Women Do It Better: Investing and Entrepreneurship in Africa
This article was first published on https://untapped-global.com/
As part of our ongoing series to highlight entrepreneurs in Africa, we recently hosted a Clubhouse discussion on “Why Women Do it Better: Investing & Entrepreneurship in Africa”. The conversation centered around how women are uniquely suited to entrepreneurship, how they excel at spotting investing opportunities that male investors miss, and the importance of investing in more women-led companies across investment portfolios.
Our panel included Hope Ditlhakanyane, Venture Partner in Mest Africa, Janine Basel, CEO of Akro Capital, Raj Kulasingam, a lawyer turned investor, and Sarah Dusek, Founder of Enygma Ventures, a venture fund focused on female founders and entrepreneurs in Southern Africa.
Women In Africa
According to the Informal Labor Organization, 89.7 percent of employed women in Africa were part of informal employment excluding agriculture, in 2018. While women in Africa today are still largely not seen as investors, they make up a large part of the informal transaction economies that drive much of trade and commerce across the region.
A recent Harvard Business Review article summarized a study of over 8000 leaders and found that women outranked men on 17 of 19 leadership skills measuring effectiveness and other competencies.
Women contribute unique insights by virtue and are better at managing resources and people by being more relationship-driven
- Hope Ditlhakanyane
Kimberly Mwende is one of many outstanding female leaders coming out of Africa. In 2020, Kim partnered with Untapped Global to become a water ATM franchisee and used Untapped’s Smart Asset Financing model to set up a water purification unit using IOT technology providing real-time data on sales and usage. Now with three employees, Kim’s business provides purified drinking water to the residents of Langata, a densely populated working-class neighborhood in Nairobi.
The challenge for women-led ventures in Africa today is a similar one to what female entrepreneurs face across the globe, a lack of access to capital needed to scale due to blind spots traditional investors have in understanding the opportunities that women see.
The problem is twofold but comes down to who the investors are, and how investments are assessed.
“People told Sarah Blakely that selling stretchy underwear would never work — and she’s built a billion-dollar company over the last decade. Those people in the room making the investment decisions were men.” — Sarah Dusek
Sarah Blakely established Spanx, a business that had initially had trouble raising capital. This is a perfect example of the VC blindspot and brings up the question of what other billion-dollar companies are overlooked?
We see from the numbers that in many cases women are outperforming their male counterparts and companies with more diverse executive leadership profiles perform better. In fact, research from Kauffman Fellows showed that women-led teams generated a 35% higher ROI than all-male teams. These kinds of metrics are interesting to note, but at the heart of it, women really just need access to the same funding and leadership opportunities as men.
When you say women do it better, the perception is that there’s some kind of scarcity, that if you promote women, then men will have less, or there’s less opportunity for men and that’s not the case, there is no scarcity we don’t live in a finite scenario It’s not a case that if women are better men are worse.
- Sarah Dusek
While intentionally cheeky as a title, we do agree that it’s not about one gender being better than the other but more about providing opportunities to those that are typically underserved. In other words, investors will be able to support the next “Spanx” only if women are supported as entrepreneurs and investors and given the same access to role models, education, and opportunities that men historically have been given.
Our entrepreneurial role models need to expand, rather than the ego-driven profit and returns above-all-else models we currently look to such as Tesla and Apple, how do we expand the concept of leadership to be more inclusive to the traits that women naturally bring to the table?
From our discussion, some of the traits where women excel include collaboration, relationship building, and a readiness to learn. In general, women are less ego-driven, and when discussing differences in opinion with investors, they are naturally more curious than confrontational. It is no surprise that women value relationships, something that is of utmost importance especially as it relates to strong informal economies that often rely on informal verbal agreements. Trust in a relationship is at the center of each transaction. Lastly, women, particularly young women are ready to learn and quickly apply their new learnings and experiences into their ventures. A key attribute for any innovator.
Raj Kulasingam, the only man in the panel, pointed out that he continues to broaden his investment portfolio to include more women. In working with other female investors such as Geetha Tharmaratnam, CEO and founder at Aequalitas Capital Partners, he’s learned to place more trust in relationships over paper contracts, a key paradigm shift that has taken place as he’s worked with and invested in more women.
In conclusion, Women in Africa do not only do it better, but they are also taking on some of the largest problems humanity is facing today. They deserve to be supported. You can find the replay of our conversation, here.
Our goal at Untapped is to close the funding gap for SMEs in Africa, as women make up a large part of those small and mid-sized entrepreneurs, we are committed to raising awareness around female-led ventures and connecting them to investors around the globe. If you are interested in learning more about our Smart Asset Financing platform, please be sure to join our community and keep up to date on our latest virtual and in-person events across Africa and the globe.