Sub-Saharan Africa: Highest female entrepreneurship rate globally

We catch-up with Yasmin Belo-Osagie, Co-Founder of She Leads Africa, an organisation which aims to promote female entrepreneurs

“Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship across the globe, with more women starting businesses in Africa than anywhere else in the world,” says Yasmin Belo-Osagie, Co-Founder at She Leads Africa, an organisation which aims to promote female entrepreneurship on the continent.

In fact, the Gates and Clinton Foundations recently revealed that 41% of women in Nigeria are entrepreneurs compared to only approximately 10% in the US and 5.7% in the UK. While according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring’s annual report, women actually outnumber men in the entrepreneur space in countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia.

Despite this, explains Belo-Osagie, there are three key barriers keeping African women entrepreneurs from attaining higher levels of success. She lists these as constraining cultural stereotypes, limited opportunities to develop useful networks and a shortage of access to financing.

“Though women in Africa are prominent among small business owners, African societies are not as accepting of more ambitious entrepreneurial aspirations which take women away from their traditional roles as home-makers and child bearers,” she says.

“Business circles in Africa remain very much an old boys’ network,” she adds. “The most lucrative business deals and allegiances are often formed in male-dominated social spaces such as bars and exclusively male members’ clubs. Women interacting with men in these settings, in the absence of designated male companions, is often considered taboo. These dynamics make it very difficult for women to participate freely in African business networks.”

These are the sorts of challenges that She Leads Africa seeks to counteract. It launched in 2014, by partnering with Intel Corp in Nairobi to host entrepreneur development workshops for young women interested in building technology enabled businesses. And it has since grown to a community of 8,000 members.

Recent developments include a partnership with with Huawei to take five African female entrepreneurs on a weeklong trip to China. “[And] we’re also currently in talks with Andela, the school for coders based in Nigeria, to see how we can increase their female enrolment,” says Belo-Osagie.

Building strong ties with the community is fundamental and the company’s website aims to share useful content, localised online courses along with physical training and development workshops. Its big push though is its annual Entrepreneur Showcase, which brings early stage African female businesses together for a chance to win “$10,000 prize, direct access to investors and international media attention”.

This year we “received 380 applications from more than 30 countries,” says Belo-Osagie. “We saw how in touch the ideas are with current consumer demands. The applications ranged from consumer retail, such as hair, makeup and fashion, to technology solutions and businesses with a social impact.”

Women in technology may be one of the most under represented fields across the globe but Belo-Osagie is keen to stress: “We have seen a lot of technology solutions from African female entrepreneurs. African women are tech savvy through the use of social media, setting up mobile apps and websites or studying tech-focussed degrees like Computer Science and Information Technology.”

“Of our finalists this year, the majority run their businesses either through a website or mobile app. InstaHealth, for example, enables users to connect instantly to health centres, specialists, ambulances and consultation services on their smartphone via geo-location and an interactive voice response system.”

But maybe the biggest question still remains: will things ever truly be equal for African entrepreneurs?

“It’s a good question and because of its complexity there is no single answer,” says Belo-Osagie. “Africa is made up of 54 countries. So if the question is will things ever be equal for all African women, that’s really hard to say and we can’t see that happening anytime in the near future.”

“However, if the question is will things be easier for female African entrepreneurs from countries where positive changes for female entrepreneurs are already being made – such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya – then yes with enough time and continued support there should be a point where a women looking to start her own business can walk into a bank and receive the same financial product offering as a man.”

Over the next five years, She Leads Africa, hopes to provide “African women with a community of other like-minded women”. To this aim it is looking to expand its presence via social media, produce more informative articles and develop a financing vehicle for better business funding.

“Investing in African women is not charity,” Belo-Osagie concludes, “it is good business. Over the past two years, we have read through nearly 800 pitch decks. Amongst these we found ambitious and capable young African women who are building businesses that have the power to create jobs, drive innovation and deliver high returns for their investors.”

“We’re proud that She Leads Africa plays a part in narrowing this gap and making sure that female entrepreneurs are a part of the Africa growth story.”