Africa’s Women Entrepreneurs Take The Lead

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A report released earlier this year by the investment bank Goldman Sachs urged what it called “giving credit where it is due,” noting that women’s “increased bargaining power has the potential to create a virtuous cycle as female spending supports the development of human capital, which in turn will fuel economic growth in the years ahead.”

An estimated $300 billion credit gap exists for female-owned enterprises, according to the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank, which in March launched a $600 million fund to finance women-owned businesses in the developing world. The venture — dubbed the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility — aims to work with local banks in sharing risks and extending credit to 100,000 women entrepreneurs.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty remains extreme in many parts, stories of successful women entrepreneurs are accumulating. A Kenyan woman, Mary Okello, is feted for starting a school inside a three-bedroom house that has since become a prestigious group of private schools. In Rwanda, Janet Nkubana has been recognized abroad for running a handicrafts company that employs more than 3,000 women whose baskets can be purchased at Macy’s. The Nigerian Adenike Ogunlesi is famous for her “Ruff ‘n’ Tumble” clothing line for children, a business that she first operated out of a car trunk.

In Uganda, where most of the food is grown locally, many women have been drawn to catering, and their food stalls are ubiquitous at transport terminals and open markets. Unable to get credit from banks, often the women start “cooperative” groups in which they pool savings. Then they take turns getting loans.

“The few who have ventured out have surprised themselves by succeeding,” said Ugandan economist Fred Muhumuza, who has been advising Uganda’s government on development policy. Rampant poverty, he said, is driving women to find ways of taking over “core family responsibilities” from men.

Nalukenge, the food vendor in downtown Kampala, said she has kept her children in school and now owns two small plots of land.

On a recent evening, as she prepared to clean up and pack her saucepans, she pondered her unlikely journey from failed hawker of bed sheets to successful caterer with a long line of loyal clients.

“We spend a lot of energy here,” she said. “There’s no resting. But at the end of the day we get our reward.”

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(Photo Source: AP)

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