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A new generation of CEOs: Businesswomen in Africa discuss gender inclusion in the private sector

Alexandre Laure's picture

As we saw in our second blog, entrepreneurship plays a critical role in promoting sustainable growth. Yet, in many West-African countries, long-standing stigmas against the private sector are still big obstacles for women and young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
 
Family support, in particular, remains critical for women’s career choices, and the private sector doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation among parents. “It’s very hard for them [parents] to understand why we want to do this instead of getting a steady government job,” says Binta NdiayeMakeSense Africa CEO. “My mother is an entrepreneur, but she did that on top of her regular job and raising a family in France, so it’s not seen as a career in-and-of-itself.”
 
“Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, so if you don’t have that support and encouragement, or even your family’s blessing to go for it, I can understand that it could be extremely challenging for some women,” says Mariem Kane, founder and president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC.

Ndiaye for one, though, is not deterred: “It’s up to us to educate them on this potential and to have the resolve to follow-through. If you can convince skeptical parents, you can convince any investor.” 
 
Considering that these incubators are run by women, do they make special efforts to recruit women entrepreneurs?
 
Lisa Barutel founder and CEO of La Fabrique, acknowledges that even though La Fabrique received a huge response to a recent call for proposals targeting women, far fewer apply to general calls that do not have a specific focus on women entrepreneurship. “Normally we don’t go out looking for candidates, as we can be inundated with applications, but when we noticed this discrepancy, we did launch a program to identify women with potential,” she says.

A new generation of CEOs: Businesswomen in Africa discuss incubation, development, and the start-up mindset

Alexandre Laure's picture

As we saw in our first post, our six CEOs are very optimistic about incubators and their potential support to their countries’ economic development. You don’t get far in the private sector without being realistic, though, and they cautioned against seeing entrepreneurship as a catch-all remedy to West Africa’s youth unemployment and skills deficit issues.

A new generation of CEOs: Six businesswomen discuss entrepreneurship and start-ups in West Africa

Alexandre Laure's picture

Across West Africa, it’s very difficult to find a workplace as innovative and diverse as business incubators. Known for their young, energized, and often gender-balanced staff, these organizations are an encouraging indication of what’s in store in the coming decades, as the region presents a younger, more open, and increasingly female workforce to the world.

In francophone West Africa—where there was not a single incubator at the beginning of 2011—six young women are currently leading major incubators, some of which have World Bank Group support.   

With backgrounds in computer science, engineering, finance, logistics, project management, and social entrepreneurship, these women have profiles that are just as varied and impressive as the start-ups they support. Given the World Bank Group’s commitment to promoting gender equality, as laid out in the Gender Strategy, our team talked to them to learn more about their work and leadership experience.   

It takes an ecosystem: How networks can boost Africa’s incubators

Alexandre Laure's picture
Also available in: Français
 
 Bond’Innov
Dynamic entrepreneurs supported by the North-South incubator Bond’Innov. Photo Credit: Bond’Innov


Across francophone Africa, incubators are emerging rapidly to support a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Despite their huge potential, however, incubators are just one of many players in a typical entrepreneurial ecosystem.  So it is increasingly important that incubators — in addition to allocating the necessary resources, services and funding to worthy start-ups — provide them with a platform to share and transfer knowledge across the ecosystem, not only with each other but also with the investors, research centers and industry experts upon which their businesses will ultimately depend.

As with Impact Hub Bamako, incubators can be part of broader international franchises, while others are anchored by academic, public or private bodies (or some hybrid of the three) and may already be associated with other incubators. Bond’innov, for example, is an incubator that promotes entrepreneurship cooperation between the global North and the South and that is headquartered in Paris and located on-campus with the Institute for Development Research, a large multidisciplinary research organization operating in more than 50 developing countries.

West Africa’s charismatic marine life, or “aquatic bushmeat,” under threat

Peter Kristensen's picture
 A sea turtle rests on a rock in Guinea-Bissau. Photo credit: IBAP


In Ghana, coastal erosion and rising seas are burying some seaside villages, like Fuveme, which is now completely under sand.  As in neighboring countries, hydrocarbon exploration is well underway not too far from the shore, and coastal urban areas are expanding. The fish stock has declined dramatically, and formerly thriving fishing communities are in trouble.

