“I feel like African women are some of the most entrepreneurial women in the world,” said Amini Kajunju. “Many African women become entrepreneurs because that’s where the opportunities are.”
Kajunju has been studying entrepreneurship and advising entrepreneurs for her entire career. A native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she was a program manager at the International Executive Service Corps, which provides free consulting services to businesses in developing countries. She also spent 10 years advising under-resourced entrepreneurs in the New York City area as executive director of the Workshop in Business Opportunities.
Now Kajunju is president and CEO of the Africa-America Institute, a U.S.-based organization working to promote development in Africa. In 2013, she was named among Forbes’ 20 Young Power Women in Africa.
In spite of their entrepreneurial potential, women in the workplace still face significant challenges in Africa and most other countries in the world, Kajunju says. When shown a selection of comments from YALI Network’s #Africa4Her Virtual Town Hall in which men expressed the belief that women made difficult bosses, she said, “I think views like that are common everywhere.” She thinks they will be less common when more women are in leadership positions and are building businesses. “Entrepreneurship can hopefully create a meritocracy that can break down some of these barriers,” she said. “Because you’re not going to sell your products if you’re just hiring friends of friends, whether they have skills or not.”
When it comes to advice for entrepreneurs both male and female, Kajunju keeps it simple:
1) Know your target market and what your product or service can do for them.
2) Hire or work with people who are smarter than you and help them be as productive as possible by being kind and fair.
3) Develop thought-leadership within your industry. Share information within your marketplace.
“That’s why entrepreneurship is so amazing to me,” she said, “because it’s the opportunity to set your own rules. Those who join your team get to abide by those rules. And if those rules are about inclusion, gender parity, respect, hard work, productivity, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. We can all rally around those ideas.”