Lucy Murage a little known tailor and micro and small business owner in the outskirts of Nairobi in Kenya, receives multiple orders from different clients on a weekly basis for specially customized designs of clothes for various occasions. While some clients will pay upfront, others will opt to pay once the work is done. This leaves her no option but to take loans to finance her clients’ orders. Getting a single loan approved to finance her business operations takes weeks and sometimes months.
This means her business slows down and customer delivery will most likely be behind schedule.
Lack to access finance is not just a challenge for Lucy Murage alone but represents millions of African women entrepreneurs running micro, small, medium or large enterprises.
In Africa, one in four adult women have started or manage a business with an entrepreneurship rate of 25.9% among the female adult population in sub-Saharan Africa. This means Africa has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world yet despite these impressive statistics, women owned businesses perform worse than businesses owned by men due to gender related limitations such as differences in education, social norms and importantly access to financing that negatively affects their businesses and stagnates economic growth. These systemic challenges result in a $42 billion financing gap for women entrepreneurs across the continent, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).
A newly launched digital platform dubbed “50 Million African Women Speak Platform” targeting 50 million women from 38 countries in Africa aims to integrate African women entrepreneurs by building a community of peers, mentors, advisors and possible financiers to each other. This unique platform is a social network for women in business and will enable women such as Lucy to start, grow and scale their businesses while learning and sharing about the opportunities. Women entrepreneurs across Africa will also be able to acquire advanced learning tools and modules, use the digital platform as an online trading portal and use it as a networking tool to access market opportunities.
“The creation of this platform is a very practical way of speaking to the general agenda of empowering women. I think a lot has been said and now we have come to a stage where we have practical initiatives such as this one”, said COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe during the launch of the 50 Million Africa women Speak platform at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali Rwanda.
This comes at a critical time in Africa’s economic development when efforts to empower women over the last three decades are starting to pay off. According to McKinsey, the female economy is the world’s largest emerging market, with the potential to add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and implemented by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS), the 50MAWSP digital platform can be accessed on www.womenconnect.org via web and can be downloaded onto mobile devices compatible with both android and iOS as an app.
“Sixty five percent of the traded commodities in the East Africa region come from agriculture—a sector that employs 80% of women. This platform will help this big part of our population to expand markets and get new opportunities,” added Christophe Bazivamo, EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Productive and Social Sectors.
The project is targeting women entrepreneurs in Africa, who often struggle to access information on financial and non-financial services, and who also are less likely to have established business networks or mentors that can offer them much-needed advice and guidance on how to grow their businesses. The will allow women across of all sectors from agriculture, fashion, extractives (mining, oil and gas), technology and many others have a one stop shop to gain knowledge on financial support, market and business tools. This US$24 million project falls within the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) that received a US$250 million investment from the G7 countries through the African Development Bank.