Our video series, “Thought Leaders,” in association with Harvard’s The Africa Business Club – showcases some of Africa’s brightest minds. We sat down with Africa’s leading thinkers, innovators and trailblazers to address key topics affecting the continent’s economic future.
In the first installment of ‘Thought Leaders,’ we tackle the subject of African Women in Business, and share the experiences of four dynamic women entrepreneurs – Ivorian Swaady Martin-Leke, Nigerian Fola Laoye, Kenyan Eva Muraya, and South African Louisa Mojela. Scroll down for FULL TRANSCRIPT.
Click HERE for Episode 2: Technology in Africa.
TRANSCRIPT – THOUGHT LEADERS: AFRICA WOMEN IN BUSINESS
It is no secret that women are increasingly occupying the entrepreneurial space — in a big way. They are active economic participants, leaders of industries, starters of their own ventures.
FOLA LAOYE: I knew that I wanted to spend my career and spend my time building up something entrepreneurial but at the same time wanted to very much be part of a sector where there would be development impact.
Nigerian businesswoman Fola Laoye joined the family business nearly 15 years ago. Today she heads what is now the largest healthcare service provider in Africa’s most populous country. The group currently employs more than 750 people — who in turn support another 2,000 dependants.
Creating employment opportunities is a crucial part of contributing to economic development, something Ivorian Swaady Martin-Leke, founder of luxury tea brand Yswara, is very passionate about.
SWAADY MARTIN-LEKE: My hope and my goal and my ambition is really to grow Yswara bigger, expand it and as I do that being able actually to have more impact and contribute into developing skills of more artisans, of more coworkers and implementing also programs around that.
Swaddy started her venture after spending more than 10 years at General Electric. At the time of her departure, she was the company’s Regional Director of Transportation in sub-Saharan Africa.
SWAADY MARTIN-LEKE: I loved every single minute of my time at GE, I think Yswara is a continuation of doing what I’m passionate about which is really making a difference in Africa in various ways.
There is another important problem that needs to be addressed. Men continue to dominate positions of power in the workplace. It’s something Louisa Mojela, as the founder of the first women owned company to list on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, is well aware of.
LOUISA MOJELA: I think twenty years ago when we started WIPHOLD there were a number of challenges that we experienced, one of which was not being taken seriously as women. That a business is a domain for men and not for women and we had to actually make sure that we do the best that we can and by so doing confirm to everybody that now business is actually a domain of everyone and everybody who is dedicated and focused in playing that role.
EVA MURAYA: Things are a lot better, things were tougher, and the ground is becoming a lot more level.
Kenyan Eva Muraya co-founded merchandise producing company, Color Creations in 1999- the first (woman-owned) advertising and branding business to gain the global quality management systems standards Certification. Today she heads the Brand Strategy Design Group.
EVA MURAYA: As a woman I can confirm that because I was setting up business at a time that women business ownership was frowned upon where women were perhaps at best understood to really belong to the micro level of the economy.
LOUISA MOJELA: We also experienced challenges for instance in terms of our access to capital, which still goes on to the fact that men are more taken seriously than women. Opportunities will be reserved more for men than women. But things are changing.
The push is happening across the continent, and it shows. According to World Bank, the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in Africa than in any other region of the world.
EVA MURAYA: I am a testament that it is possible for women to own business, to build business, to create employment, both for youth and others and to build businesses that are successful. And there are many women like me on the continent and whose stories must now begin to be told and shared so that the reputation around the brand Africa as far as an inclusion of women in participating, the social economics of the continent becomes well understood.