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Can Women Drive Africa's Growth?

“THE CASE FOR INVESTING IN WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS TO UNLEASH AFRICA’S ECONOMIC GROWTH”

KEY NOTE ADDRESS BY MARY CHEGE

DURING THE 3rd ZIMBABWE WOMEN IN ENTERPRISE CONFERENCE & AWARDS

SEPTEMBER 18TH, 2015

RAINBOW TOWERS HOTEL, HARARE

 

Hon. Mabuwa, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Industry & Commerce,

Ms Ndhlukula, Deputy President, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce,

Distinguished Guests,

Members of the Press,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Good morning.

 

I am greatly privileged to be here with you today,  as we celebrate the amazing women of Zimbabwe at this third Women in Enterprise Conference & Awards Ceremony.

 

My brief was to inspire you.  But reading about, and listening to the stories of, the women here today, I stand in awe of you - knowing that I am more likely to learn from you, than you are from me.

 

It is believed that investing in women and girls is one of the highest return opportunities available in the developing world.  Research over the last several decades has demonstrated that bringing more women into the labour force can significantly boost per capita income and GDP growth.  More importantly, women have a higher propensity than their male counterparts, to use their earnings and increased bargaining power to buy goods and services that improve family welfare and their communities.  Our spending supports the development of human capital, which fuels economic growth in the years ahead.

 

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan could not have said it better himself when he noted that:

 

“study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role.  When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier and better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up.  And what is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of whole countries”.

 

That statement was made over 10 years ago.  We still had high hopes then as women – we had Millenium Development Goal 3 all to ourselves which aimed at promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women. Did we make it?  Hardly. 

 

While steady progress was made towards equal access of girls and boys to education, huge disparities remain between regions and education levels. Globally, the share of women employed outside of agriculture rose to 40%, but rose to only 20% cent in Southern Asia, Western Asia and Africa. In the formal workplace, women today still only occupy 25% of senior management positions.  A far cry from the equity we hoped for at the turn of the century.

 

Next week, on the 25th - 27th of September, World leaders will again congregate in New York and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals with great fanfare. You will now need to replace your MDG verbiage with SDGs.  Again, we have an entire goal to ourselves – SDG 5.  This time round, we hope to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls…” through various targeted actions such as “…undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources,  in accordance with national laws”.   

 

But do we really believe, given what has transpired these last 15 years, that much will change over the next 15 years for us?

 

The truth is that, for the past decade in particular, Africa has experienced strong growth rates – an average of 5% per annum – and a lot more with some economies recording 9% average growth. Yet this economic growth has not automatically translated into increased well being for everyone.  It is said that African leaders have missed opportunities to lift their men and women out of poverty. 

 

Indeed, poverty in Africa has deepened in this same period, and will continue to deepen. Today, over 50% of Africans live in poverty, and it is projected that as many as 85% could be living in poverty by 2025.  That’s 35% more poor people, 10 years from now. This is hard to visualize in light of the accelerated economic growth that we anticipate as the world prices of mineral, metals and oil continue to generate tremendous revenue streams for us.  Where is this money going, if a further 35% of our people will be living in poverty in another 10 years?

 

The story of Africa Rising needs to be revisited.  And the narrative around the economic empowerment of the African Woman needs to change.  We have been telling the same story for the last 50 years, and with such increasing gusto, that I am surprised we have not run out of breath yet.

 

I do not believe that we, as African Women, need to make a case at all today for why we should have access to finance in order to participate in the economic growth of our Continent.  We are already actively participating. We do, however, need to change how we are participating and how we are financed. And to whom are we making this case anyway? To the Suits in Davos?  To politicians when there’s only 20% of us?  

 

I propose that it is time to go back in history to the stories of Great Women.  Achievers in their time centuries ago. We need to take a reality check, and actually interrogate how the leading male entrepreneurs of today’s age financed their ventures. And it will surprise you to find that, when they needed the money most, it did not come from behind the closed doors on which we knock.  Those same doors were shut to them as much as they remain shut to us today.

 

So let me take you back to two amazing women.  One real, and one fictional, yet both women have interesting lessons for us today, centuries later.

