In recent years, a remarkable and inspiring trend has emerged across the African continent: a surge in female entrepreneurship. African women are defying traditional gender roles and societal expectations, venturing into various industries and sectors, and leading the way in economic empowerment.
This article aims to shed light on some of the African countries that have become hotbeds for female entrepreneurship, exploring the factors behind their success, highlighting notable initiatives, and discussing the impact on both individuals and economies.
Botswana, Uganda, and Ghana have been identified as the leading countries in terms of women business ownership worldwide, according to the 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE). The index, which measures the percentage of total business owners who are women, has consistently ranked these countries at the top for three consecutive years. The MIWE sheds light on the significant economic contributions made by women entrepreneurs globally and provides insights into the factors that drive or hinder their progress, including those specific to Africa.
Unfortunately, many African countries face challenges that impede women’s advancement in entrepreneurship. These challenges include less supportive business environments, limited access to funding, fewer opportunities for higher education, and structural barriers. Despite these obstacles, the research conducted by Mastercard indicates that women entrepreneurs in Africa display resilience and adaptability, particularly in low and middle-income economies. In fact, they often surpass men in terms of entrepreneurial activity, even in the face of the pandemic and economic downturn.
The MIWE report also highlights notable achievements by certain African countries. Nigeria, Angola, and Ghana ranked first globally in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Activity Rate, indicating high levels of women’s entrepreneurial engagement. Nigeria also ranked second globally in the percentage of women working as professional and technical workers, while Angola ranked second in hiring intentions, with a significant number of adults planning to employ six or more people in the near future.
Additionally, Botswana stands out among the top 15 economies globally in terms of advancement outcomes for women, particularly in relation to income-based performance. Surpassing high-income and developed economies such as Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia, Botswana demonstrates strong scores in the MIWE 2021’s “women’s labor force participation rates,” ranking 13th globally.
These findings emphasize the importance of recognizing and supporting women entrepreneurs in Africa. By addressing the barriers they face and creating more favorable conditions, African nations can harness the full potential of women’s entrepreneurship, driving economic growth, and fostering gender equality.
Ebehijie Momoh, Country Manager and Area Business Head for West Africa at MasterCard, congratulated the African countries for their entrepreneurial and SME activities efforts.
He added that “women in Botswana, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and Angola stand out as excellent examples of women’s determination to provide for themselves and their families, despite facing financial, regulatory and technical challenges. In these economies, women are able to leverage on opportunities in their respective environments to be business owners, leaders and professional or technical workers.”
Rwanda has made significant strides in promoting gender equality and empowering women in entrepreneurship. The country stands out as a shining example, ranking first globally in female representation in parliament. Its commitment to gender equality has translated into the business sphere, where women have found fertile ground to thrive.
The government of Rwanda has actively fostered an entrepreneurial ecosystem conducive to women’s success. Initiatives like the Rwanda Development Board’s Gender Monitoring Office and the Women Entrepreneurship Development Program provide training, mentorship, and financial support to aspiring female entrepreneurs. Moreover, the establishment of women-focused business incubators and networks has created spaces for collaboration and knowledge exchange, further propelling women-led ventures forward.
One notable success story is the Akilah Institute for Women, a Rwanda-based higher education institution that offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship training and practical skills development. Akilah equips young women with the necessary tools and knowledge to launch and grow their businesses successfully. The institute’s graduates have gone on to establish thriving enterprises across various sectors, contributing to Rwanda’s economic growth and social transformation.
Kenya has witnessed a remarkable surge in female entrepreneurship, driven by a combination of factors including a vibrant startup culture, technological advancements, and supportive policies. Kenyan women entrepreneurs have capitalized on digital platforms, leveraging mobile technology and e-commerce to create innovative solutions and reach wider markets.
Organizations such as the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank and the Kenya Women’s Finance Trust have played pivotal roles in providing financial services tailored to women’s needs. These institutions offer accessible loans, savings, and business advisory services to aspiring female entrepreneurs, enabling them to start and expand their ventures. Additionally, various mentorship programs and networking events have emerged to nurture and connect aspiring female entrepreneurs with established industry professionals, fostering a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing.
