The search for 2015’s top young African entrepreneurs is underway as the Anzisha Prize team works through close to 500 applications for the continent’s premier youth entrepreneurship award.
But despite a record-number of entries, applications from young women remain much lower than those from men. In fact only 27% of submissions were from women.
While female entrepreneurship on the continent is strong – many of these women are forced into the practice out of necessity, rather than opportunity. This means that they might be self-employed by selling fruit on the side of the road, but the opportunity for them to grow beyond the informal stage may never present itself. Women also typically struggle more with accessing financing and opportunities in skills development. For many low-income families on the continent, when given the choice to send either the son or daughter to school, the son is typically given preference.
However, despite this, the Anzisha Prize has identified some clear women entrepreneurial leaders over the years – many of whom have beaten the odds. In 2013, Ugandan Best Ayiorwoth won the $25,000 grand prize for her innovative micro-finance model that targets other vulnerable women entrepreneurs in her community. Last year almost half of the 12 finalists were women, and South African Thato Kgatlhanye won second-place for her company that manufactures schoolbags for underprivileged children with solar technology that allows them to study after dark.
This year, there are also a number of strong women candidates who are defining their place in the world of social entrepreneurship with business models geared towards helping others in their communities.
Here is a sample of three of them.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Finalists for the Anzisha Prize have not been announced. The entrepreneurs profiled below have been selected randomly, and are not necessarily winners.
Ghana: Manufacturing shoes from discarded tyres
Ghanaian social entrepreneur Mabel Suglo (21) is the co-founder of the Eco-Shoes Project, an initiative that assists artisans with disabilities to create marketable shoes from used tyres and recycled cloth. Started in 2013, the project currently employs five people.
“There are millions of discarded car tyre stockpiles and waste materials in Ghana which pose an environmental and health hazard,” explains Suglo.
“Eco-Shoes rescues some of the millions of tyres and other material waste creating an environmental nuisance, to make fashionable and comfortable shoes.”
She hopes to raise funds to buy better machinery to enhance productivity, invest in an e-commerce site, and provide additional training (such as in computer-aided shoe design) for her artisans.
Cameroon: Processing tea to treat diabetes
In 2013, Vanessa Zommi (just 17 at the time) started Emerald Moringa Tea in Molyko, a town in the Buea region of Cameroon. The company processes the moringa plant into a healthy tea that can be used to treat diabetes.
“The World Health Organisation’s research estimates 190 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide. This research further estimates that by the year 2025, there will be about 330 million patients in the world,” she highlights.
“Studies show that drinking moringa tea after a meal can ease digestion, and after two hours of intake, sugar levels in the body drop.”
Today the company employs six people and sells the tea in Molyko. But Zommi’s plans are to expand and she’s looking for funding to scale-up operations.
Click here to read more about the project.
Rwanda: Dairy-producing cooperative
Chantal Butare (21) is a student at the University of Rwanda who founded a dairy cooperative that gives milk-producing farmers better access to markets.
The business, called Kinazi Dairy Cooperative (KIDAKO), was started in 2012 when Butare noticed that many farmers, mostly women, where struggling to sell their milk.
Today the organisation serves over 3,200 farmers and employs 10 milk collectors to supply both Rwanda and Burundi.
“My vision is to help eradicate poverty and hunger among vulnerable people in my community,” she says.