,000 in seed capital in the form of one-time cash grants to 500 African women informal business-owners in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, among others. We are determined to help female entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

Mr Gajria is MD, Google Africa

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