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Investing in Women is Key to Africa’s Growth
Guest blog post by Ambassador Mark Green, President & CEO, the Initiative for Global Development
If you have spent any time in Africa, you know how dynamic the informal economy is. The continent is teeming with small businesses, many of them run by women doing their best to support themselves and their families. African women are great entrepreneurs—in fact, they demonstrate higher rates of entrepreneurship than women in other regions. Indeed in Tanzania, where I will soon be participating in the African First Ladies Summit, women make up some 43 percent of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise sector. The challenge is turning all of this economic activity into solid businesses with the potential to grow—enterprises that can generate revenue, pay salaries, and create new jobs, lifting the lives of individuals immediately but over the longer term raising national productivity as well.
Women in Africa face a number of barriers to their increased economic participation, starting with unequal access to education and training, including basic business skills. In many countries, women also face discriminatory laws and regulations, especially related to property rights, business ownership and banking. Even under the best of circumstances, women entrepreneurs can struggle securing the basic assets for a healthy business—access to credit, enabling technology, such as mobile phones, and new markets.
If we can unlock economic opportunity for women, however, the dividends for families and societies will be significant because women are investment multipliers. Women reinvest the bulk of their income back into their families, especially for education and healthcare. This investment in healthier, better educated children not only benefits their immediate families, but boosts the productivity and prosperity of the broader community as well.
Clearly, business has much to gain from expanding economic opportunity for African women and should be part of the solution. Successful African companies, such as those represented in the Initiative for Global Development’s Frontier Leader network, are devising innovative ways of reaching women and other underserved segments of the population as consumers, suppliers and employees. Governments, too, have a role to play, especially in leveling the playing field when it comes to business ownership and property rights. The bottom line is that enabling more women to become entrepreneurs is one of the smartest investments Africa can make to promote sustainable growth and prosperity.
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