 

It is said that "Islam did not rise except through Ali's sword and Khadijah's wealth" . So who was Khadija? She was the daughter of a successful Quraishi merchant, who worked hard to multiply her inheritance and accumulate vast wealth. It is said that when Quraish's trade caravans gathered to embark upon their lengthy and arduous journey either to Syria during the summer or to Yemen during the winter, Khadijah's caravan equaled the caravans of all other traders of Quraish put together. 

 

At some point, Khadijah employed a young man – her distant cousin – Muhammad – to work for her as a trade agent. As a woman, she was not permitted outside her home to travel with her trade caravans, so her choice of agents - who were paid on commission - was of great importance.  Apparently, the profits Muhammad brought home were twice as much as she had anticipated, and so, Muhammad remained in her employ.  At some point, this young man – 15 years her junior - fascinated her enough for her to send an emissary to express her interest to marry him.  And the rest is history. 

 

She became Muhammad’s first wife and when he received his revelations, his greatest supporter was Khadijah.  She was also Islam’s first convert.  It is reported that by the time she died, her entire wealth had already been spent to promote Islam. Where would Islam be without Khadijah?

 

Another fascinating Woman, is described in Proverbs 31.  This Super Woman – commonly viewed as the Portrait of a Godly woman - has been used to make the rest of us shiver and shake in our high heels, and torment us as we contemplate our own inadequacies. And yet, the truth is, the verses of scripture that describe this Woman are not meant for us.  They are meant for the men around us.  Jewish men sang these words at every Sabbath meal, as an ode in praise to the women in their lives - their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and friends.  I don’t know if it still happens today, but I certainly would love to be praised every Friday evening for my absolute awesomeness.

 

This Woman is described as a strong, dignified, multi-talented, caring woman, who is an individual in her own right.  She is such a busy body that by today’s medical standards, she would probably be diagnosed with ADD!  And why? 

Because she wakes up before the sun rises and her light never goes out.  She selects wool to spin her own linen, but also imports fabric and makes clothing for rich merchants in addition to her own family.  She is into real estate, agriculture, viniculture, fashion design, interior design and commodities.  And when she trades in the market, she makes generous profits.

She is so good at what she does, that her husband completely trusts her with the responsibility for their lands, property and goods.  Quite honestly, he comes across as a lazy bone who sits at the City’s gates with the other wise men, who nod appreciatively at how lucky a man he is.

The truth is, history is replete with stories of great enterprising Women. Despite the prejudices of their time, they emerged as successful business women and leaders in their communities. And all this at a time when societies were more patriarchal than our minds can conceive today.

We are great at sharing the statistics of all the odds that are stacked up against us.  And believe me, there are several.  While we constitute 50% of the world’s population, some of the statistics are downright depressing. According to the African Development Bank, women make up over 50% of the agricultural workforce in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and in some countries such as Burkina Faso, Malawi and Rwanda, this number is as high as 90%.  Yet, we remain the poorest with more than 70% of us living on less than $2 a day.

So how are we going to change our participation in the economic transformation of our great Continent?  I am no guru, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a combination of the following factors may be useful as we forge ahead to be part of the engine that drives this Continent.

(i)           Firstly, We Need to Move up the Agricultural Value Chain:

Agriculture is the largest employer of women in Africa, yet we receive very little back from it. In Burkina Faso for instance, women make up approximately 50% of the production workforce, but receive less than 2% of the income. Why? Because we occupy positions lower down the value chain that reap marginal or no returns!

The ability of the Agricultural sector to provide jobs will continue to be important in the next decades. UNICEF estimates Africa’s population will double to more than 2.5 Billion by 2050.  These mouths need to be fed. With rapid urbanization happening across the Continent, urban food markets are set to increase fourfold to exceed US$400 million by 2030. As incomes change and more middle-income consumers emerge, the patterns of demand are also changing as they seek greater diversity and higher quality diets. It is therefore imperative, that Africa shifts from primary food production to processing, logistics, market infrastructure and retail networks -  sectors that could easily absorb more women into stable employment.

Let’s look at Cocoa, the largest export crop by value in Africa and an important earner of foreign exchange.  $8 Billion worth of cocoa beans were produced globally in 2012 with 75% of these, coming from Africa.  Sadly though, Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans – 32% to be precise – exported only 3% of the world’s processed cocoa.

