What Support Do Women Entrepreneurs Need?


…How Visa And The Visa Foundation Are Helping Level The Playing Field For Women Entrepreneurs In Africa

“What support do you need?” Five simple yet critical words posed to me two weeks into navigating a new job and trying to write my MBA research paper due in four weeks. I did not think I would make the due date at the time. One obvious need I had was time, which I was fortunate to get from my manager at Visa. I also needed a comprehensive support system, such as my husband taking over all parental duties and his colleagues having to cover more at work for him (I know they celebrated when I handed in my research). A friend also helped with the school run and then took my kids every Sunday so that I could work on my paper whilst my classmates kept me accountable. My supervisor guided and encouraged me to persevere. The outcome: not only did I submit my paper with a few days to spare, but I also passed with distinction. Would I have passed without their support? Probably. However, would I have excelled and done exceptionally well? Definitely not! 

Having the proper support is critical to excelling in any field or endeavour. In Africa, entrepreneurship is crucial for economic growth and development, and women entrepreneurs play a vital role in driving this growth. However, they face several challenges that hinder their success. These challenges range from a lack of access to financial resources to cultural biases and discrimination. Therefore, providing financial and non-financial support to women entrepreneurs is critical to their success and, ultimately, the continent’s development.

Financial support is crucial for any business’s success; it is no different for women entrepreneurs. They disproportionately lack access to capital and financial resources, making starting or growing their businesses difficult. This lack of access can be attributed to various factors, including limited collateral, discriminatory lending practices, and a lack of financial literacy. As a result, women entrepreneurs struggle to obtain capital, which limits their ability to invest in their businesses, hire employees, and expand their operations. Visa and Visa Foundation are committed to strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems and contributing to addressing some of these challenges. In Kenya, Visa partnered with Hand in Hand Eastern Africa to provide training and financial support to women entrepreneurs. The program aimed to help entrepreneurs in Kenya, 80% of whom were women, access markets, increase their productivity and improve their livelihoods. As a result, the participants’ average income increased by $156 per month.

Furthermore, Visa She’s Next Program has partnered with several organisations to support women entrepreneurs on the continent and beyond.

Non-financial support is also essential for women entrepreneurs’ success. They face various challenges beyond financial constraints, including limited access to information, networks, and mentors. These challenges can make it difficult for women entrepreneurs to navigate the business environment and make informed decisions. Therefore, providing non-financial support, such as training, coaching, and mentoring, can help women entrepreneurs acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

[1] How Visa and Hand in Hand helped Kenyan entrepreneurs increase their incomes amid Covid-19 – KachTech Media (kachwanya.com)

At the 2023 Sankalp Africa Summit in Nairobi, Visa Foundation announced the launch of two new African-led initiatives to provide tailored business development support to women entrepreneurs and access to capital. The first is the Firestarters Initiative, driven by the Graça Machel Trust, which aims to reach 100 women-led businesses in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa and raise the profile of gender-lens investment and women empowerment on the continent.

The second is the RevUp Women Initiative driven by AfriLabs to support early-stage, women-led startups with capacity-building training and mentoring to 500 beneficiaries and unlock capital across five countries—Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa. These programs will cover various topics, including business planning, financial management, marketing, and customer service. Moreover, mentorship programs will provide women entrepreneurs access to experienced business leaders who can offer guidance, advice, and support.

Through its partnerships and initiatives, Visa and the Visa Foundation are playing a crucial role in supporting women entrepreneurs in Africa. By providing financial and non-financial support, women entrepreneurs are receiving the support they need to overcome challenges and achieve their entrepreneurial goals. These commitments are not only empowering women but also contributing to the economic growth and development of the African continent.

Indra Nooyi, in her book, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future, writes about the lack of access to support networks for women. Despite leading an international organisation, she was denied access to some professional networks solely because of her gender. This was confirmed at the Sankalp Africa Summit, where women entrepreneurs who are less privileged highlighted that they face similar challenges. This highlights the pervasive gender discrimination that still exists and the challenges that women face in achieving parity.

“What Support do you need?” is a question we should ask women entrepreneurs more often to ensure that we provide them with the proper support to enable them to soar. I am optimistic that by supporting women’s businesses, mentoring their ideas, and encouraging their ambitions, we will continue to be a driving force for positive change in our society.

By Precious Schulte to Brinke, Senior Manager, Social Impact, Visa Central Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEMEA)

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