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Working for Women's Financial Empowerment in CAR
February 24, 2021

Olive and her team at a training session for Bekilita.
Olive and her team at a training session for Bekilita.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Central African Republic (CAR) has one of the lowest literacy rates worldwide, especially among women. Women in the CAR remain particularly vulnerable, as many lack financial literacy. To address this problem, Olive Michele Dol-Somse, a young entrepreneur and 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow alumna, founded Bekilita, a social enterprise that educates, trains and empowers women through paid work.

“I define women empowerment and gender equality as women’s ability to make decisions for themselves. I believe when women are educated and financially empowered, they can influence and achieve gender equality,” Olive says. She notes that many women are in the business field but see business as a side activity rather than an opportunity to grow professionally and contribute to their community. Olive states, “Women often lack the skills to develop their businesses, especially in the private sector.” Through Bekilita, she aims to change the common misconception that women cannot impact the business world. She hires and trains women in communication, marketing and business strategies to compete with other companies in the local market.

“Financial empowerment should be the center of all our attention. If we want to end gender-based violence and achieve gender equality, we need to allow women to choose the type of life they want, which requires financial freedom,” Olive states.

Though her help is professional, it is also personal. As a woman CEO, Olive understands her employees’ challenges in balancing business and private life. Some of the difficulties her employees face are advancing their professional careers while raising children, facing husbands reluctant to support their jobs, and battling traditional perceptions that women should stay home. With that in mind, Olive provides holistic support to her employees, such as personal development training, capacity building and mentoring. Olive also offers financial literacy training, which gives her women employees the skills to influence household expenses in their homes. 

She has also faced several issues as a small-business owner. Early on, financial hardships almost pushed her to shut down her business. Political instability and insecurity, difficulty accessing capital, and the limited number of financial institutions capable of monitoring small businesses remain roadblocks. After hearing from her employees about how much their lives had changed since they started working at her company — they had steady work, could pay for their children’s education, and could take care of their families — she realized that the purpose of Bekilita was more significant than herself.

Image of Olive

“As a woman, we sometimes underestimate the challenges other women face. Let us focus our attention on understanding women — their challenges, needs, and environment. These elements will provide sufficient information we need to make a difference in our drive to empower women,” she finishes.

Olive plans to expand her business beyond her community to empower women from different areas of the Central African Republic.

Are you interested in learning more about women’s empowerment? Visit our Africa4Her page for more tools and resources. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.