Image Credit: United Nations

The Impact of COVID-19 on African Women Entrepreneurs

Much to the surprise of the world, infection and death rates in many African countries have turned out to be much lower than initially feared. This has sparked numerous conversations on what the reasons could be, including the advantage of having a young population, the impact of altitude & warm weather and surprisingly – in a world that is practising social distancing, population density in Africa may be key to the low infection rates; science is however yet to make sense of this mystery. It could also be that many African countries have experience with dealing with pandemics therefore have been able to manage the spread of COVID-19.

In spite of this, however, what began as a health crisis has become an economic crisis. COVID-19 has tipped Africa into its first recession in 25 years, threatening to undo 25 consecutive years of positive economic growth,” says the South African Minister of Health. In just the last 6 months of hard lockdowns where businesses and borders were closed, the number of Africans that have been pushed into extreme poverty has increased from 26 million to 39 million, the majority being women and children.

Doing some reading on the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs, one of the articles that came up was titled “COVID-19 may turn back the clock on women’s entrepreneurship.” I desperately wanted to ignore it because it felt alarmist, but my curiosity got the best of me and I am glad it did.

While many of us have COVID-19 fatigue and are doing our best to engage in “self-care” by avoiding all the COVID-19 reporting, what this article highlighted was just how important it is to not lose sight of how the systemic barriers to women and diverse groups are being exacerbated during this pandemic.

Africa has the highest concentration of women entrepreneurs. Despite their inclination to start businesses, however, African women entrepreneurs face numerous barriers that impede their growth. These include access to capital and technology, lack of networks and quality knowledge resources, as well as legal and regulatory obstacles.

All across the continent, this pandemic has impacted women the hardest, with their small and medium-sized enterprises at greater risk as they operate in lower profit margin, service-based industries, according to the African Development Bank. These challenges have been further intensified by shifts in consumer behaviour and increased household care responsibilities as a result of lockdowns.

While a vaccination may quickly address the health crisis, it is going to take much more to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. There is a great opportunity for COVID-19 relief interventions to be deliberate in taking on a gender-lens approach in designing solutions that are inclusive and resonate with women entrepreneurs.

For us at yher Africa, this period forced us to adapt our offering with a Resiliency Accelerator and to re-imagine what an even more relevant and impactful yher Africa could look like in a COVID and post-COVID world. It has been energising to see the yher Africa entrepreneurs accept that change creates opportunity and exploring what this change could mean for them. Through this, we have seen our entrepreneurs re-assess their business models leading them to discover new customers and revenue streams, repurpose their models to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this pandemic, embrace technology as a new way of conducting business and investing in their personal development as they continue to weather this economic disaster.

We believe in an Africa where women entrepreneurs have quality and equal opportunities to build impactful and sustainable social-impact businesses. It is an ambitious goal that we will continue to keep ourselves accountable to. Cherie Blaire encapsulates our intention beautifully here:   

“When we look to the future, and to rebuilding the global economy, it’s absolutely vital that we recognise that investing in women and in creating a global business ecosystem that is truly gender equal is the greatest opportunity of our time. If putting women at the heart of our response to this pandemic means we see a leap in progress, wouldn’t that be a great thing?”

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