Start-up from scratch? How entrepreneurship can generate sustainable development and inclusion in the Sahel

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

In a first for Africa’s Sahel region, entrepreneurs from Senegal to Chad assembled in Niamey, Niger, for the SahelInnov Expo last month to showcase their businesses and exchange ideas. From livestock to drones, all sectors were on display as a new generation of entrepreneurs and start-ups emerges with bold and innovative ways to address the challenges facing their countries and communities. Increasingly recognized as a strategic path to economic growth, supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs has a key impact on development and is generating more interest from governments in the Sahel. 



Michaëlle Jean, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, the President the Republic of Niger, and Almoktar Allahoury, the CEO of CIPMEN.
Photo Credit: CIPMEN


Hosting the event was Niger SMEs Incubator Center (CIPMEN) whose CEO, Almoktar Allahoury, lauded the initiative. “This is the first time all stakeholders have come together: entrepreneurs, public officials, investors, academia and development partners in one place to discuss the many opportunities and remaining obstacles for the private sector — this is just what we need to take the region to the next level.”

Indeed, entrepreneurship could be especially important for this extremely poor region, with half the population living below the poverty line. Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, are among the fastest-growing economies in the world, yet their GDP per capita are just $395 and $652 respectively, compared to the Sub-Saharan African average of $1,647. A vibrant and active entrepreneurial ecosystem would therefore not only boost economic diversification and improve productivity, it also could prove the vital lever to tackling two of the Sahel’s biggest challenges: youth unemployment and climate change.

The devastating combination of climate change, mass migration, trafficking and the rise of violent extremism has resulted in recurring humanitarian crises and massive food insecurity, affecting more than 20 million people across the Sahel in 2015. Enduringly high birth rates, furthermore, will require millions of jobs to be created to respond to the needs of a rapidly growing and increasingly young population. Institutional reach remains weak and a state of protracted insecurity has taken root over vast swathes of territory.

Getting the job done in tough countries

Elan Cusiac-Barr's picture


Photo Credit: J Endres via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve spent the last 18 years in Sub-Saharan Africa working with governments on making public-private partnerships (PPPs) work for their countries. My interest is not just professional. My wife is Cameroonian and we live with our children in Senegal. I love this region! So I have a deeply personal connection that drives me, and it is important that my work has a positive impact. But the countries I work in are typically very difficult for businesses and investors to operate in and tend to have regulatory systems and investment climates that dissuade private sector investment, which is critical for PPPs to succeed. So, even though it is personally rewarding, this is not an easy job.

Free, French course on PPPs offers customized case studies, relevant regional perspectives

Olivier Fremond's picture
Free, French course on PPPs



As a former country manager in Benin, my team and I advised the national administration on the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Project Law then under consideration and engaged in PPPs. This effort took place after the private sector, both domestic and international, made a strong commitment to finance large infrastructure programs. Timing is everything, of course, and the window for passing the legislation through parliament before legislative elections was tight – ultimately, too tight. A better understanding of PPPs and the options these partnerships can offer to a country like Benin, which needs substantial infrastructure investments, would have helped the process tremendously.

At the time, however, PPP educational options for French speakers were scarce. Although plenty of PPP resources exist in English, many fewer tools are available for Francophone African countries. These tools are critical to understanding PPPs, creating and adopting legislation, applying PPPs when they may serve a need, and knowing when not to use them to secure infrastructure services.

Why regional integration is so important for resource-driven diversification in Africa

Gözde Isik's picture
Industrial area in Kitwe, Zambia / Photo: Arne Hoel


Natural resources management, particularly in the extractives industry, can make a meaningful contribution to a country’s economic growth when it leads to linkages to the broader economy. To maximize the economic benefits of extractives, the sector needs to broaden its use of non-mining goods and services and policymakers need to ensure that the sectors infrastructure needs are closely aligned with those of the country’s development plans.

In Africa, especially, mining and other companies that handle natural resources traditionally provide their own power, railways, roads, and services to run their operations. This “enclave” approach to infrastructure development is not always aligned with national infrastructure development plans.

From crisis to resilience: Helping countries get back on track

Joachim von Amsberg's picture

Just two weeks ago, the citizens of Sierra Leone celebrated the end of Ebola transmission in their country with cheering and dancing in the streets of Freetown. It’s a milestone worth celebrating in a country that has suffered nearly 4,000 deaths from the deadly virus.


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