Africa’s Women Mean Business ? But They Need Finance

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Inclusion was the big theme of the African Development Bank annual meeting in Lisbon last week, an acknowledgement that impressive economic growth numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As the president of the AfDB, Donald Kaberuka, acknowledged at the start of proceedings, the bank had got it wrong in Tunisia and Egypt – although as one bank official pointed out, good things had been accomplished in Tunisia by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in terms of infrastructure and education, but less so on unemployment.

As inclusion was very much the flavour of the day, one of the “not to miss” sessions covered the subject of African women in business. As an indication of the session’s importance, Graça Machel, the former Mozambican education minister and women’s rights advocate, and Nelson Mandela’s wife, had been invited but had to cancel her appearance because of a funeral.

What leapt out from the session was the untapped potential of women entrepreneurs. A study from the bank estimated that the demand for finance from women entrepreneurs amounted to $19bn (£11.6bn).

As panellists at the session pointed out, this represented a huge missed opportunity – for financial institutions that stood to make money, and for African economies missing out on job creation from dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises.

“This is a $19bn business opportunity for financial institutions, that really is the crux,” said Nomsa Daniels, executive director of New Faces, New Voices, a women’s business group in South Africa founded by Machel.

Caleb Fundanga, governor of Zambia’s central bank, went so far as to say that growth had been held back by the inability of women entrepreneurs to obtain financing. “Growth has been retarded,” he said, urging the banking sector to give equal access to women to a general pool of funds. He also made the point that often women were a better credit risk than men as they did not spend their money on drink.

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