Women own only 29% of businesses in sub-Saharan African. Because of socio-cultural and structural barriers, starting and running a successful business is especially difficult for women entrepreneurs. ImpactHER, a women-led nonprofit, has been empowering African businesswomen for the past four years.
Impediments for African Female Entrepreneurs
Barriers and adversities prevent African businesswomen from entering local and global markets. Many African women lack opportunities in education, personal wealth and tools to enter the market compared to their male counterparts. In 2019, Souhayata Haidara, special adviser to Mali’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, discussed with the Africa Renewal information program, the importance of educating women. She stated how lucky she is to have completed school before getting married. Often cultural expectations force women to drop out of school to marry. She reiterated that economic empowerment for women begins with education.
Even if a woman obtains a proper education, she may still find it difficult to start a business because of collateral requirements. Many African women do not own collateral or assets like land or a car. This leads to banks and investors financially excluding African women, which makes it difficult for African women entrepreneurs to access capital to launch and operate their businesses. In Tanzania, for example, although women have land ownership rights, customary law dictates that women cannot inherit land from their husbands or fathers.
Sociocultural barriers also prevent African women from becoming entrepreneurs. Women miss out on opportunities because they are often the main caretakers for children and oversee unpaid domestic work. Sociocultural barriers force domestic responsibilities onto women which often prevents them from having time to start a business.
Female Entrepreneurs for Economic Growth
Successful African businesswomen are crucial for a strong economy. Estimates say that gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship cost economies about 15% of their GDP. Female-led businesses expand productivity, increase household incomes and diversify the local and national economy. With successful women’s economic empowerment, a country’s economy becomes stronger, meaning it is on track for poverty eradication.
Efe Ukala founded ImpactHER in 2017, a nonprofit organization that trains and prepares African female entrepreneurs to become market leaders. Since 2017, ImpactHER has reached more than 45,000 women-led businesses in 89 countries, with more than 20,000 female African entrepreneurs trained.
In a March 2021 presentation organized by Global Minnesota, Ukala revealed that in 2020 alone, ImpactHER helped more than 10,000 African businesswomen and connected African female entrepreneurs to institutional capital to the value of $577,000. ImpactHER also rendered technology transformation services to more than 5,000 African businesswomen. ImpactHer accomplishes these tasks through its programs.
- The AdvanceHER program assists African businesswomen in expanding their businesses and market presence. This program aims to transform African female entrepreneurs into market leaders.
- The UpliftHER program provides African businesswomen with information on how to become investor-ready.
- ConnectHER teaches African female entrepreneurs how to network and choose the right investors for their businesses.
ImpactHER and COVID-19
COVID-19 disproportionally impacted women-led businesses. Once COVID-19 arrived, ImpactHER jumped into action. ImpactHER sent 30 African presidents letters that advocated for women-targeted stimulus packages, relaxation of collateral requirements by African banks, disbursement of stimulus packages from a gender-lens perspective by African governments and extending the repayment period for loans. ImpactHER also co-authored a policy brief with U.N. Women and Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa.
After assessing the needs of African businesswomen in the time of COVID-19, ImpactHER assisted African female entrepreneurs in:
- Rendering technology to create e-commerce websites
- Creating market strategies to sustain the market during COVID-19
- Finding therapeutic services for women facing psychological fear resulting from the pandemic and business uncertainty
Since its founding in 2017, ImpactHER has assisted thousands of African women entrepreneurs. There is still more to accomplish when it comes to advancing African businesswomen, especially with the presence of COVID-19. But, with programs like ImpactHER, African businesswomen will continue to receive the tools to recover and move forward.
– Bailey Lamb