The rising demand for cocoa has already seen prices soar – and it is feared that prices could continue to rise. The chocolate market in Asia is already worth more than $12 Billion, and demand is continuing to increase mostly due to a growing taste for chocolate – particularly in China.

So why aren’t we making chocolate? Almost all of us in this room love this stuff.  And even if we didn’t, for various reasons including watching our waistlines, we know a girl who does.  We even pretend to get upset when our significant other does not buy us a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day – whether we eat it or not does not matter. It’s the thought that counts!

The story is the same for every agricultural crop that is a major income earner on the Continent.  Our three largest coffee producers - Ethiopia, Uganda and Cote D’Ivoire, account for about 55% of production.  Next to Oil, coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world.  Our coffee is headed mainly to Europe, the US, Saudi Arabia and, again, it leaves unprocessed. 

Another strange crop is cotton. Despite the lack of significant global market share, cotton is the third largest agricultural export commodity in Africa, and forms an important source of foreign exchange revenue for us. Again, over 90% of our cotton is exported unprocessed.

With the additional 1.3 Billion people occupying our Continent by 2050, it will no longer make economic sense to export cotton balls and import finished fabric and designer clothes.  The Vlisco fabric that we are so proud of as a statement of African attire, is not manufactured on our soil.  The designs are not ours either – the manufacturers consult with us on what we want and then produce the fabric and sell it to us.  And we are proud to wear “imported” clothes. Are we serious?

Mysteriously though, while we are exporting unprocessed agricultural produce, many developing countries, such as brazil, Indonesia, and Thailand, now export more than all of Sub-Saharan Africa combined. And what are we doing to meet the demands of some of our most staple foods such as rice and maize?  We are importing from these very same countries!

We do not need to re-invent the wheel. We simply need to look at what has worked in other jurisdictions and localize these solutions to suit our circumstances. The conspicuous absence of more productive, higher-wage employment options outside agriculture and the informal sector, explain why we are still lagging far behind other developing countries.  Worldwide, the average labour productivity is only $17,500 in agriculture, compared to $38,500 in manufacturing. 

We need to systematically move up the value chain. Common sense and history dictate that, invariably, light manufacturing and agri-business related services, will have to precede heavy industry to enable absorption of the bulk of our people from primary agriculture to manufacturing processes. The greatest impact of this shift will be felt amongst us Women.

With time, we will be able to diversify into more sophisticated, high-end products.  A good example of this gradual transition is China. A comparison of their manufactured exports between 1980 and 1984 reveals a focus on mostly primary produce – such as fine animal hair - and low tech products such as footwear, linen and textiles.  They were also exporting their natural resources in the form of oil and gas.  Fast forward 20 years later to 2008, and the mix of exports had changed dramatically.  The low tech exports included children’s toys and outerwear, while the bulk of the exports were high tech goods such as ICT hardware and components, broadcasting equipment and accessories amongst others.

Growth in light manufacturing in Africa does not have to be tied only to exports.  A lot of talk is focused on the EU markets and AGOA related production.  However, with our population growing as fast as it is – our domestic markets are expected to be able to absorb increased production of simple, low-price, import-competing products such as apparel and leather products, furniture, and of course, processed food. We can feed ourselves, and the World.

In time, we shall transition into other sectors.  15 years is not a long time. Yet, if we use the example of the difference in export products in China over a 20-year period, a lot can be achieved by 2030.

The transition will call for us to get out of our comfort zone and get familiar with technical terms. As a lawyer, I have had to be in the field to better understand the project that we were advising on.  Touch the silica sand and understand the critical role it plays in the manufacture of glass.  I had to get sooty in a coal fired plant to go through the entire process of electricity production. I have had to understand the difference between process and impact indicators and what stress testing commercial models is all about. Not that I remembered everything - but visualization helps.

 

Women will have to understand how a coal, hydro, solar or combined cycle gas-fired plant works if we want to be part of the teams, that electrify our continent. It is estimated that we need $55 Billion per annum until 2030 to meet demand and achieve universal access to electricity on the Continent. Millions of energy-poor, disconnected Africans, who earn less than US$2.5 a day, already constitute a US$10 Billion yearly energy market.

 

More of us will have to go down into the mines – like Bridgette Radebe did – and understand what it takes to get the gold and diamonds out of the earth. We need to learn how to grade and cut diamonds, tanzanite and rubies and make the beautiful rings, necklaces and bracelets we love to adorn ourselves with. 

