By Melanie Hawken, Founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa
The first few months of the year have definitely seen the discussion around women’s entrepreneurship and its potential game-changing impact in Africa gaining momentum globally. Many of the major conferences, such as the World Economic Forum on Africa and the Global Women’s Summit, both of which have taken place in Rwanda recently, have focused on the need to provide greater support to women entrepreneurs if they are to become the new economic drivers of the continent.
As founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa, an organisation dedicated to accelerating the success and raising the voice of women entrepreneurs across Africa, we have taken part in many of these discussions, and indeed, have steered them through our own monthly Lioness Lean In programme of events. The feedback from women entrepreneurs on many of the important issues and challenges of building businesses, brands and social enterprises has been interesting. It definitely points to a number of key trends emerging this year that are influencing the growth and development of women’s entrepreneurship on the continent. Formulating a list of the ten top trends for an entire continent is never an easy task, nor a perfect science. However, the list we finally decided upon was shaped by our learnings from interactions with women entrepreneurs in our growing network of over 150,000 women across 36 African countries. It was also shaped by our face-to-face interaction with so many women entrepreneurs at our live events.
So, here are the Top 10 Trends Driving Women’s Entrepreneurship in Africa in 2016…
"It’s clear that women’s entrepreneurship in Africa has reached a tipping point and can certainly no longer be seen as a passing fad, raising the odd eyebrow and resulting in the occasional eye-catching newspaper headline. It’s a fundamental economic force that will reshape the economies of Africa."
The first trend is perhaps an obvious one - it’s the continued rise of women’s entrepreneurship in Africa. Africa is THE continent of female entrepreneurs, and in fact, Africa leads the world in female entrepreneurship. 50% of all enterprises in Africa are women owned, according to the World Bank, and 25% of Africa’s women have set up their own businesses from scratch - that’s the highest rate on the planet! Uganda, for example, has the highest per capita rate of women’s entrepreneurship anywhere in the world. And, these numbers will continue to rise on the back of a new-found confidence amongst women on the Continent. It’s clear that women’s entrepreneurship in Africa has reached a tipping point and can certainly no longer be seen as a passing fad, raising the odd eyebrow and resulting in the occasional eye-catching newspaper headline. It’s a fundamental economic force that will reshape the economies of Africa. The nations in Africa that stand to gain the most from this trend are those that are building supportive structures and entrepreneurship ecosystems that allow for women to progress from survivalist entrepreneurship to opportunity entrepreneurship, and to fulfil their real potential. Progressive African countries are understanding the economic potential of allowing women to move from micro to high growth — from supporting life to creating wealth, and are providing the support mechanisms at a practical level to help them on that growth journey. As a consequence, Africa’s women entrepreneurs represent a market worthy of attention by global financiers and investors, and local policy makers alike.
The second trend we see emerging across Africa is all about women funding women. There is much talk right now about the rise of gender-lens and social impact investing, which could be a real game changer in Africa where traditionally, access to finance still remains a key challenge for women in business. And, more and more socially conscious investors are going to be investing in Africa’s women-led ventures. Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation puts it eloquently: “If you invest in a girl or a woman, you are investing in everybody else.” How true is that! In the early days of the social impact movement, women and girls were seen more as programme beneficiaries, rather than financial movers and shakers, but that is no longer the case as women social entrepreneurs in Africa are looking to make an impact in their communities as a result of their own business efforts.
"Progressive African countries are understanding the economic potential of allowing women to move from micro to high growth — from supporting life to creating wealth, and are providing the support mechanisms at a practical level to help them on that growth journey. As a consequence, Africa’s women entrepreneurs represent a market worthy of attention by global financiers and investors, and local policy makers alike."
Globally, socially conscious lenders are also beginning to change their long-entrenched views as they realize that focusing initiatives like micro-finance lending on women entrepreneurs turns out to be the most effective way to make whole communities more prosperous - unlike their male counterparts, these women entrepreneurs believe in giving back and uplifting their communities as an integral part of their business models. This early insight has quickly led to further programmes specifically targeting women, including special business programmes, competitions, and support networks for female entrepreneurs across the continent. The advent and growth of gender lens investing in women owned businesses, has created female-centred portfolios that put much needed capital behind women in a more systematic and high impact way. As a result, things have moved on significantly in the world of social investing. No longer only the beneficiaries of social finance, today women are building a complete ecosystem of social investing that has female financial power at its heart.
