Addis Ababa, 22 March 2021 - Investing to equip women and youth entrepreneurs with skills, resources and mentoring will drive Africa’s growth, according to ministers, bankers and development experts.
They were speaking at an event on ‘unleashing the potential of women and youth entrepreneurship in the digital age’, which was held on 21 March as part of the annual session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
The event, which featured a panel discussion, focused on the challenges women and youth entrepreneurs face, how they can leverage technology and which practices can promote entrepreneurship after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing the participants, the ECA’s Chief of the Urbanization section, Ms. Edlam Yemeru said: “Africa’s economic growth and prosperity depend on the ability of its entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into successful businesses.”
She added: “Africa’s high unemployment rate of 15 per cent particularly affects women and young people. Entrepreneurship in the digital era offers an enormous opportunity to create new jobs and enhance their participation in paid activities. To unlock this opportunity, our focus should be on women and young people.”
Ms. Yemeru described “robust data on entrepreneurship, access to finance, enabling environment and skills development” as core ingredients that could help women and youth-owned businesses to survive and thrive in Africa.
Globally, Africa ranks high in terms of numbers of women and youth-led startups. However, their economic contributions remain limited because of challenges such as poor access to finance, training and technology.
For instance, Africa’s gender gap in internet access has increased from 20 per cent in 2013 to 33 per cent in 2019. At the same time, youth represent 60 per cent of Africa’s unemployed population. Evidence suggests that these inequalities are widening due to the pandemic.
Speaking at the event, Dr. Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), said: “Much of the digital potential remains untapped, particularly for women and girls.
“Digital technologies present several entry points to building forward better from the COVID-19 crisis while accelerating progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
She said specific measures could include a fund to support digitalization, cross-sector partnerships, digital inclusion policies and gender-specific financial products.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Sidi Ould Tah, Director General of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) said: “Some people often say the problem is access to finance while others think the issue is the lack of education. A few believe the challenge is the poor infrastructure.
“These wide-ranging observations require a holistic response because any partial approach to this problem is bound to fail… That is why we have started working on a multi-stakeholder coalition to support women and youth entrepreneurs in unleashing their full potential.”
Contributing to the panel discussion, which included ministers, bankers and development experts, Ethiopian entrepreneur Ms. Samrawit Mersiehazen urged banks to create a special lending criterion for small businesses.
She said: “When I applied for a loan for my business, the bank required me to comply with the same stringent requirements that are set for large corporations. These can be tough to meet, especially if you are running a micro or small business.”
Mr. Samuel Mugisha, whose startup has delivered health services to half a million Ugandans, highlighted the need for mentorship opportunities for young people.
He said: “It is easy to start a business in Uganda. But 70 per cent of startups close before their fifth anniversary. Customized mentorship is extremely important to understand what do businesses need to do to survive in a competitive environment.”
Additional proposals put forward by the panelists included earmarking a specific portion of public funds for female startups and engaging banks to offer gender-sensitive services.
The ECA hosted the virtual event in partnership with UNFPA and BADEA.
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Tel: +251 11 551 5826