According to The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in 2016 an estimated 163 million women were starting or running new businesses in 74 economies around the world. In addition, an estimated 111 million were running established businesses. Their report released in September last year, says that women’s global entrepreneurship activity has gone up by 10per cent.
But here’s what’s really exciting for me: Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest female entrepreneurship rate at globally! That's right, 25.9 percent of the female adult population is engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in the region. Could women be a key driver in ending poverty on the continent? I would say so!
One thing that really warmed my heart in that report was learning that the majority of African women entrepreneurs (61.8 percent) said they started a business because they are taking advantage of an opportunity, rather than out of necessity. So here we are, world - exercising our choices.
These women are supporting families, investing in communities and educating children who in turn will make their own contribution to the global economy.
But why are these numbers important, and how do they affect you and I?
To begin with, we want to celebrate women who take the plunge and go into entrepreneurship. Whether this is something you have chosen, or something that has chosen you, it is still a frightening and hair-raising journey. If you’re taking it, we applaud you!
These numbers are also telling us that this is a force to be reckoned with, and therefore a segment worth investing in. They need to be recognised for the enormous contribution they are making to the economies they operate in, the impact they are having not just economically but also socially and politically, and resources must be made available to encourage and support them in their endeavours.
Perhaps you’re wondering what you can do to support African women entrepreneurs- you’re not the minister of finance and you don't work at the world bank, right?
But you do have the power to make an impact!
You can begin by choosing to buy from women-owned businesses. No business can survive without customers, and making yourself a customer of a woman-owned venture means you’re increasing its chances fo survival. If you are in a position to choose, choose to procure from women-led manufacturers, retailers/wholesalers and consultancies.
You can also mentor and support a woman who is on an entrepreneurial journey by sharing your skills, knowledge or contacts with her. Lack of mentorship and role models is one of the major set-backs women face when considering entrepreneurship. According to smallbusiness.co.uk eight out of ten (83 per cent) would-be female entrepreneurs say having a relatable role model would inspire them to start a business.
Another thing you can do is create space for a woman to be heard. Often in meetings women make suggestions that go unacknowledged, or they are interrupted or ignored. If this happens in a meeting you’re in, redirect the conversation so that the woman has a chance to say her piece - without interruptions.
Women will also benefit from your endorsements and flagging what they say on social media. The more likes, retweets, comments and replies a woman’s posts have, the more validated and relevant her ideas become. Of course you shouldn't support just because she’s a woman. Support her if you believe in what she is saying, if her position make sense to you.
And finally one tough call you can make for a women entrepreneur - hold them accountable. The days of treating women with kid gloves are surely over. We want to be paid the same as men, we want the same recognition for our achievements, and so we will be subject to the same levels of scrutiny and judged by the same standards. Do we really want people to overlook our misdemeanours by saying, “Ag shame, she’s only a woman”? Surely that would take us backwards instead of forward.
Women are stronger than you think. We are not made of eggshell and we can benefit from fair and constructive feedback.
Remember women’s entrepreneurship is a good thing for all of us. Women are more likely to reinvest their money into the community, they will use it for family and community and they will help others do the same. Its a beautiful cycle, and one we can all be proud to participate in.