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How women entrepreneurs can take their place in Africa's economy

Oct 10 2017 15:36
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The 4th Industrial Revolution offers women opportunities to get skills without going into a classroom, according to McLean Sibanda, CEO of The Innovation Hub.

In his view the 4th Industrial Revolution will have a big impact on what is regarded as work.

"It is not about waking up and going to the office anymore," he said at the third annual Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), which took place in Cape Town last week. He was part of a panel discussion on women entrepreneurs and opportunities for value creation.

"To ensure women are not excluded from the economy in the future, one must make sure government puts out the right infrastructure and the private sector must "does good while doing business," said Sibanda.

He pointed out that women make out more than half of Africa's population, yet they are excluded from many opportunities. Internet penetration of women lag behind that of men in Africa.

"Educational and cultural issues include women being raised only to take a place in the home and not a place in the economy. Yet, women bring different skills to the workplace," said Sibanda.

"Introduce all children to software and IT as in the future everything will be connected - and don't leave the boy child behind. Look at innovation and beyond. Look for solutions to monetise."

Digital economy

Sylvia Mulinge, director of consumer business at Safaricom in Kenya, told delegates that ICT and the digital economy helps to get rid of a lot of bias against women.

"Lack of access to to funds is a problem for women - for instance access to a formal bank account - because the man often manages the household funds. The same goes for access to education opportunities. The digital economy requires more creativity," said Mulinge.

In her view, Kenya's success lies in the cooperation of regulators.

"A space must be created for innovation to be able to take place. Ask in the space you are in what the opportunities are and the contribution you could make," she concluded.

Sarah Collins, founder and CEO of Wonderbag World in South Africa, said her Wonderbag is already available in 32 countries.

In her view it is "time poverty" that keeps women in Africa from reaching opportunities. In rural areas in Africa women often need 8 to 10 hours a day just for gathering fire wood and water.

"My aim was to take women out of poverty. In every community there are women entrepreneurs. We just need to get ways to give them more time and opportunities," said Collins.

"My business is now very data driven. Each of my bags is tagged. My data shows there are robust economic activities in communities across Africa."

Access to finance

She said people always talk about access to finance as being a hurdle for entrepreneurs, yet she self-funded her business "bit by bit".

"We must have honest conversations around funding and innovation. Young people look at funding in innovative ways like crowdfunding.  It is difficult to scale without a funding solution," said Collins.

Bonnie Horbach, Consul General of the Netherlands in Cape Town said girls need successful women entrepreneurs as role models.

"The adaptation of tech to local circumstances to make your own situation better is very important. Young people are adopting tech quickly," she said.

"There is a shift in Europe in the sharing economy. Africa, on the other hand, has always been a sharing economy. So it will be easier in Africa to create the value needed through the shared economy. And women have a crucial role in that area, but we must make sure women are seen and are role models for boys and girls."

According to Horbach, the world is changing and women must play a major role in that change.

"Doing business in the old way won't be relevant anymore. Also governments must find those new ways," she said.

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