 

We will need to understand the difference between hot bitumen low volume seal roads and enzyme based low volume seal roads. Why one technology works in Malaysia but will not work in Zimbabwe.  The cost of closing Africa’s infrastructure gap presents a US$93 Billion per annum opportunity for us.  We don’t need to get it all – we just want some of that business.

 

We’ve already said our growing middle class spending habits are changing. Why don’t we get into the commercial construction and retail management game? Fill these malls with our own restaurant chains, furniture stores, clothes, shoes, handbags, perfumes, jewelry, coffee, tea, roses and of course, our own chocolate?

 

These questions take me to my second point:

(ii)         We Need to Embrace Risk and Just Dive into Serious Business:

The numbers speak for themselves.  The more of us that get into business, the more likelihood more of us will be successful and consequently, more of us will get funded.

Between 1997 and 2015, the number of businesses in the US increased by 51%.  However, the number of women owned businesses for the same period grew by 74% - a rate that is 1.5 times the national average.  In spite of the recession, women owned firms added an estimated 340,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy since 1997.  In contrast, male-owned firms saw a decline in employment over the same 8-year period.  Finally, an overwhelming average of 608 net new women-owned businesses were started each day during this time. In some years, such as 2013-2014 – they opened an average of 1,288 new businesses per day.  

 

The truth is, some of these businesses will fail.  But several more will survive. These women-owned firms today have an economic impact of $3 trillion that translates into the creation and/or maintenance of 23 million jobs in America.  That is 16% of all U.S. jobs.

 

If U.S.-based women-owned businesses were their own country, they would have the 5th largest GDP in the world, trailing closely behind Germany, and ahead of France, the United Kingdom and Italy.  Believe it or not, they would have a greater GDP than Canada, India and Vietnam combined.

 

Interestingly, according to the World Bank, the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in Africa than in any other region of the world. However, most of us are in micro enterprises of 1-4 employees or in the informal sector.  Unfortunately, while contributing significantly to economic growth and employment, smaller enterprises tend to have higher failure rates, shorter life spans and lower levels of technological sophistication.

 

There is room for women to congregate and start businesses in higher value chain activities that will absorb a lot more women into higher paying production processes and related services.

 

But where is the money for this transition?

(iii)       We need to Get Creative Around Financing the Transition along the Value Chain:

The good news is that the challenge of access to finance is not peculiar to the African Woman.  And I believe it is time we stopped dead in our tracks and listened to what we are saying. This is, and always will be, a constraint for every person who needs start up or expansion capital for their business. It is however worse in the agricultural sector, because formal banks, who are inexperienced in agri-business, will certainly not accept goats and cabbages as collateral.  Never mind that, as women on this Continent, we probably don’t even own the goats that are likely to have eaten the cabbages anyway!

 

But who really had collateral or got funding from banks when they started their great businesses?  Did Steve Jobs?  Did Richard Branson?  Absolutely not!

 

Steve Jobs sold his Volkswagen van and Wozniak, his partner, sold his calculator. This gave them $1,350 dollars to begin production of the Apple I boards. As at the beginning of this year, Apple was worth US$740 Billion and is the world’s most valuable brand with over 90,000 employees. 

 

Richard Branson founded his first business – The Student magazine - after dropping out of high school at age 15 with about US$200 from his mother.  Nearly 50 years later, Branson is the billionaire chair of the Virgin Group with over 50,000 employees across the globe. His personal net worth is estimated at $4.5 Billion – not too shabby for a high school drop out.

 

Sam Walton – the man behind Walmart - began his conquest of the world in 1945, with a loan of $20,000 from his father-in-law and a small variety store in Newport. Today, Wal-Mart employs more than 2 million people worldwide, meaning it has twice as many men and women in uniform than the US army.

 

Closer to home, our richest man, Aliko Dangote, is said to have started with a small food-trading company in 1977 bankrolled by a $3,000 loan from an uncle.  He built a soft-commodities import and trading empire in West Africa around flour, sugar and salt.  Today, Dangote Group employs over 11,000 people, and his personal net worth is estimated at $18 Billion. 

