Building a Resilient Innovative Africa in a COVID-19 world

Africa’swomenentrepreneurs in the ageof COVID-19 Inclusivity stood out as one of the most pressing issues. The December 2019 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs ( MIWE ) suggests that the highest number of women entrepreneurs globally are found in Uganda and that women account for four out of every ten business owners in the country. The study suggests that women are more likely to succeed as entrepreneurs out of necessity, particularly in countries like Angola, Botswana, Brazil, Ghana, and Malawi, where there is a disparity in access to the internet, technology, funding, and restrictive cultural and social norms. Pauline Koelbl, Founder & CEO, AfriProspect & ShEquity, agrees and says that the informal sector thrives evenwithout modern innovations and technology because it exists solely to address local day-to-day needs. However, she warns that the pandemic threatens to make access to capital for women even more scarce. Driving Innovation Inclusivity: Women, Youth and the Informal Markets

“Even before the pandemic hit there was a female-male funding gap of $42 billion because of systemic bias as the continent’s male entrepreneurs who are perceived to be in the lower risk category continue to be favored. From an investment perspective, although policymakers are trying to drive inclusion for women and youth, there is more talk than action. Women still struggle to access early-stage funding, which is why investment companies like ShEquity, that invest inwomen-owned enterprises, exist.”

Pauline Koelbl Founder & CEO, AfriProspect & ShEquity

Oulimata Sarr, the Regional Director of UN Women adds that because of its hand-to-mouth nature, the informal markets in Africa are so crucial that they simply cannot afford to shut shop. She calls for Africa’s public and private sector, as well as development entities, to come together to ensure that these vulnerable groups continue to be able to trade despite challenges posed by COVID-19. Every expert that we interviewed for this report agreed that COVID-19 will disrupt progress on the UN SDGs, with most agreeing that new strategies need to be developed to ensure the continuity of women-led entrepreneurship in Africa. Here, the AfCFTA too calls for deeper probing as pointed out by Emuwa. She is clear that for the African informal female entrepreneur to truly benefit fromAfCFTAand to growher businesses across borders, there need to be incentives to formalize operations in simple and cost-effective ways.


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