Crowdfunding is another interesting and liberating funding development for women entrepreneurs. The global crowdfunding industry raised over 30 billion dollars in 2015, and is tipped to potentially overtake VC funding in 2016, an interesting shift in the global investment arena. Several studies have shown that men get far more venture capital funding than women, in fact, it’s around 12 to 1, but there is better news for women entrepreneurs when it comes to crowdfunding. Women outperform men on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. In fact, 65% of all women-led tech startups reached their funding goal on Kickstarter versus just 30 percent of men-led tech startups. And, 37% of all women-led ventures were funded compared to 32 percent of male-led ventures. So why is this trend happening? The bottom line is that crowdfunding is democratizing entrepreneurship, and in Africa more and more women are leveraging this source of funding. It provides access to capital and ensures that women are on a completely level playing field with men. By reaching out to a large pool of potential backers over the internet, without face-to-face contact or networking, female founders are able to overcome historical discrimination in accessing finance to start new ventures. There’s also the rise of the “activist” female investor who makes a point of funding other women in industries in which women have been historically underrepresented, including tech. So, why exactly are women so successful at crowdfunding? The answer is simple: women use words better - they tell compelling stories! This is something we know well at Lionesses of Africa, where storytelling is at the heart of what we do - sharing the stories of Africa’s women entrepreneurs who have achieved success, often against all the odds. The bottom line is that language has a massive impact on how successful a crowdfunding bid is, and women just use it more powerfully. The way women write their pitches simply makes them better crowdfunders. Women understand the power of their backstory, and are telling those stories in a compelling way that resonates with potential investors. Crowdfunding is democratising access to entrepreneurship and capital, and ensuring that women are on a completely level playing field with men for the first time in Africa.
Trend 3 sees Africa’s women entrepreneurs going global with world-class brands embedded with a deep social conscience - and that’s the differentiator. Over the next decade, we are going to see more and more African women entrepreneurs building world-class brands, and critically, these brands will not only do well, but they will also do good. And that is key! Africa’s women have a talent for developing brands that have a higher purpose. And, they are connecting to global consumers, particularly in North America and Europe, who are in search of meaning and value that goes beyond simply consuming products and services. Women are successfully brand building by employing both social responsibility and smart brand strategy to gain success. There are many inspirational women entrepreneurs in Africa that could be used as great examples of global brand builders, and that are also high impact in the social space. One such woman is Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the inspirational Ethiopian entrepreneur behind the globally successful FairTrade footwear brand, soleRebels. She believes that people around the world today want much more from their brands. They want to see that the company making the products cares as much about the people who make their products as they do about the bottom line, or about reducing their footprint on the world. She passionately believes that concern for a company’s workers is real style, and “something that never goes out of fashion!” So, the big trend? - purpose-driven brands and companies founded and led by women entrepreneurs in Africa, will be the path to success in the 21st century.
But at a practical level, how are these women building their ‘higher purpose’ brands that manage to do well in business whilst at the same doing good in the world? Well, they have great ideas. They are inspiring and touching people emotionally through creative products and brand appeal. Their brands and products are not only uniquely African, which resonates with customers who are looking to make a global connection, but they are also sustainable and ethical. They could be Fair Trade-certified, they believe in using sustainable and locally sourced raw materials, they invest in local skills development, and they are committed to ethical labour practices. Intrinsically, they believe in the power of social good - companies investing back in the development of people and communities. And, they can tell a great story, one that connects at an emotional level with customers. As a result, Africa’s women entrepreneurs today are developing companies and brands that articulate and activate a higher brand ideal and purpose, and are being rewarded with especially high rates of growth.
"Globally, socially conscious lenders are also beginning to change their long-entrenched views as they realize that focusing initiatives like micro-finance lending on women entrepreneurs turns out to be the most effective way to make whole communities more prosperous - unlike their male counterparts, these women entrepreneurs believe in giving back and uplifting their communities as an integral part of their business models."
