WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS – it’s your time

by Melanie Hawken, the founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa, a social enterprise passionate about women’s entrepreneurship in Africa and works to empower the start-up dreams of all women on the continent.

Melanie Hawken
Melanie Hawken is the founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa, a social enterprise passionate about women’s entrepreneurship in Africa and works to empower the startup dreams of all women on the continent.

Is it a great time to be women entrepreneurs in Africa? The answer to this question has to be a resounding “yes”. And, with increasing socio-economic challenges, the continent has never needed them to succeed more than now. When the AU officially launched the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) with the aim to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, it helped to stimulate wider discussions around empowering women through entrepreneurship. Today, as we near the end of this designated Decade, it’s clear it makes for smart economics for the continent.

Look around the world at any fast growing economy and women entrepreneurs are viewed as an amazing engine for economic growth. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report finds that $12-trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Here on the African continent, many forward thinking African governments have shift ed their economic agendas to focus on promoting the role of female entrepreneurs. Why? Because they know that compared to other regions of the world, sub Saharan Africa has the highest number of female entrepreneurs. That means if they are proactively supported in their efforts to grow sustainable businesses, then the economy benefits in so many ways.

A Boston Consulting Group report shows women control about $39.6-trillion (about 30%) of the world’s wealth, and by 2020, they have the potential to control over $72-trillion globally. This trend offers a clear picture: The appetite and justification is there for women to gain more financial and economic power. Africa just needs to mirror that change within the SME sector by encouraging business leaders to capitalise on the potential of female entrepreneurs and support their growth.

Monica Musonda
Katebe Monica Musonda is CEO and Founder of Java Foods, a Zambian based food processing company.

Today, there are some truly inspirational examples of highly successful women entrepreneurs on the continent who are proving it is possible to build significant manufacturing businesses, often in male-dominated industry sectors. A new generation of women entrepreneurs are starting to blaze a trail in manufacturing, and some of them will be sharing their experiences at the conference, including Kofo Akinkugbe, founder of Secure ID (Nigeria); Monica Musondo, founder of Java Foods (Zambia); and Mayleen Kyster, founder of Africa Steel Holdings (South Africa).

Women entrepreneurs take the lead in the green economy

Women are also taking the lead in the green economy in Africa where they are creating high-impact, socially responsible eco-businesses that can solve major social and environmental problems, whilst effecting social change, and creating economic opportunity at the same ti me. The growing commitment to sustainable principles has increased the demand for new green products and services. Businesses and consumers are looking for better ways to reduce waste, minimise our impact on the environment and leave a cleaner, greener world for our children and grandchildren. The growing emphasis on protecting the environment translates into opportunities for women entrepreneurs – women with ideas, energy and smart strategies to start and operate their own green businesses and organisations.

Creative women entrepreneurs going for growth

Introducing Afro-Luxe There’s also an exciting new generation of creative women entrepreneurs taking African Luxury and artisan craft to the world, and it reflects the world’s current love affair with all things African, which is definitely growing. Also growing is the number of women Afro-Luxe brand builders who are establishing global names for themselves and their businesses, and growing loyal customer networks at the same ti me. Afro-Luxe is the intersection of an appreciation of African design, respect for provenance, fascination with ancient culture, and the genuine value association of artisan skills and ethical and sustainable production. Roll all of those things into a luxury brand and product and you have a winning combination.Carrol Boyes

Whether it is a luxury fashion item, or a piece of haute couture design, a bespoke perfume, or an exquisitely handcraft ed item of jewellery, these Afro-Luxe brand builders are taking the world by storm and putting Africa firmly on the global luxury map. For example, the inspirational Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, founder of the global footwear success story, soleRebels in Ethiopia; Carrol Boyes founder of the unique decorative homewear brand that carries her name; the Ghanaian luxury handbag maker, Akosua Afriyyie Kumi, founder of AAKS; or leading Afro-Luxe exponent, Swaady Martin, founder of luxury tea brand, Yswara.Sole Rebels

Women entrepreneurs create a value chain

Much has been written in recent years about the impact value chain associated with successful women entrepreneurs in Africa. They invest their success in family, community, and other women entrepreneurs and their businesses. They become critical drivers of the move to achieve greater gender balance in their countries. They understand the value of mentorship, playing an important role in ensuring the next generation of women entrepreneurs who are coming aft er them can learn from the hard fought lessons they had to experience the hard way. And, perhaps most importantly, they become much needed role models, showing that success is possible with enough determination, sheer hard work, and the right business idea at the right time.

Africa’s women entrepreneurs need more role models, other women entrepreneurs who know first-hand how to achieve real and lasting success in business, whilst at the same time me successfully building families, communities and personal relationships.

There’s still a long way to go but the future looks bright. Success breeds success. When Africa’s women entrepreneurs achieve success, everyone wins.