Supporting women entrepreneurs in Africa is working.
Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the issues we’re trying to solve that we forget to zoom out and see the progress being made. So today, we’d like to share some reflections on entrepreneurship from the three powerhouse women who lead our programs in Africa; the changes they’ve seen over the years, and why they believe in ygap’s approach to helping reduce inequality in business.
The African continent is home to an ever-increasing number of women entrepreneurs. Sometimes they start businesses because they need the extra income, sometimes because of a passion for their work, or a desire to help make positive change. Whatever the reason, women doing well in business helps communities do better by increasing their social and economic potential.
We’re so lucky to work with three amazing women that lead ygap’s work across Kenya and South Africa. Their proximity to the entrepreneurs we support alongside their deep experience with the local ecosystem means that they have a rare insight into the state of women and business in Africa. And while there are of course still various and difficult barriers to women thriving as entrepreneurs, the news isn’t all bad. Things are changing.
“This is an exciting time for women owned businesses. There is a growing awareness of the value of the diverse female perspective on business.” says South Africa Country Director, Palesa Mabidilala. “The intersection of gender and business brings about new ideas and great opportunities. Women are now pioneering in various industries and we are seeing a new approach in the world of business as a result.”
ygap’s Kenya Country Director, Carol Kimari, agrees. “In Kenya, we have seen entrepreneurship give a lot of women the freedom to work on what they love doing; from crafting, coding, manufacturing, and farming, to beverage and food processing! There is no pressure to do something that they are not comfortable with.”
This shift is partially due to a recognition that it benefits everyone for women to be economically empowered, but also to the understanding that considering the perspectives and lived experiences of half the population is central to progress that brings everyone along with it.
Palesa notes a significant difference in the way women approach their role as entrepreneurs. “Women-owned businesses tend to be more collaborative in their approach to business. They also add massive value to the community by creating more jobs and generating revenue and acting as mentors to their employees.”
Despite the progress, there is still a long way to go. Supporting women in entrepreneurship has often looked like trying to force them succeed in a world that wasn’t built for them. “There is a conventional way of ‘supporting’ women entrepreneurs, and too often the approach hardly takes into account their lived experiences.” says yher Africa Regional Director, Katleho Tsoku, who is an entrepreneur herself and has been with ygap since 2013. “It’s not about giving women entrepreneurs a seat at the funding table, but instead co-creating a funding table in the likeness of them.”
Standard business hours do not take into account family responsibilities. Norms or laws that prevent women from having a bank account or property are significant barriers to accessing capital. And, increasingly, the confidence gap is becoming recognised as one of the reasons why women don’t receive as much capital access as men. “In the past there have been numerous stereotypes associated with women limiting them to play inferior roles despite their ambitious career goals.” says Carol.
ygap’s approach of programs designed specifically for women, like yher Africa and yher Africa Invest, alongside our gender lens approach to our standard programs, helps to make entrepreneurship a space where women can operate in a way that makes sense to them.
“Through the kind of support we give, we have seen the women break their glass ceilings motivated by the opportunity to join the program, their desire to learn, ideate, lead, gain higher social status and bring change.” says Carol.
Palesa recognises the change that is happening too. “The South African government has recently passed the policy that sets aside 40 percent of public procurement for women-owned businesses.” This is a significant commitment to change, happening from the top. “We as ygap South Africa are excited to be a part of this growing momentum of supporting the growth of women-owned businesses.”
To learn more about ygap and what we do, head to www.ygap.org