“Eliminating gender inequality and empowering women could raise the productive potential of one billion Africans, delivering a huge boost to the continent’s development potential,” notes the African Development Bank on women empowerment.
In this context, businesses have a key role to play in advancing women’s economic empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In addition to their human rights obligations, companies are increasingly viewing women’s economic empowerment as a core part of their mission and values. Indeed, they have a business interest in ensuring that women employees, suppliers, distributors, and customers succeed – McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women participated in the economy as equal counterparts to men, it would add as much as US$28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025.
Unfortunately, women in SSA face deeply rooted obstacles to achieving their potential at work. First, women in the workforce, regardless of industry, face many common challenges such as the need for additional education and training for career progression, a lack of female role models, the absence of good childcare options and decent maternity leave, and risks to their personal safety and security. Second, for women to be economically empowered, it will take much more than a job – there is an urgent need to go beyond to invest in the resources, opportunities, protections, and skills that women need to achieve their full potential and decide what they want to do with their lives. Third, to address systemic challenges, companies will need to partner locally and globally with a wide range of organisations, including local grassroots women’s organisations, development finance institutions, local governments, public health care providers, and industry peers.
Due to the above challenges, women in SSA achieve an average of 87 percent of male human development outcomes, thus impeding economic and social development in the region. Indeed, the United Nations estimates that gender inequality costs SSA an average of US$ 95 billion a year.
These insights form part of an in-depth report released this year by the US-based non-profit organisation, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR). Titled ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations for Business Action’, the report outlines the role of businesses in boosting women empowerment in Africa.
BSR’s research reveals six practical areas where companies, regardless of industry, can make significant progress in advancing women’s economic empowerment in SAA. These areas include: building a gender-sensitive workplace with flexible work arrangements to accommodate working parents, strengthen channels for women to express their concerns, and invest in quality childcare; providing leadership and advancement opportunities through fair and transparent promotion and recruitment processes, encouraging informal and formal leadership opportunities and supporting initiatives outside of the workplace such as women’s networking associations; strengthening education and training by sponsoring technical training and internships for young women, advocating for greater public investments and incentives to keep girls in school and encouraging their interest in STEM subjects; investing in policies and procedures to protect women from sexual harassment, creating secure channels to report incidents, and ensuring that such incidents are handled fairly and result in disciplinary action; providing opportunities for entrepreneurship and business linkages with transparent processes for securing business contracts, procurement policies prioritising women-owned businesses, and working more closely with local partners to ensure that women have the skills and resources to grow their businesses; and, building more inclusive communities by partnering with organisations that provide community services, supporting efforts to protect women’s, labour, and human rights and advocating for local governments to promote women’s economic empowerment.
Whilst much more remains to be done, the report acknowledges that the private sector already plays an important role for women in SSA by generating economic and other opportunities. Indeed, Africa, as a whole, has more women in executive committees, more women serving as CEO, and more women on company boards than the average worldwide. Despite this progress, women are still underrepresented at every level of the corporate ladder and are disproportionately affected by some of the negative impact of business.
In this context, supporting women-based businesses in SSA can go a long way towards promoting women empowerment and building inclusive communities. Women empowerment forms a core impact objective at GroFin, a development financier that focuses on small businesses across Africa and the Middle East in vital needs sectors such as education, healthcare, agribusiness, manufacturing and key services (water/energy/waste) to help entrepreneurs make a difference to their communities.
GroFin’s mission is aligned with the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’) through its emphasis on women-led businesses and female employment. In keeping with its focus on women empowerment, by close of 2016, GroFin had supported over 100 women-owned businesses and as many as 28,500 of the total jobs sustained (30%) in investee businesses were for female employees.
Women entrepreneurs such as Kenya’s Irene, whose brainchild GAEA Foods empowers farmers in the Rift Valley to supply quality potatoes to Nairobi’s competitive fast foods industry; Jordan’s Hiyam, whose school, English Talents, in turn empowers girls with the education and skills they need to succeed in a global economy; South Africa’s Rina whose Zambesi Akademie is making a difference to more and more special needs children through the widened reach of its expanded premises; and Nigeria’s Latifat, whose Hatlab Ice Cream Delite has spawned multiple successful outlets across 3 cities and has now gone on to develop franchise management skills – GroFin’s finance and support has made a difference to women-owned businesses across Africa and the Middle East.
If you are an investor seeking to reach out to women entrepreneurs across Africa and the Middle East, we invite you to partner with us. GroFin’s proven expertise in supporting women-owned businesses, and its capacity to provide them with unprecedented access to finance, business development skills and market linkages, can help you to deepen your impact footprint.