“Women entrepreneurs should be considered as drivers of a country's growth"

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Interview with Diariétou Gaye

Diariétou Gaye, World Bank Director of Strategy and Operations for the Africa Region, looks at the findings of the report ‘Profiting from Parity’ on the potential of women entrepreneurship for the continent.

This report brought to light new evidence of the obstacles faced by women entrepreneurs. What did you find out that was not already known?

Firstly, the report shows that there are more women entrepreneurs in Africa than anywhere else in the world. However, the level of profit generated by businesses run by women is 34% lower than that of men-run businesses. Looking particularly at the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at a man/woman couple who manage different companies but in the same sector, the woman makes less profit than her husband. Moreover, on average, businesses managed by men have six times the capital of those managed by women. This is a major obstacle. Lastly, women often tend to launch businesses in saturated sectors: catering, hairdressing, selling vegetables and fruit, etc., which limits their incomes. The root of this disparity is a difference in level of education and skills; women do not have access to the same training opportunities.

Diariétou Gaye explains why it is necessary to empower women to enable them to become drivers of economic growth

Diariétou Gaye explains why it is necessary to empower women to enable them to become drivers of economic growth

© Sarah Farhat/World Bank

Yet, some women entrepreneurs stand out from the rest. Why is that?

The first factor is related to training. We carried out an experiment in which we offered one group of women a traditional business training course and another group a training course focused on social and emotional skills (soft skills). The difference was incredible. Those who had completed the soft skills training course saw their profits grow by 40%, whereas those who had completed the business training course did not achieve any significant increase in their profits. These women learned how to take the initiative, to be proactive and to persevere. The report presents the example of Leïla in Togo. She was selling food on the road, but wanted to become a restaurateur. After completing the training course she expanded her micro-enterprise to such an extent that she now has a catering company that provides services for family and certain government events. The difference between Leïla and other women is that she was offered the opportunity to do entrepreneurship and leadership training.

The report offers a series of portraits of women entrepreneurs. With whom do you identify the most?

There is Leïla, who I just talked about, but also Akouélé who had a small wedding dress rental store in Togo. After the training, she diversified her business. She started selling accessories such as veils and gloves, and selling clothes rather than just renting them, and she opened a second store in Benin. Everything is based on innovation, diversification and investment.

As soon as women are offered the possibility of developing new prospects beyond their simple business, they succeed. During the training, for example, one of the exercises involves jointly examining what was done proactively or responsively the previous day. The group discussions not only help them to understand what proactive means, but they also foster self-reflection. Once we realise that these training courses work, we present them to governments. This programme, for example, is being implemented in more than ten countries.

How do you hope that this report will be used?

First, in-house, we need to make it a component of our strategy as empowering women is at the heart of the World Bank’s strategy for Africa. This type of study helps us give meaning, for example, to our country or regional strategies and is part of our discussions with the heads of state and the ministers of finance.

Moreover, women should be considered as drivers of a country's growth. This is the angle of development that we use in our work with county or regional authorities. When girls finish their secondary education, this creates a different dynamic. It's simple: if women are unable to play a role in a country's economy, that means half of the population is not working and is unproductive.

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