Growth and sustainability for women entrepreneurs — Lionesses of Africa

Impact Partner Content / by Dr Langelihle Simela, Agribusiness Development Manager, Absa

Women entrepreneurs are business people like their male counterparts. As such, any factors that affect business growth and sustainability, affect their businesses too. These factors include understanding the opportunities and challenges in the sector in which they operate, how the prevailing socio-economic environment impacts on these, and the ability to ride the opportunities and tackle the challenges. For example, in South Africa, one of the biggest challenges is the inconsistent supply and escalating cost of electricity. Absa provides insights and content that focuses on the technologies, available resources, financial considerations for investment in these technologies, suitable implementation, as well as regulatory issues that must be kept in mind. This information is available to all businesses and the opportunity to gainfully use the information is equally open to all businesses. So why would there be special focus on women entrepreneurs in terms of achieving growth and sustainability?

It seems that a number of the impediments that women face, are less to do with the viability of their businesses and more related to social and cultural issues and their consequences. This implies that solutions should focus on empowering women to deal with or overcome the social and cultural issues, and society at large to treat women entrepreneurs equitably. In the subsequent paragraphs, I discuss five selected common challenges for women in business, in no particular order, and how they can be addressed in general, as well as through the Absa/Lionesses of Africa partnership. 

Create women-focused networking opportunities

Most discussions on women in business invariably rank access to professional and social networking opportunities highly for successful entrepreneurs. Networking lets women expand their business opportunities and identify role models, mentors and sponsors. It can mean the difference between mediocrity and an exceptional business.

The Lionesses of Africa website and webinars create a great platform for women to network, share business ideas, learn from each other as well as receive some business insights from Absa. In addition to women-focussed networks, women should also strive to participate in sector-related networking events. Through discussions and consultation, participants endeavour to derive solutions to problems facing the sector. For example the disrepair of freight infrastructure, logistical bottlenecks, delays in the registration of fertilizers and agrochemicals, soaring input prices and the impact of the Russia/Ukraine war were some of the major discussion points which members sought solutions to.

Struggling to be taken seriously – allow women’s voices to be heard

It is often said that a business concept pitched by a woman is less likely to be funded than the same concept pitched by a man. This gender gap is attributed to societal gender biases and the fact that men tend to be more self-confident and persuasive than women. There is a need to “teach” society to treat women equitably and to assist women to build self-confidence. 

The latter can be achieved through coaching and mentorship. Absa Ghana has a unique proposition that is suitable for women entrepreneurs, called Absa Emerge. Over and above the transactional offerings, the proposition includes aspects such as business training, education and mentorship, access to the Absa Fitness Centre, free bootcamp programmes for children, as well as access to health-related network events. 

Defying social expectations

If there is one aspect that the Lionesses of Africa/Absa webinars are not short of, it is great examples of women who have defied all expectations but developed socio-emotional skills such as personal initiative and perseverance to thrive in sectors in which women did not operate traditionally. During the webinars, words such as inspirational, intentional, breaking ceilings and courageous, flow endlessly to describe the works of these women as they showcase their experiences and accomplishments. The world needs more such role models so that successful women become a norm rather than the exception in our society. I would encourage women that are part of this Lionesses of Africa network to attend some of these webinars, not only for inspiration, but to also build their networks.

Accessing funding

Access to finance seems to be the Achilles heel for women entrepreneurs, partly because of the societal gender biases, but also to the extent to which women are prepared to pitch their business propositions. From a bank’s perspective, the ability to repay debt, the viability of the business and the management skills set are crucial aspects in deciding whether or not to finance the proposed business. These are inferred largely from historical performance. I encourage all women entrepreneurs to build a track record of their business from day one, regardless of where the funding came from. The narrative of growth should be strongly supported by indisputable evidence. 

Absa offers Cashflow Manager, an online tool linked to the client’s bank account, designed to help businesses manage contacts, quotes, invoicing, payroll, and keep track of all the money used in the business. Absa Cashflow Manager keeps track of debtors and creditors, reports on cashflow, and thus reduces bookkeeping costs. Through the Absa Banking App or Absa Online, the business owner has real-time data, that provides insights into which accounts are overdue or outstanding – and can manage their business more effectively. For further information on the Cashflow Manager tool, please watch the video on

Impact of regulatory requirements 

Three matters stand out when assessing the impact of regulations on the growth of women’s businesses. First, is the universal fact that entrepreneurship growth is high in countries with more efficient regulations, such as fewer labour restrictions and greater monetary freedom. Second, and on the downside, is that country programmes and policies tend to focus on women in the lower end of the market and provide little support to women with high growth businesses, and yet these are the ones that are more likely to grow and employ more people, support communities, achieve high productivity, be innovative and contributes to exports.

In the South African context, women can take advantage of affirmative action policies such as the Employment Equity Act and broad-based black economic empowerment codes, The latter encourage ownership, management control and procurement from women-owned enterprises. However, South African women should address whether or not the codes adequately advance women-owned businesses, given that only 14 out of 118 possible points on the generic scorecard, pertain to women. Points are allocated for ownership (4/25), management control (6/19) and procurement (4/27), but there are no points for skills development, enterprise development and the socioeconomic development of women. 

Across the continent, women should use networks such as Lionesses of Africa, to draw lessons from countries that are doing well in advancing women entrepreneurship (such as Rwanda and Ethiopia) and advocate for similar and broader support in their countries, not just focusing on the lower end of the market. 

Going forward, Absa and Lionesses of Africa will continue with the business agility webinars, and we hope to see more participation as well as to gain insights on how this platform can enhance growth and sustainability of women-owned businesses.

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