In recent years, the Kenyan government has also prioritized women’s economic empowerment, launching initiatives such as the National Women Enterprise Fund and the Women Enterprise Development Fund. These programs provide financial support, training, and capacity-building opportunities to women-owned businesses, creating an enabling environment for female entrepreneurship to flourish.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has become a hotbed for female entrepreneurship, with women at the forefront of driving economic growth. Nigerian women have demonstrated exceptional resilience and resourcefulness, launching businesses across diverse sectors, from technology and agriculture to fashion and entertainment.
Government initiatives such as the Bank of Industry’s Gender Business Group and the Women’s Trust Fund have facilitated access to capital and provided business development support to aspiring female entrepreneurs. These programs offer affordable loans, grants, and technical assistance, enabling women to overcome financial barriers and kick-start their entrepreneurial journeys. Additionally, women-led organizations like the She Leads Africa community have created platforms for networking, skill-building, and mentorship, empowering women to overcome challenges and achieve entrepreneurial success.
One notable example of Nigerian female entrepreneurship is the fashion industry, which has experienced tremendous growth and international recognition. Women designers and entrepreneurs have harnessed the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria, producing unique and vibrant fashion pieces that have gained global appeal. This sector has not only created employment opportunities but has also contributed to Nigeria’s cultural representation and economic diversification.
South Africa, with its vibrant economy and diverse business landscape, has witnessed a surge in female-led entrepreneurship. Despite historical challenges and persistent gender disparities, South African women have demonstrated remarkable tenacity and innovation, making significant contributions to the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Government-backed initiatives, such as the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network and the Isivande Women’s Fund, have provided financial assistance, mentorship, and training to aspiring female entrepreneurs. These programs aim to address the unique challenges faced by women in business and promote their economic inclusion. Furthermore, women-led organizations like Lionesses of Africa and Women’s Entrepreneurial Initiative of South Africa have created platforms for networking, exposure, and knowledge sharing, amplifying the voices of women entrepreneurs and showcasing their achievements.
South Africa has witnessed notable success in the tech startup scene, with a growing number of women entrepreneurs driving innovation and disrupting industries. Initiatives like the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative’s Women in Business program and the Standard Bank Women in Technology Accelerator have provided female tech entrepreneurs with the necessary resources, mentorship, and funding to launch and scale their businesses. These efforts have not only diversified the tech sector but have also contributed to job creation and economic growth in the country.
Ghana has emerged as a hub for female entrepreneurship, with women playing a crucial role in driving innovation, economic growth, and social change. Ghanaian women have excelled in various sectors, including technology, agribusiness, and fashion, leveraging their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to build successful ventures.
The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre has implemented policies aimed at attracting foreign direct investment specifically for women-led businesses. These initiatives provide capital, training, and mentorship to help women entrepreneurs establish and expand their enterprises. Additionally, organizations like Women in Tech Africa and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program have provided mentorship, training, and networking opportunities, contributing to the development of a supportive ecosystem for female entrepreneurs. These initiatives have empowered Ghanaian women to overcome challenges, access markets, and succeed in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
One notable success story is the rise of female-led agribusinesses in Ghana. Women entrepreneurs have harnessed the country’s agricultural potential, embracing innovative farming techniques, and value-added processing. Initiatives like the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development have played a crucial role in supporting women’s participation in the agricultural sector, providing training, access to finance, and market linkages. These efforts have not only improved food security but have also boosted rural economies and empowered women in rural communities.
The rise of female entrepreneurship in Africa is a testament to the resilience, innovation, and determination of African women. Countries like Botswana, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana have been at the forefront of this transformative movement, creating enabling environments, implementing supportive policies, and providing access to resources that empower women to succeed in business.
The impact of female entrepreneurship extends beyond individual success stories. It drives economic growth, generates employment opportunities, and promotes social change by challenging traditional gender norms. The continued progress in female entrepreneurship across Africa holds immense promise for a future where women’s economic empowerment is both normalized and celebrated, fostering inclusive and sustainable development on the continent and beyond.
As African countries continue to invest in gender equality and create supportive ecosystems, the momentum of female entrepreneurship is expected to grow exponentially. By empowering women to start and grow businesses, African nations can unlock the full potential of their economies, promote social progress, and create a brighter future for generations to come.