December 6, 2015
African women: the Continent’s next great business generators and job creators
L-R: Bineta Diop; Andia Chakava; Mi Tich; Sophia Bekele; Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais; Rolake Akinkugbe; Thomas McEnchroe; Nicole Anwer
I recently found myself in the company of so many exemplary African women, who between them have achieved many awards and accolades for their outstanding contributions towards socio-economic development in Africa. Their collective voices have raised awareness of the important role that African women play in the continent’s development path, echoes of which have resonated not only in Africa but internationally as well.
The opportunity presented itself when I attended a symposium on women and entrepreneurship in Africa, hosted by Quantum Global. Bineta Diop, African Union Chairpersons special envoy for Women, Peace and Security and Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarité, Andia Chakava, Co-founder of Alpha Africa Asset Managers, Sophia Bekele, Founder of Yes2dotAfrica campaign, and Rolake Akinkugbe, Vice President & Head Energy & Natural Resources of Lagos based investment bank, FBN Capital, headlined an impressive panel that aptly carried through recent efforts by the African Union and G7 on female empowerment.
To me, this was a very special symposium indeed because it is a subject very close to my heart. The positive perspectives and actionable recommendations that were brought to the table has reinforced my convictions that Africa’s time is now. This is the time to take a look at Africa and her potential in becoming the hope for global economic, humanitarian and environmental stewardship.
Despite everything Africa has endured, one thing is clear. Africa is resilient – its economies, its people and its future are resilient. Africa holds the key to re-writing all that gone wrong with the world today… provided that its leaders look at how to overcome the challenges, imbalances and gaps that threaten the continent’s growth path and turn them into opportunities for the African people.
Although oil prices will continue to remain low for some years to come, I for one do not believe that this is a long-term impediment. In fact, I am tired of the constant news reports that focus on the downside of the oil crisis instead of the opportunities it brings, because it threatens the psyche and confidence of Africa’s largest demographic…it’s youth!
African youth represent more than half of the African population, with some 50% below the age of 19. The World Bank states that youth account for 60% of all unemployed Africans and that the continent will need to create some 95-million new jobs by 2020. Where will these jobs come from?
If you ask me, the answer lies in the African micro and small business sector. MSMEs have the potential to become the economic backbone of African nations, driving job creation and economic inclusion of African youth and its women population.
It is time for African leaders and business communities to focus on the opportunities that can arise out of the ongoing oil and natural resource crisis to support economic diversification across the continent. This is the time to redirect policies and priorities into investing in Africa’s youth and women populations.
Today masses of African women remain in rural areas. They are our greatest untapped strength as they hold the key to stimulating Africa’s MSME sector through enterprise and urban manufacturing in traditional industries, especially if they can be taught to leverage new technologies that are increasingly permeating sectors such as farming and agriculture.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) states that women are generally poorer than men but are better re-payers of loans, and better savers than men, and more willing to form effective groups to collect savings and reinvest them in schemes that enrich their communities. Women are also more likely to invest additional earnings in the health and nutritional status of the household and in children’s schooling. Nowhere else is this more true than in Africa where the women folk are closely knit and well-informed of their communities’ needs.
I believe that African women have the capacity to become the next great business generators and job creation machine for African youth. However, numerous constraints continue to hamper their involvement in enterprise.
Africa must take the lead in changing this narrative because investing in its women population has direct and positive repercussions on its youth and future generations. Mothers are the best teachers, and in many parts of Africa, the maternal factor is a communal instinct. Entire communities of Africans in the informal sector stand to benefit from women who are empowered in business.
Investing in entrepreneurship and innovation is the key to empowering African women in business. By investing in innovation, knowledge transfer and skills development, we will enable millions of African women to refresh and upscale small industries and bring them into the formal economic mix at a greater pace than ever before.
This is the collective responsibility of African governments, NGOs, business communities and the African diaspora. I am gladdened by the fact that every day, more and more Africans are waking up to their potential, inspiring other Africans along the way through positive action and refusing to settle for anything but the best for Africa and its people.