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Southern Africa Trust Presents Research Findings at the Women Advancing Africa Forum

The empowerment of women and harnessing women’s entrepreneurial abilities continue to be one of the key focus areas of development initiatives in Africa.  Though an increasing number of women occupy leadership roles in numerous sectors, this has not translated into the overall empowerment of women.

The Southern Africa Trust, supported the Graca Machel Trust in initiating the movement “Women Advancing Africa (WAA).” It was successfully launched in August 2017 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and focused on the theme of “Driving Social and Economic Transformation”. More than 300 delegates from diverse backgrounds came together to celebrate women’s achievements, discuss the challenges they face, and identify solutions needed to strengthen the participation of women in different sectors of the economy and advance social change. The forum was centred around the three core pillars “Market Access”, “Financial Inclusion” and “Social Change.”

The WAA Forum also launched six working groups (“tracks”) for in-depth, sector-specific discussions regarding: (1) agribusiness, (2) energy, extractives and infrastructure; (3) services and trade; (4) technology; (5) financial inclusion; and (6) changing the narrative: media and creative industries.

In these small groups, participants engaged in analysing structural barriers that hold women back, showcasing the latest innovations and models of success, identifying solutions and pitching new ideas that will benefit women in these sectors.

During the WAA Forum, the Trust presented a study on “Women’s empowerment in Africa, building successful female entrepreneurs”, which analysed the main drivers, obstacles and opportunities for women’s empowerment in Africa. The research took a closer look at what these barriers are and suggests that while investing in a woman’s skill and education is important, efforts are most effective when she already has a fundamental sense of her own worth. Initiatives that focus on women empowerment need to equip women with the skills needed to overcome structural and relational barriers that may come along the way.

According to the study, female entrepreneurs in developing countries are primarily motivated to start businesses out of necessity and that due to biases about women’s capacity to sustain an enterprise in the long-term, it is often assumed that female entrepreneurs are not committed to establishing a business.

The study also revealed the following:

  • Entrepreneurship can play a pivotal role in advancing women’s empowerment in Africa but more needs to be done to remove the myriad hurdles they face in starting and growing a business.
  • Relationships play a role in driving entrepreneurship –  role models and mentors were cited as a source of inspiration for starting a business, as well as a source of support in running the business.
  • Respondents often had to overcome a lack of assertiveness, self-doubt and a pessimistic outlook, as well as poor self-discipline in order to sustain and grow their enterprises – holding clients accountable for payments, convincing clients and suppliers to agree to fair prices and marketing business was challenging at first.
  • Poor access to finance and markets were the most commonly cited structural constraints on the growth of enterprises.
  • Relationships play both an enabling and restrictive role in the entrepreneurial journey.
  • Gender-discrimination in the workplace creates limited opportunities for women to advance.
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