The group of women farmers calling themselves the “Pankop Women Farmers Forum” didn’t set out to own a million-dollar exporting business. They hail from Mpumalanga, the big game country in eastern South Africa, and first got together to grow and sell fruit locally in order to supplement family diets, boost incomes and pay school fees. As Mary Kimani, a writer for the United Nations magazine, Africa Renewal, tells it, the women soon realized that with no jobs in the village their children were making a beeline for the cities when they graduated. They decided to create jobs in the village. They borrowed $100,000 from local commercial banks, converted an old school dormitory into a fruit and vegetable dehydration plant and hired 65 young people. They borrowed another $120,000 and increased the number of employees to 200, working in shifts. With a third loan of about $1 million, they are upgrading the plant to meet European Union health and safety standards and start exporting their produce.
According to the International Finance Corp., the World Bank’s private-sector arm, women own about 48 percent of all enterprises in Africa. Increasingly, these enterprises are forming in the formal small/medium-sized sector instead of the more-showcased “micro” sector, as women network, pool resources, share best practices and establish cross-border partnerships. At the end of January, for example, women entrepreneurs in the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda), Ethiopia and Sudan met for two days in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, under the theme “Building synergistic networks among women entrepreneurs for business and trade.” They mulled such topics as opportunities for affordable finance, building partnerships for wealth creation through information communication technologies, creating markets for business and trade expansion for women, and developing networks to support young women entrepreneurs in both urban and rural areas.
A World Bank report, “Doing Business: Women in Africa,” profiles seven successful women entrepreneurs who typify the emerging breed. Released in April 2008, the report shows how the women overcame legal and regulatory obstacles to create and grow their businesses. Here’s a peek at their stories:
• Renowned painter Aissa Dionne started an interior design company, Aissa Dione Tissus, in Senegal, that today has annual revenues of $700,000 and more than 100 employees. The company exports traditional handwoven fabrics to luxury brands in Africa, Europe and the United States, including Hermés and Christian Lacroix.
• Janet Nkubana is the founder and president of Gahaya Links, a handicrafts company in Rwanda that empowers local rural women to achieve economic stability. The company has annual revenues of $300,000 and “links” more than 3,500 artisans in 40 cooperatives and associations in Rwanda. Its “peace baskets” are sold in Africa and the United States — at Macy’s, for example.
• Not yet 30, Kah Walla is managing director of Strategies!, a management consulting she established in Cameroon, whose annual revenues average $500,000. The firm employs 15 workers and has clients throughout Africa and in Europe and the United States. Strategies! has a development arm that works with local governments in Cameroon to promote women’s entrepreneurship. Walla raised capital by selling $20,000 equity in the firm to family and friends.
• Sibongile Sambo left the security of a human-resources job at DeBeers and founded SRS Aviation Ltd., the first 100 percent Black-owned aviation services company in South Africa. SRS has annual revenues of $5 million and nine employees. In its first full year, it generated $5 million in revenues, with three-quarters of the business coming from the government.
• Victoria Ksyombe, Ph.D., started a financial services company in Tanzania to increase the income and employment of poor businesswomen. Sero Lease and Finance Ltd. (Selfina) has annual revenues of $6 million, an employee base of 60 and 12 branches in Tanzania. It is considered a pioneer of microcredit in Tanzania through microleasing, with particular attention to widows and young girls.
• Julian Omalla is the founder of Delight Ltd., the largest juice manufacturing company in Uganda, which produces the Cheers brand of soft drinks. The company has annual revenues of $3.9 million and 450 employees, with markets in Uganda and Sudan. Twelve years ago, her business partner absconded with the money she had put up to buy stock, leaving her with only “a wheelbarrow to take fruit to sell at the market and a red dress I would wash out every night.”
• Zoe Dean-Smith began a homewares company, Gone Rural Pty Ltd., in Swaziland. The firm has annual revenues of $600,000 and 731 rural Swazi women employees. Its products are distributed in 35 countries through more than 1,000 retail outlets in Africa, Europe and the United States.