Addis Ababa, March 22, 2020 – Investing to equip women and young entrepreneurs with skills, resources and mentorship will boost Africa’s growth, according to ministers, bankers and development experts.
They were speaking at an event on “Unlocking the Potential of Women and Youth Entrepreneurship in the Digital Age”, which was held on March 21 as part of the annual session of the Economic Commission of African ministers of finance, planning and economic development.
The event, which included a panel discussion, focused on the challenges women and young entrepreneurs face, how they can take advantage of technology, and what practices can promote entrepreneurship after the COVID-19 pandemic. .
Addressing the participants, the Head of the Urbanization Section of ECA, Ms. Edlam Yemeru said: “Africa’s economic growth and prosperity depend on the ability of its entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into successful businesses.
She added: “The high unemployment rate of 15% in Africa particularly affects women and young people. Entrepreneurship in the digital age offers a huge opportunity to create new jobs and improve their participation in paid activities. To unlock this opportunity, we need to focus on women and young people. ‘
Ms. Yemeru described “strong data on entrepreneurship, access to finance, enabling environment and skills development” as critical ingredients that could help women and youth-owned businesses survive and thrive. in Africa.
Globally, Africa ranks first in terms of the number of startups led by women and young people. However, their economic contributions remain limited due to challenges such as limited access to finance, training and technology.
For example, the gender gap in Internet access in Africa fell from 20% in 2013 to 33% in 2019. At the same time, young people make up 60% of the unemployed African population. Evidence suggests that these inequalities are widening as a result of the pandemic.
Speaking at the event, Dr Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), said: “Much of the digital potential remains untapped, especially for people with disabilities. women and girls.
“Digital technologies present several entry points to better emerge from the COVID-19 crisis while accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. ”
She said specific measures could include a fund to support digitization, cross-sector partnerships, digital inclusion policies and gender-specific financial products.
In his opening remarks, Dr Sidi Ould Tah, Managing Director of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) said: “Some people often say that the problem is access to finance while others think that the problem is the lack of education. Some think the challenge is poor infrastructure.
“These far-reaching observations require a holistic response because any partial approach to this problem is doomed… That’s why we started working on a multi-stakeholder coalition to help women and young entrepreneurs unlock their full potential. . ”
Contributing to the roundtable, which included ministers, bankers and development experts, Ethiopian entrepreneur Ms. Samrawit Mersiehazen urged banks to create a special lending criterion for small businesses.
She said: “When I applied for a loan for my business, the bank asked me to comply with the same strict requirements that were set for large businesses. These can be difficult to adhere to, especially if you are running a micro or small business. ‘
Mr. Samuel Mugisha, whose startup has provided health services to half a million Ugandans, stressed the need for mentoring opportunities for young people.
He said: “It is easy to start a business in Uganda. But 70% of startups close before their fifth anniversary. One-on-one mentoring is extremely important in understanding what businesses need to do to survive in a competitive environment. ‘
Other proposals put forward by the panelists included allocating a specific portion of public funds to female startups and committing banks to offer gender-sensitive services.
ECA organized the virtual event in partnership with UNFPA and BADEA.
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