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Africa, the continent for women entrepreneurship

01
Dec 2018

Plenary 4 of the 20 of November 2018 - Ledy by Isadora Bigourdan et Zolika Bouabdallah from AFD Palais du Pharo - Emerging Valley

➢ Buljo Merete, CEO of Digital Ladies (France)

➢ Aissata Diakité, Founder of Zabbaan (Mali)

➢ Alisée de Tonnac, CEO of Seedstars (Switzerland)

➢ Yemisi Mokuolu, Founder of Hatch Africa (Nigeria)

➢ Amel Saidane, President of Tunisian Startups ((Tunisia))

➢ Emmanuel Noutary, General Delegate of Anima (France)

➢ Jacques Dasnoy, Head of Communications of INCO (France)

==> FIND THE VIDEO REPLAY OF THE PLENARY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE <==

Introductory remarks from the AFD

Before starting the debate, Isadora Bigourdan reminded the audience several key facts and figures related to women entrepreneurship in Africa and described in a study of the consulting firm Roland Berger : the highest women entrepreneurship rate in the world with 24% of businesses created by women compared to the 6% in Europe, an added value of 150-200 billions dollars equivalent to 7% of the continental GDP in 2016, several studies proving that women have a better return on investment and better business efficiency… Yet, numerous barriers in the ecosystems and mindsets still prevent a lot of women entrepreneurs to scale up and to raise funds. 30% of them leave their startup project because of a lack of funding.

Women entrepreneurship: observations, obstacles, and good practices

The issue of funding and mindset: an overview of Tunisian and African specificities

“We must raise the awareness of investors, and especially explain to them that having women in a team systematically brings a positive impact on business profitability. “

Amel Saidane, president of the network Tunisian Startups that counts 10 to 15% of women entrepreneurs, was highlighting the gap between the high number of graduate women engineers and the few ones who are later on the labor market. While Europe is suffering from a shortage of women in tech, they are plenty in Tunisia though. Amel Saidane was also recalling the major issue of funding, mentioning that women-owned startups tend to raise half of the funds raised by male-headed startups. She brought several explanations to those disparities: innovative solutions for issues that are misunderstood by male investors (who represent 90% of total investors), a lack of aggressiveness from women, a sexist tendency of investors to look for futures unicorns in men’s projects instead of considering women’s solid businesses with realistic projections.

 

 

“On the African continent, men need to see women in a different way than the housewife or the submissive woman.”

Aissata Diakité, the founder of the food company Zabbaan, explained that she has always been considered as a “little girl”, a “young people” or a “woman” although she runs today a business with 65 employees, working with 5000 farm operators. She recalled her difficulty to find funding at the beginning of her company when she faced banks’ reluctance, which asked for more guarantees from a woman. She is yet decided to rewrite the story. She claimed her intention, in the coming years, to reinforce the full value chain of Zabbaan by promoting women education and empowerment. The company that has trained 8000 women until today aims to impact 20 000 women by 2020. Aissata Diakité concluded on her optimism for the next years and her belief that women-led beautiful projects will continue to emerge.

 

 

Women and tech: the lack of diversity in Europe

“We are living a fourth industrial revolution. Women need to participate in the creation of tomorrow’s world and use technologies to create a better world.”

Merete Buljo came back on the Digital Ladies’ ambition to increase the visibility of women in tech, following the observation that women are ever fewer to turn to this field. She announced the submission to the government of a white book co-written by 280 people and dedicated to becoming a real source of inspiration regarding the increase of diversity in tech. Education, continuous training, visibility, sector’s attractivity are many of the issues addressed in the report.