A fourth trend can be seen in Africa’s gender busting women entrepreneurs, those breaking into traditionally male dominated industries and making waves in those industries that have had a deeply entrenched male gender stereotype for years. One of the most successful of these gender and monopoly busting women entrepreneurs is Tabitha Karanja, founder and CEO of the hugely successful Keroche Breweries in Kenya. She puts it very succinctly, saying: “This is the 21st century and what a man can do, a woman can do. It’s time we showed them through action.” She is certainly doing just that - having taken on an 80 year old monopoly in the deeply male entrenched brewing sector in her country. Today she is building a powerful brand that is offering real change in the sector at so many levels. She has also had to take on the establishment to do it. Her story is one of sheer determination against all the odds, but an example of what vision and action can achieve. Tabitha is not on her own when it comes to gender busting women entrepreneurs in Africa who are making a difference. In Zimbabwe, entrepreneur Divine Ndhlukula, took on the entrenched, male dominated, security services industry in her country, going on to build a hugely successful company, Securico. Divine is a true champion of women’s empowerment in Zimbabwe and is currently the largest employer of women in the country outside the government sector. These women entrepreneurs are demonstrating that gender stereotyping in key industry sectors is no longer a barrier to entry, and that with the will and determination to succeed, often against the odds, real change can indeed happen.
A fifth trend is the rise of the micro-multinational in Africa, those businesses that are born local but built to go global. This trend supports Richard Branson’s assertion that: “No new business is worth starting in these times unless it can go global.” There is a lot of talk right now about the rise of the micro-multinational, and particularly here in Africa where it represents an exciting new development for women entrepreneurs, and particularly millennials who think out of the box from the get-go. Today, having a vision to become a global company is no longer the luxury of well-established large corporations - those with networks of factories and offices, vast staff numbers, and huge overheads. Being international is now the playground of a growing number of women startups with big visions - particularly Africa’s millennial women entrepreneurs who were born global, thanks to the internet. In fact, these micro-multinationals share similar characteristics with the large multinational corporations. Many source producers and suppliers overseas in order to keep costs down, and use a range of technologies to stay connected. They are communicating and engaging daily via social media, building brand presence online instead of in expensive real estate and retail malls, tapping into global online retail platforms and increasingly building their own, and forging strong relationships with their global consumers. Penny Pritzker, US Secretary of Commerce, put it brilliantly when she said: “In today's economy, all businesses need to think globally. Any entrepreneur or CEO faces a world that is more interconnected and more competitive than ever -- and to succeed in the 21st century, any smart enterprise knows that its customer base is not just around the corner, but around the world.” A great example of a successful millennial micro-multinational, African woman entrepreneur who is currently taking the world by storm is Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, founder of AAKS in Ghana. She is taking her accessory design expertise, combined with her passion for harnessing the creative talent and traditional weaving skills of rural Ghana, and creating not only world-class products that global markets are loving and buying - but also creating opportunities, skills development, and jobs for local women in her community. Today, this AfroLuxe accessories startup is retailing in 27 countries, and she represents a new wave of millennial women entrepreneurs who are building micro-multinational companies online and taking the world by storm.
Trend six sees increasing numbers of Africa’s women social entrepreneurs leading the way as high impact social change-makers. There is an apparent rise in the number of women social entrepreneurs across Africa, women with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems. This new generation of women is ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Africa’s women social entrepreneurs and change-makers across the Continent are not waiting for government to lead. They are not waiting for their community leaders. They live with a problem; they experience the problem; they see the impact of the problem on their community; and they set about using their entrepreneurial instincts, their innovation, their resourcefulness and their compassion to solve that problem. Basically, they just get on with creating a solution. Africa’s women social entrepreneurs are transforming families and society, besides making contributions to business development. The rising number of women entrepreneurs around the world suggests that there might be more attention to social problems, using economic or entrepreneurial solutions. Now more than ever, Africa needs to unleash its women social entrepreneurs to make Africa’s economies and societies stronger, and to be at the forefront of driving a new era of socio-economic development on the continent.
