Women in Africa is the foremost economic platform for African women. It’s structured to support African women to embark on a well-defined entrepreneurial journey to success.
African women already lead the world in the proportion of women who create businesses, having about 34%, Latin America takes up 17%, while Middle East proportion is as low as 7%.
However, with these numbers, African women also lead the world in the proportion of women whose businesses fail. Thus the Women in Africa was created to help African women bridge that gap between taking the risk of creating a business and business success.
In a chat with the President of Women in Africa Initiative, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, she shed more light on women entrepreneurs in Africa and how the Initiative is supporting them.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the president of Women in Africa Initiative Women in Africa is the foremost economic platform for African women.
It’s structured to support African women make a journey from entrepreneurship to success. Because actually, African women already lead the world in the proportion of women who create businesses.
In terms of why I work with women in Africa, I’m from a business family in Nigeria. One major African problem is that we just don’t have enough Small and Medium Scale businesses.
We have too many that are micro and too few that are mega businesses. And it’s why in a way the continent’s economies are unbalanced, we have these mega-companies that are part of the wealthiest companies in the world, some big multinationals. And then we have all these micro-companies that are so small, and they’re not really productive
The link between the micro and the mega is virtually nonexistent. In an ideal world, you would have all these mega-companies like shell or Chevron in Nigeria, and you would have around them, an ecosystem of small and medium companies that are supplying different things that they need.
And those companies that are small and medium are also becoming wealthy and prosperous on the back of the mega-company.
What we have in Nigeria are just the mega-company and the micro. I come from a background of entrepreneurs, so my mom was an entrepreneur, and I could see the impact that she was able to have on our community, so I’ve seen from my own personal experience, the impact that a woman entrepreneur can have in a community, I find it very important that we support women to become successful entrepreneurs.
With so many women-led enterprises are micro, and just a few are mega in Africa? How is this? How is Women in Africa addressing these deficiencies?
We have been doing a lot of studies, not just by ourselves, because the way women in Africa works is through partnerships.
One of the first partners is a global consulting company called Roland Berger, based out in Paris in France and also with Wallenberg, we’ve done a few studies, we do one every year.
So we have about five now, In our organization, where we look at the lives of women entrepreneurs, the challenges that they face and we sometimes take one of the challenges and do an in-depth study as to how it can be resolved.
What we found is that I think there’s a confluence of challenges that women entrepreneurs face. That is like, an interlocking system of challenges, which is why it’s very difficult for women entrepreneurs.
First of all, I think that the one that we are often aware of, is that by their, women are subjects of discrimination.
Historical discrimination because they’re women, you know, it’s not an African thing, it’s global, that women all over the world are subjected to discrimination.
In fact, there’s no country in the world where women have complete equality with men. There’s always some challenge some prejudice and discrimination that women face, just because they’re women.
In Nigeria, and in countries in Africa, this is also true. there are so many problems that come because of historical discrimination.
Often the women get experience discrimination when they are mere girls, and don’t have enough power to protect themselves.
The girls that are not being educated today will become women tomorrow, still without an education, but many times with children, multiple children, and in poverty.
Thus there’s that big challenge, which has to do with history, culture, and just the lack of momentum in many parts of the continent, to really push the women forward and defend their rights and the rights of girls.
Whenever there’s an economic downturn, we should be aware that the problem becomes worse because what happens is families have to decide they’re facing economic difficulty, when they think to themselves, “well we can’t really afford to continue looking after this girl, let’s just marry her off”, and in their culture, it’s acceptable to marry off a child, a young girl.
These are some of the problems and failures of the parents to make investment in the girl child life early on. This remains throughout that girl’s life, affecting her and possibly her children.
In Africa, we need the states to not only have these rights for girls and women but to enforce them.
That I think is where the state has not been so very strong. I think there are still some states in Nigeria where the Child Rights Act has not been passed, especially in the northern parts.
Even in the state where it has been passed, there are problems with enforcement. So these are things that we need to address.
UN generation equality forum, to move to build momentum around women’s rights around the world have committed an amount around $20 billion. I think we need to make sure that more of that resources are coming into the countries in Africa so that we can build state capacity to protect women and girls, we can support families so that they can keep their daughters in school.
