The failures across Africa to support female entrepreneurs means that there is a vast dormant talent pool waiting to be unleashed, with the potential to create valuable, scalable businesses which could boost the continent’s economies, says Yasmin Belo-Osagie, co-founder of She Leads Africa.
Speaking to Disrupt Africa, Belo-Osagie says beyond the commonly propounded developmental goals of supporting female entrepreneurs, there is actually a strong “purely capitalist” argument for promoting entrepreneurship among Africa’s female population.
According to Belo-Osagie, the fact that many female entrepreneurs have not been able to achieve their potential due to unequal opportunities, means that the value of a potentially thriving business segment has yet to be unlocked.
“What a lot of people don’t realise or discuss is that there are purely capitalist, dollar and cents reasons why we should support female entrepreneurs,” Belo-Osagie says.
“I believe intelligence is equally distributed across the sexes, but opportunity is not. Therefore, the lack of female business leaders means something quite amazing. It means that there must be a huge reservoir of untapped high-potential female talent that simply has not been given the opportunity to shine. As an investor or as an organisation, if you’re able to unleash this potential you could create high growth, scalable companies that create jobs for society and cash for the economy,” she says.
Belo-Osagie believes the key challenges facing female entrepreneurs which need to be addressed fall into four categories.
First, is the unequal access to education. With girls and women less likely to attend primary through to tertiary education, Belo-Osagie says this has a knock-on effect of also creating unequal job opportunities, as well as make women less likely to succeed as entrepreneurs.
Second, she says cultural expectations across Africa often undermine female entrepreneurs.
“Cultural stereotypes accept the notion of women as small scale entrepreneurs but are less accepting of women building high growth companies. Moreover, greater time demands on women for household and childcare activities limits the amount of time that can be allocated to developing entrepreneurial endeavours.”
Belo-Osagie also believes the existing often male-dominated business networks serve to exclude female entrepreneurs across Africa, while female-led networks are still scarce.
“Across the globe business gets done through relationships and connections and nowhere is that more true in Africa. These informal business networks tend to be male dominated with many women finding it difficult to access them. Moreover given the conservative nature of many African communities it is often seen as inappropriate for young women to try to enter these networks. At the same time formal female networks are still underdeveloped or only open to those with family connections,” she says.
Finally, Belo-Osagie believes many female entrepreneurs in Africa are hindered by a limited access to finance. She says women are likely to suffer more onerous conditions when seeking bank loans, while the lack of access to professional networks also extends to connecting with private investors.
While arguing that much more needs to be done across Africa to support female entrepreneurs, Belo-Osagie concedes all entrepreneurs in Africa – female and male – are hindered by a lack of committed support from governments continent-wide.
“Governments in Africa are not doing enough to support entrepreneurs full stop: talk less of female entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need good infrastructure, limited bureaucracy, stable power and a well-educated workforce to thrive. I don’t think any government in Africa has nailed this,” she says.
“To give you a perfect example it took us nearly six months to get our company registered in Nigeria. During that period we technically were not allowed to operate and were only able to do so by using our lawyer’s accounts. How can we expect startups to succeed in this sort of environment?”
In the meantime, Belo-Osagie says attention needs to focus on changing the current business world which caters to men, and on creating business environments which speak to women, understand their needs, and set them up for success.
“The end goal is equality of opportunity. My picture of success is a world in which a man and woman with similar talents, ambitions and background are likely to end up more or less as successful as each other in the business world.”