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OP-ED Celebrate the frontiers supporting women-owned businesses in Africa!

David Mparutsa, Head Enterprise and Supplier Development ex SA
Keletso Setimela, Absa Head of Business Banking
In the 2020/21 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report: “Thriving through Crisis”, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that globally 30.2% of women entrepreneurs surveyed are expected to hire six or more employees in the next five years. It is indicated that women typically re-invest 90% of their income in education, health and nutrition for their family and community. For this reason, it is crucial that women have a meaningful and tangible part in the economic development of Africa.
At the moment, an estimated $42bn financing gap exists for African women across business value chains – $15.6bn in the agriculture alone – and if we cannot empower African women entrepreneurs and get them involved in supply chains, we will be doing the continent a disservice. Make no mistake, the entrepreneurial spirit exists among women in Africa. More than 50% of the entrepreneurs in Africa are women but 70% of economically active women are in the informal sector, with limited access to financial services.
According to Diariétou Gaye, World Bank Director of Strategy and Operations for the Africa Region, female entrepreneurs tend to confine themselves to the traditionally female sectors, not because of a lack of skills or access to capital, but rather a lack of information. Many of these women, therefore, end up trading out of necessity in the informal sector operating as traders, and entering the world of entrepreneurship through retail – but not all of them.
When we look at lists of successful Entrepreneurs in Africa (like the Forbes 30 under 30 list or the Quartz Africa Innovation leaders list) it is evident that women are striving to thrive by building notable businesses with turnovers exceeding $ 1 million per annum. In recent years, Africa has witnessed an increase in women-owned businesses in fields such as aviation, fashion, farming, IT, mining, manufacturing, oil, and more.
The challenge remains: How can we get these women upskilled to be included in the supply chain to build capacity in the African market? As Absa we believe the answer lies within the framework of the following components:
• Raising awareness through education and providing access to supply chain opportunities
• Policies that support preferential procurement from women-owned businesses
• Funding and de-risking opportunities through the private sector and Development Financial Institutions (DFI’s)
Visibility and access to market opportunities in corporate supply chains for women entrepreneurs is an important departure point. Large corporates should do more to educate women in Africa on supply chain opportunities and how they can access them.
Safaricom is a listed Kenyan mobile network operator who has picked up the baton to do just that. Safaricom is empowering women by allowing more women-owned businesses to be involved in their sourcing activities, capacity development training, mentorship, and coaching among other measures.
In Line with their mission to ’ Transform lives’ as well as the commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda and specifically (SDG 10 – Reduced Inequality). Safaricom has taken strategic actions to reduce inequality and have made a commitment to increase progressively the procurement spend to Women-Owned-Businesses to 10% of the total Procurement spend.
Education is key but not the sole answer to include women in the supply chain and this is where government policies can be a powerful lever.
The Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) programme is founded on the Constitution of Kenya espouses fair, equitable, transparent, and cost-effective public procurement of goods and services. Under this policy women, youth, and persons with disabilities are required to access 30% of Government Procurement opportunities. It is time that more countries follow in Kenya’s footsteps by implementing policies supporting preferential procurement practices that include women-owned businesses in Government Procurement practices.
Women who are aware and have access to opportunities, supported by policy can do nothing without the financial means to leverage these. Funding and de-risking opportunities through the private sector and Development Financial Institutions (DFI’s) can propel the inclusion of women into large supply chains.
The Absa Young Africa Works Programme is a collaboration between Absa Bank Ghana and the Mastercard Foundation to deliver requisite resources such as funding, training, access to industry experts, and access to players along the value chain to help scale up your micro, small or medium- scale business. Absa has noted that Women are better at servicing debt than their male counterparts, and hence they have put together a product with better rates to accommodate these female business owners.
AFAWA (Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa) is a pan-African initiative by the African Development Bank Group, to bridge the $42 billion financing gap facing women in Africa. AFAWA adopts a holistic approach through three pillars: finance, technical assistance, and an enabling environment. AFAWA has entered a partnership with the African Guarantee Fund (AGF) to unlock $1.3 to 2 billion in loans to women-owned Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, by working with financial institutions to enhance their ability to lend to women.
Alitheia IDF is a pioneering gender-lens fund investing in scalable businesses to leverage the power of gender diversity as a factor for superior performance. Alitheia is a $100 million private equity fund that drives growth in African SMEs by leveraging gender-balanced businesses to generate high financial returns and social impact. They invest in sectors that engage a significant percentage of women, either as entrepreneurs, producers, distributors, or consumers. Some of these sectors are: Agribusiness, Consumer Goods, Health, Education, Creative Industries, and Financial and Business services.
Empowering women addresses more than just the obvious global goals. When put in motion it will: Reduce Poverty (SDG 1), contribute to zero hunger (SDG 2), reduce gender inequality (SDG 5), provide decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), reduce inequalities (SDG 10), and build sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).
Continuing to create the right social, political, and financial understanding and conditions for this entrepreneurial spirit to realise its success is of singular importance for future economic growth. Women in business have become engines for economic growth in Botswana, across regions and the world over. We also noticed that in recent times, topics of achieving gender diversity have been increasingly debated.
Women in Business Webinars is an initiative that has been ongoing since October 2020 run by Absa Bank Botswana (ABB) to ensure the bank remains a force for good in the community. Over the period ABB hosted several webinars with the main objective of providing critical information, and inspiring and motivating women to continue in their entrepreneurial journeys. The webinars covered a range of subjects including opportunities in agriculture, environmental conservation, and accessing export markets.
Another quest to pioneering youth empowerment, entrepreneurship, and delivering sustainable socio-economic development led to the Absa Bank Botswana being a proud sponsor of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, where the bank hosted various entrepreneurs and youth businesses, in partnership with other stakeholders. The exhibitions provided a unique networking platform for youth business owners while bringing all the potential buyers to a single platform wherein they had access to an array of local products and technologies. Equally, the country continues to record a large number of women entrepreneurs who are now entering the agri market.
Absa is a proud contributor to the success of women and the global goals. Let’s not only celebrate the women in Africa – but, more specifically, the frontiers that empower and support these women. Here’s to those that move beyond talk and enable women to take a meaningful stake in the African economy!
Absa Bank Botswana
Absa South Africa

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