There are so many practical things that need to be done to make sure that girls and women have the support that they need.
Women in Africa as an organization is focusing on women through training, pairing them with mentors, introducing them to investors.
We are looking at creating an ecosystem that is in support of the woman entrepreneur, then instead of their businesses failing, you instead have a story of these women growing their businesses and becoming more and more successful.
We have about 200 Women that we’ve been supporting for over five years. They’ve been able to grow their businesses from employing three people to an average of 10 people in the years of support.
In 2021, we expanded our program from choosing just 54 women per year to 540 women in all the African countries as part of our bid to really expand the program.
I’m hoping that in the coming years, we can continue to grow that and actually not just hoping we have now lined up partners that would allow us to reach 1000s of women and our target for 2030 of reaching 10,000 Women by 2030.
Actually, I think in two years based on the partnerships that we’ve secured already, we will have already exceeded that target.
The next phase for women in Africa. I think it has the democratization of the support of women entrepreneurs. So we’re really trying to scale the work that we’re doing, reach more women in the hundreds in the 1000s with the training, mentoring, coaching, and access to funding as well as access to markets in a very systematic way that allows these women to become anchors for their countries economies,
What is your hope for Africa’s women entrepreneurship ecosystem?
In terms of ecosystems, here is a short answer, you know, now we have the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), which gives Africa a 1.3 billion people market.
The vision is that ultimately, the countries of Africa will be just one market like the European Union, that’s an exciting opportunity for Africa.
I want to make sure that women entrepreneurs are prepared for that opportunity and that they are very much involved.
If you take all the world’s multinationals, their annual spend is in the trillions of dollars, but only 1% of their supply chain goes to women.
That’s global, not even in Africa, I think if we’re to look at Africa numbers, they may not even be up to that 1%, so that’s a real opportunity for us, we can train women, with the kinds of partnerships that Women in Africa is lining up now, to be able to, and we can also give them maybe credit or put a dance of credit so that they can start to supply.
And that’s a wonderful opportunity but a lot of these big companies can’t work with the microenterprise because the micro-enterprise doesn’t meet the standards, but we can help this micro company to meet those requirements.
And so start out on the journey to success so that in a theory as a business that is currently earning, maybe not making more than a million naira per month, should be making a million naira per day, it’s very possible.
So we’re shifting from just training individual women, to creating hubs in different countries. We want to create a hub in Nigeria, for example, we’re hoping that maybe by 2022, we can create about 10 to 15 hubs.
In Africa, we currently have one in Congo, and it’s time to build out because, with the hubs, you have a physical space where the women can come to get the training, support, access to credit, meeting with and start, they can confer some of the problems that they’re having in their business, they can come to meet with mentors, and legal team to get guidance on legal questions, which maybe might be too expensive for an individual business.
All of this we’re putting in place, just so that the women have the right ecosystem for their success. And so that’s the next phase of our journey.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give to upcoming female entrepreneurs?
I want to advise them to seek out the support that they need. Nigerians are almost not open, especially about their problem and I think it’s partly because people will make fun of you if you let them know that you’re facing a particular challenge.
But I really feel that we need to change that culture. If we want to change the outcome, we need to change the culture.
If we want to change the reality, I think we need to put down our guard and be more open with one another.
What we’re trying to do is create an economy that works, is not about whether business individually works, it’s about collective success.
And so instead of hiding challenges, I think we should be willing to be open about the challenges that we’re facing in the business because if you’re not open, people will not know.
When people don’t know, they can’t help you that’s why I want us women to stop being suspicious of one another.
If I speak about my challenges, I don’t know how it will help some woman, and also other woman might even have a solution.
I think we should rely on each other as a network to really help each other to grow.
That’s really what my advice to other women is that yes, many times you may have women who do not support other women, it happens, but actually you’re surrounded by angels and that the angels are looking for instruments to use to help you.
Your own way to help the angels is to just open your mouth and say, I need this or that and if you rely on another woman, she may not help you then you try another.
Featured Image: Hafsat Abiola-Costello, President, Women in Africa Initiative
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