Testimonies and initiatives from international and Mediterranean support and consulting structures

“You have to pay the upfront costs to ensure you have the right sourcing and retention mechanisms, and that you have this talent at its full potential to get the highest performances”

Alisée de Tonnac is the CEO of Seedstars, that promotes, educates and invests in startups from emerging countries. She explained that 9% of their applications come from women, with a rate reaching 12% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 16% in the MENA Region. Facing these critical figures, Seedstars aims to implement concrete solutions with short-term wins at every step of internal processes :

  • In sourcing talents: how to use channels that are not biased?
  • In job offers’ wording: which words and tools are tailored for women in job descriptions?
  • In retaining talents: how to put teams and managers accountable, to be aware of those differences and provide solutions to treat fairly and equitably all the employees?

Alisée de Tonnac finished her speech on the necessity to keep an open and transparent ecosystem through an ongoing dialogue.

“What Anima is today, it is thanks to women, especially those who funded it and worked in it.”

Emmanuel Noutary, the general delegate of Anima, recalled the founding of Anima that was entirely created by women and that currently has ⅔ of women in its team. In the context of their support program for innovation in the Mediterranean called “The Next Society”, he admitted that they need to adopt an affirmative action policy. Indeed, they have only received 15% of women applications and have the intention to increase this rate to 30%. He was questioning as well the gap in Europe between the rate of women micro-entrepreneurs reaching 40% and the rate of women in incubators decreasing at 6 to 10%. It comes again to the debate of the issue of scaling up for women.

“Let’s value the spaces that women occupy and let’s show that value in our intention and not just in our conversation”

Yemisi Mokuolu, the founder of Hatch, explained that powerful women leaders within the cultural and creative industries have influenced all the sector and brought women to create a more sustainable working environment in fashion for example. She met a lot of barriers as a woman and set up this agency to promote a more inclusive and diverse ecosystem. She has enrolled in mentoring, leadership training, technical support and diverse education programs dedicated to women. She congratulated notably the program Ayadalab she supports and that counts 60% of women entrepreneurs: according to her, it is a great example of the importance to value women’s impact and to create a favorable environment for their fulfillment in tech, digital or creative industries.

Keys takeaways from INCO

“The African continent is a land of entrepreneurship in general, and of women entrepreneurship. With tech on one side and women on the other, the continent has the ideal mix to succeed.”

Jacques Dasnoy presented briefly INCO, a French company that invests 200 million euros in impact businesses, supports startups in 28 countries and educate people in fragile and isolated areas. He highlighted the main facts and figures regarding women entrepreneurship in Africa. He mentioned notably that 25% of working-aged women are entrepreneurs and that 50% think of creating a business in the next 5 years, in a continent where entrepreneurship is rather an alternative to a labor market with few opportunities than a choice. He defended also the significance to value role models and successful women entrepreneurs to offset their tendency to self-censorship. He claimed his commitment, in partnership with the AFD, to promote entrepreneurship as a path for women’s empowerment and to support entrepreneurial projects led by and dedicated to women, through the AFD Digital Challenge 2018 especially.

Summary

Africa is a true continent of women entrepreneurship. With 24% of women-led companies compared with a 6% rate in Europe, it shows the highest women entrepreneurship rate in the world. Entrepreneurship turns out to be an alternative for women to a job market with few opportunities and in this regard, 50% of working-aged women think about creating their own business in the next five years. Concerning those who have already launched their company, they have brought an added value equivalent to 150 to 200 billion dollars in Africa in 2016 and have proved their operational efficiency. Yet, women entrepreneurs still meet today numerous obstacles, especially a lack of funding that leads 30% of them to leave their projects. The European continent shows the same dynamics as only 6 to 10% of women entrepreneurs are in an incubator and as female applications remain scarce. Several factors explain those figures, notably the investors and banks ‘sexist biases, a difficulty for women to fit the very masculine startup environment or a women self-censorship. Facing those constraints, many good practices were related during the panel, such as the implementation of more inclusive and diverse internal recruitment processes and project selections, affirmative action policies, specific support programs for women, actions for raising investors’awareness, empowerment and education of women on all the value chain, or the promotion of women role models.

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