Ripples of Impact – Supporting and investing in female-owned businesses for an equitable future
Female entrepreneurship is on the rise globally, with this wave sweeping over the African and Middle Eastern region.
Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, has the world’s highest rate of women involved in entrepreneurial activity. While there remain significant barriers to success that female entrepreneurs face, their contribution to economic stability and development has been widely acknowledged and documented.
As a business leader, I’m passionate about supporting women-owned business to achieve their potential and accelerate their growth. Research shows that women owned businesses generate higher revenue. By investing in female entrepreneurs, communities and countries can create more equitable economic footing and better livelihoods for people around the world.
I also appreciate the changing dynamics of today’s world, and the role the use of technology can play by empowering and unleashing the economic potential of female entrepreneurs to be a force for economic growth.
In this article, as we celebrate women this month, I explore the need to support women-owned businesses drawing on my personal experience working and engaging with female entrepreneurs.
Supporting system changes
In many ways, the world I started my career in is different from today’s world. Innovation and technology play a big role in automating repeated tasks and enabling efficient decision-making.
We have seen the role technology has played in being a gateway to new spaces, markets, and information, thereby boosting women’s economic activity and participation. Studies have shown how mobile banking and smartphones have markedly expanded women’s financial inclusion and enhanced their businesses.
In 2020, Standard Chartered launched the Women in Tech (SC Women in Tech Incubator) programme in Ghana. This was in the thick of the COVID-19 global pandemic, but we were cautiously optimistic that it would make a splash in the area of female-led entrepreneurship. However, we could not have imagined how successful it would be. Today we are on to the third cohort.
SC Women in Tech was developed to provide more opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial excellence. In partnership with Ashesi University’s Ghana Climate Innovation Centre (GCIC), the programme provides female entrepreneurs with the needed support in business management, mentoring, and seed funding. This is the Bank’s contribution to creating opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial and leadership expertise while scaling up their businesses on the backbone of technology.
We helped beneficiaries of the programme to build their skill and business development through best-in-class workshops, masterclasses and other business training sessions. The entrepreneurs had the opportunity to collaborate, learn, and grow, in addition to mentorship support from seasoned entrepreneurs and experienced professionals.
Ultimately, the top five finalists received seed funding and financial guidance to scale up their businesses.
Three years in, the ripples of impact we see spreading from each of these amazing young women who have gone through the incubator programme is impressive. Cumulatively, their businesses with operations in 10 out of Ghana’s 16 regions have generated more than GHS1.2 million in revenue, created over 750 jobs and almost 23,000 households have had access to the products and services of these businesses.
Creators of Change
We create heroes and change makers when we institutionalise support programmes and lift participation of female entrepreneurs.
Last year, Hannah Aidoo of HA Farms took part in our Women in Tech incubator programme. At the time her farm, located in Mankessim in the Central Region, had 300 birds and a small vegetable and food crop farm. Today, there are over 2,000 layers and broilers and she has expanded into rabbit, snail and vegetable farming.
I am thrilled about Hannah’s growth. From automated water dispensers to CCTV monitoring to social media marketing, Hannah has taken a profession as old as time and infused technology into it to provide society’s basic need of food whiles providing employment and generating income sources for her partners and sub service providers.
With her learnings from Women in Tech, HA Farms is advancing farming practices to another level. In Hannah’s own words, “I believe that if farmers adapt to technology that will help increase their production and preserve foods that they’ve produced, there’s going to be food available all year round for the nation. It is our role as farmers to research and adapt to new and improved technology that will help us produce beyond seasonal cycles.”
Several women like Hannah are making a difference in the ever-evolving world of technology. How can the success stories be replicated and scaled to achieve more?
First, we must as a society be aware of potential gender bias and work hard to eliminate it. Becoming aware of how it manifests will make it easier for you to counteract it as a leader, colleague, investor, venture capitalist, or even a mentor. For instance, venture capitalists can take notice of the way they frame questions to entrepreneurs: are they asking female founders different questions compared to male founders pitching for investment?
Secondly, let’s actively invest in start-ups led by diverse founders. While women-led start-ups are severely under-represented when it comes to investments, research has shown such companies deliver better revenue.
Lastly, let’s build a community of supportive mentors. Behind every successful entrepreneur, there is at least one supportive mentor. Mentors provide valuable advice and support to entrepreneurs, and yet, nearly half of all female founders feel that they lack access to mentors and advisers. This, I’m happy to say, is part of our structure at Standard Chartered. I have personally seen the positivity from our staff regularly volunteering mentorship to young women to realise their full potential and improve their chances of starting a business or growing their careers.
Every role played in investing to drive women-led businesses has a multiplier effect and generational impact that brings progress to our communities, continent and the world at large.
As we embrace equity, everyone has a role to play and by building one another up, we will be able to look back and be proud of what we achieved together.
The writer is the Chief Executive of Standard Chartered Bank Ghana PLC.