In the last 10 years, the number of women in the global workforce has increased by 250 million. This is likely due to more access to education and capital. Women also reinvest a large portion of their income locally, which advances economic growth and stability. When women entrepreneurs receive support, economies grow.
On December 12, 2018, the Bureau of International Information Programs hosted an interactive webchat focused on women entrepreneurs in Africa. The program addressed common challenges that women entrepreneurs often face.
C.D. Glin, president and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation, asked three female entrepreneurs to discuss securing capital, scaling a business, gaining access to buyers and addressing the unique challenges women face in Africa:
- Elizabeth Gore — President at HelloAlice.com, an online platform that matches you with opportunities, locally and online, that will help you start and grow a business.
- Charity Annan Audpong — CEO at Mennan Foods, a food processing and packaging business that empowers women in Ghana.
- Adjo Dede Asare — CEO at Alfie Designs, an established fashion label that produces designs for men and women in Ghana. Adjo is also a 2016 YALI Network fellow.
Elizabeth, Charity and Adjo shared best practices and success stories and answered questions from viewers. Read the highlights of their conversation below to learn more!
Insights on Networking
“The most important thing with networking is the women sitting to your left and your right,” Elizabeth says. “No matter where you are in the world, look to your left and say, ‘You probably have great advice for me.’” There is a 75% higher chance that your business will succeed if you join a network. Sometimes the best advice may come from someone who just went through the same thing six months earlier; maybe she hired her first employee or got a loan. Some resources include Mara Mentors, MARA, and you can also register on HelloAlice.com to find great mentors.
“I would like to say that working with 23 products is no joke,” Charity says. Even though Charity employs only 25 people directly, her work affects hundreds. Women are incredible to work with and they tend to be more loyal and stick to their word, she believes. However, you need to do your research; try and get it right from the start so you don’t lose money. Charity says, “It’s not all about the money; find the right product and the right people.”
Adjo says, “Oftentimes entrepreneurs in Africa don’t like people to be in your business. So if you want to grow on the large scale, you can’t do it by yourself.” Networking was key for Adjo. When she expanded from Ghana to Sierra Leone, Zambia and Uganda, she had friends, church and classmates there to help.
If the business is not working, how do you know when to quit?
Adjo recommends that you look at your numbers and see what is selling and what is not. “I do well in selling more men’s clothes,” she says. “So I look at the sales from every shop and I see what is moving faster, and increase and decrease quantities to balance it out.” Adjo comments that sometimes you might love to do something as a hobby, but realistically you don’t have the skills to do it as a product.
What are the biggest challenges facing women entrepreneurs?
“There’s two things that I think are uniquely challenging particularly for women. The first is definitely time,” Elizabeth says. “I have never met a woman who says, ‘Oh I have so much time on my hands; I can do everything.’ We are all time poor. Women no matter what their age is, tend to be caring for aging parents, children. Most women who start a business have another job at that time. Interesting that we do more with less. Time is the biggest challenge. I always recommend using as many digital tools to make things more efficient. I agree with leaning on your friends and asking for help.”
Remember the 3 Ts: Time, Team & Tools
How do you assure other women that they can be both mothers and innovators, especially when some cultures aren’t as encouraging?
Charity says, “You can be anything. You just have to put your mind to it. Surround yourself with the right people. You have to gain respect. You don’t have to be a superwoman. Ask for help. Get the right people to help you do your best.”
How do women play a role in fighting for better governance?
Adjo remarks that you need to be involved and take part. She says that when you do your business well and your business spreads and affects hundreds of people in your community, “it will cause a government official to sit up and know that this woman is changing lives.”
Charity: “I would like to tell everyone here that I appreciate small beginnings. Trust the process. Go from one to two to three to four. If anybody gives you money to start a business, and you know, you’re out there and boom they are not your friend. They are your enemy. Because in every business, there are sharks. You need to absorb them bit by bit and build the tenacity to stand the big ones when they come. So trust the process, appreciate the small beginnings, grow gradually. Be known for something. When they see your product, they have to see you in it. If you are doing the right thing, the right people will find you at the right time.”
Adjo: “I will also say that sometimes all entrepreneurs always want to start fresh. There are some of us out there that can actually build on existing businesses and make it bigger. I always tell young people that if you see something your parents are doing…help to make that thing big. It doesn’t have to be your own thing and start from scratch.”
To learn more about how you can develop your professional network and take your business to the next level, check out these YALI Online Network resources on our website.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to those interviewed and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.