The CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, joined a high-level virtual panel organised by German development agency GIZ on Monday, March 1, to discuss the economic and social effects of the pandemic and opportunities to close the digital gender divide while empowering female African entrepreneurs.
Themed Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa: working towards gender equality in times of COVID-19, Ifeyinwa was joined by Christoph Rauh, Africa Director, Federal German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ); Regina Honu, Founder and CEO of Soronko Solutions and Soronko Academy; Charlotte Isaksson, Senior Gender Advisor, European Union External Action Service (EEAS).
During the panel session, Ifeyinwa shared some impactful words, some of which are:
- When we started the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme in 2015, prioritising and achieving gender inclusivity was a part of our mission and what we set out to do. From the very beginning, we worked hard to get the information out there to women that this opportunity existed, understanding that in Africa, when compared to other continents, there are unique traditional and cultural barriers preventing women from fully engaging in entrepreneurship.
- We all know that when you empower a woman, you empower a nation. We all know that the African woman is a major pillar in achieving the economic development of Africa.
- From 2015 – 2020, we have empowered a total of 3000 women. This year, working with our partners at the European Union, we are going to train, fund, and mentor at least 3000 women for 2021 alone.
- To complement and support the work all of us in the private sector are doing, we need to work hand-in-hand with the governments and the public sector to ensure that the enabling environment and the policies are in place to empower all entrepreneurs—SMEs need to have access to capital, policy stability, low taxes etc.
- At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, our tried and tested model of entrepreneurship development targets entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid – those with only ideas, or very young businesses that are unable to get funding from banks or venture capitalists. A lot of these are women.
- Unfortunately, in Africa, there aren’t many friends and family that you can borrow that initial $5000 to start your business with. This is why we focus on the bottom of the pyramid where we de-risk the entrepreneurs and kickstart their businesses to fully launch their entrepreneurial careers.
- Providing finance to women entrepreneurs across Africa has got to be the one way to ensure the acceleration of economic development through gender inclusivity.
- Getting the entrepreneurs access to finance, trusting them with these funds in their own hands, empowering them with the mentorship and training to make high-quality business decisions is something that at TEF, we encourage other ecosystem stakeholders to begin to do.
- It’s no longer about aid; it’s about a hand up and not a handout. It’s about empowering women – and all entrepreneurs – to be self-sufficient, to create an ecosystem in their own communities where they embrace a job-creating mentality and not a job-seeking one.
- The work that we do at the Foundation is a multipronged approach to solving most of these problems we see. If we can tackle the problem of economic empowerment in a sustainable, gender-inclusive format, it’ll have a positive trickle-down effect on many other things.