Trend seven sees the rise of women artisan entrepreneurs on the African continent. The untapped development potential of the artisan sector across Africa offers enormous potential, especially for women. With appropriate support, the artisan sector provides an opportunity to transform the Continent’s economic landscape. Better integrating artisans into global commerce will increase the incomes and standard of living of many individuals and their families in Africa. At the launch of the global #ChooseArtisan campaign last year, John Kerry, US Secretary of State said: “If you are looking for innovative ways to help developing countries flourish, artisans are a terrific place to begin.” Behind agriculture, artisan activity is the second largest employer in the developing world, and in Africa the huge untapped potential of women artisans has not been channeled to maximize economic impact. International trade in artisan goods more than doubled between 2002 and 2012 to total over $32 billion annually, and across Africa, talented women artisans are making and crafting jewellery, leather products, apparel, pottery, all kinds of home decor, soaps and beauty products, and wonderful artisan foods, that could tap into this growing appetite. Artisan enterprise does more than create jobs and income. It also fosters economically viable communities, sustains ancient traditions, and preserves culture that is essential for healthy and sustainable development, and women artisan entrepreneurs are at the heart of this movement.
Trend eight sees the retail sector for women breaking out of the traditional ‘bricks & mortar’ approach. One of the most interesting trends to be seen in Africa right now is the rise of women retail entrepreneurs who are doing things differently, particularly millennials who are not hampered by traditional notions of what retail looks like. They are getting to market quickly by creating edgy PopUp stores which appear in trendy high traffic areas or aligned to events such as music festivals or community events. They are launching great new eCommerce platforms and building their own online shops. They are no longer relying on bricks and mortar retail spaces that are expensive commitments. So, what’s driving the trend? It allows these startup women entrepreneurs to target a niche audience; it’s great for testing new products, concepts, and markets without huge overheads; it offers a great way of gaining valuable consumer insights with relatively little investment; it generates buzz and creates a memorable visual spectacle; it taps into “massclusivity” and piques consumer curiosity with elements of surprise, trendiness, and a certain sense of urgency to ‘buy now while it lasts’; and importantly, it provides an economic alternative to full-scale retail set-up. What’s not to love about this growing retail phenomenon!
"There is a lot of talk right now about the rise of the micro-multinational, and particularly here in Africa where it represents an exciting new development for women entrepreneurs, and particularly millennials who think out of the box from the get-go."
Trend nine sees a new generation of creative women entrepreneurs taking African Luxury to the world, and reflects the world’s current love affair with all things African which is growing. Also growing are the number of women Afro-Luxe brand builders who are establishing global names for themselves and their businesses, and growing loyal customer networks at the same time. AfroLuxe is the intersection of an appreciation of African design, respect for provenance, fascination with ancient culture, and the genuine value association of artisan skills and ethical and sustainable production. Roll all of those things into a luxury brand and product, and you have a winning combination. Whether it is a luxury fashion item, or a piece of haute couture design, a bespoke perfume, or an exquisitely handcrafted item of jewellery, these Afro-Luxe brand builders such as Deola Sagoe, founder of haute couture fashion brand Deola in Nigeria; or Hanneli Rupert of luxury accessory brand Okapi in South Africa, or Swaady Martin of luxury tea brand Yswara in South Africa, are taking the world by storm and putting Africa firmly on the globalluxury map.
Finally, trend ten sees an exciting new wave of African women in tech that are developing innovative and powerful solutions for social change on the continent. More and more game changing women techpreneurs in Africa are working to integrate technology into the work of social change - and, that’s what makes this trend unique. It is not simply about creating the next African Silicon Valley - this is not the ONLY answer; or the only way. There’s a new wave of women techpreneurs on the continent moving beyond technological utopianism, in search of the perfectly scalable silver bullet tech product or solution. There are lots of philanthropists, policymakers, and financiers who are searching for the one intervention or model that would solve this or that big social problem. Digital tools are a necessary, but not sufficient component, of any long-term social change effort. The technology trend we will be on the look out for in the coming decade is Africa’s ability to replicate its success and global leadership in mobile money technology, in areas like agriculture, health, education, culture, environmental management, financial and economic empowerment. Mobile technology is clearly a way forward for marrying Africa’s tech and social solutions. We predict that smart money and ‘caring’ money will increasingly start to follow these innovations on the continent over the next decade, and women techpreneurs will be leading this charge.
So, these are the top 10 trends set to drive entrepreneurship in 2016, as we embark on the second half of the Decade of the African Woman Entrepreneur. The big question is, will the next generation of Africa’s women entrepreneurs be ready to take advantage of them? At Lionesses of Africa, we think the answer is a resounding yes!