In March, the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) report was released and it contained good news. Uganda has the highest percentage (34.8%) of women business owners in the world.
The East African country led in various key components of the survey; the highest percentage (90.5%) of female entrepreneurs in the world borrowing and saving money to start a business, highest (93.9%) labor force participation rate and a 100% women entrepreneurial activity rate, meaning women are as likely as men to start a business. Notably, cultural perceptions of female entrepreneurs in Uganda were surprisingly higher (68.8%) than the average (41.3%). Second in the index was another African country – Botswana at 34.6%. Sadly, out of the six African countries included in the 54-country survey, four were in the bottom half – South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria.
The survey reveals certain important points. First, women are good for business. Second, markets with supportive entrepreneurial conditions, such as strong SME support, high quality of governance and ease of doing business, tend to drive the progress of women business ownership. Lastly, women advancement in business is not tied to wealth and the level of development in the economy. In other words, the entrepreneurial drive of African women is exceptional. That said, going forward, it’s critical for the rest of the continent to emulate their trailblazing neighbors.
To achieve this, a key question needs to be answered: why should the African woman entrepreneur matter? Findings from the survey show that women entrepreneurs are the backbone of economic growth and are powerful engines of development and financial inclusion. Success for the African woman entrepreneur is success for the economy. Additionally, according to the MIWE survey, like most of their counterparts in developing countries, African female entrepreneurs are driven by resilience, determination and the desire to provide for their families. Investing in women benefits an entire community. Women are also opportunity-seekers and risk-takers – attributes that are vital in inspiring them to become entrepreneurs.
Harnessing these qualities will require the active participation of all stakeholders within the entrepreneurial ecosystem; financial institutions, government and private equity. In fact, women-led private equity funds can help catalyse this change by fronting this movement. With many of them now taking leading roles in developing private equity in Africa, their rise should in turn be positive for female entrepreneurs. Private Equity Women Investor Network (PEWIN), a global organization promoting senior women in private equity, estimates that there are more than 150 women in senior roles investing or allocating capital across Africa. This is crucial considering the MIWE survey mentioned lack of venture capital as a constraint on the African woman entrepreneur.
Governments have a central role to play. Enacting business-friendly regulations, removing institutional inefficiencies and ensuring ease of doing business will go a long way in helping the woman entrepreneur realize her potential.
Family and society are also instrumental, especially when it comes to easing gender-related challenges that often hinder women from prospering in business, such as taking care of children. Further inroads can be made in other ways, including training and mentoring programs, honoring successful female business owners and encouraging women networking events.
A brighter future awaits the African woman entrepreneur. Although much of the African women’s full potential and value as entrepreneurs and business owners remains unleashed, gradually implementing a supportive environment will help pave way for more women in the market place.
Hopefully in the future, Africa can realize this and join Uganda as a leading light of the world. – Written by Rufus Mwanyasi