 

The trend was, and remains the same – financing came from non-traditional sources. In fact, study after study has shown that start-up finance for firms in most sectors, came from personal savings, friends, and family. And even if you do get finance from the institutions, you have to match it. Worse still, your repayments start even before you have opened shop.  I speak because this was my personal experience – you end up repaying your instalments, plus interest, from the funds loaned to you.  It makes no commercial sense, and your business is doomed to fail.

 

The truth is, financial institutions will only come running after you to finance the expansion of your ventures, when you have established a record of success. They need a relationship with you. That’s just the way it is. 

 

If we attempt to sugar coat this reality, then we remain doomed to the same discourse of making a special case for financing women entrepreneurs for yet another 50 years.  We shall remain “projects” to be funded by development aid channeled through NGOs, receiving small amounts of “seed” funding here and there.  We shall remain micro enterprises to receive token grants. 

 

While there is space for this kind of funding programmes for those at the very bottom of the pyramid, the truth is – not all of us want to be small traders and micro-entrepreneurs. 

 

Women too, want to be real estate developers. We want to own huge food processing factories.  We want to manufacture clothes for all these children being born on our Continent. We want to manufacture our own range of beauty products for our flawless skin. We want to mix our own perfumes and mesmerize those around us. And given the amount of chocolate being consumed in China, we certainly need to be investing in our own chocolate factories – after all, 75% of all cocoa is right here, in Africa.

 

But, until we ditch the begging bowl, we shall continue dealing with unsustainable funding mechanisms that have no long term vision for us.  We shall not be part of huge syndicated finance transactions in the energy sector that are needed to power up the 620 million Africans who still have no access to electricity today.

 

Until we ditch the begging bowl, we shall remain excluded from the mining and extractives industries.  No hard hats, flashlights or rigs for us as the oil, gold, platinum, copper, Tanzanite gets shipped out of our Continent.

 

Until we ditch the begging bowl, we shall never own our own factories. We shall continue to till our land with our babies on our backs and a hoe in our hands.  We shall not progress to mechanized farming that is needed to ensure we have more time with ourselves, our books, our children and our husbands. And we shall continue to waste 40 Billion hours a year on this Continent fetching water – equivalent to a year’s labour for the entire workforce in France!

 

Our environment may be hostile, or even downright restrictive. Khadijah was not able to leave her house to join her caravans and trade in silver, gold, coffee, raisins and whatever else her camels carried.  But that did not stop her from being the most successful trader of her time.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

 

In a society where women were highly domesticated, somehow the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 did more in a day – as an entrepreneur - than most of us can endeavor in a month.

 

So how do we ditch these bowls?  How do we voice a resounding “No” to these 160 plus foundations and funds that are geared towards our small time empowerment as we grow poorer each day?  How do we take control of the Empowerment Process?  If indeed Empowerment is what we are seeking in order to unleash Africa’s economic growth, then I have some shocking news. 

 

Empowerment, as the “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights…” means that it starts with me. And you. Right here. In this room.  Your empowerment is nobody else’s business other than you.

 

Which brings me to my last, and longest point:

(iv)        We Need to Start by Funding Ourselves and What We Believe In:   

We already know that financing women is a good gamble.  We pay our bills.  No matter how long it takes us, or what difficulties we face. We trudge along slowly and pay up. Stories of what women do to settle their bills are fascinating.  Apparently, we are capable of radical actions such as stealing the tires off our husband’s car and selling them when he is incapacitated in a drunken stupor!  Of course when he wakes up in the morning, we have to express shock and disbelief at the sight of his car resting on four stones!

 

On a more serious note, over the last four decades, NGOs and agencies involved in women’s economic development and poverty alleviation initiatives, have adopted a variation in one form or another of the Grameen Bank model. Established in Bangladesh in 1976, the Grameen Bank was based on the voluntary formation of small groups of five people, mostly women, to provide mutual, morally binding group guarantees in lieu of the collateral required by conventional banks.

 

I was recently introduced to a fascinating group run as a non-profit.  With a network of about 40,000 women who save as little as $15 a month, these women are moving approximately $7 million amongst them.  Each month, they make their monthly savings contributions to their groups of about 20 women each, applications for funding are reviewed, funds are disbursed and somehow, with their limited individual resources, they repay what they borrow, on time, with interest.  They’re now grouping up for bigger investments such as dairy processing plants, etc. And they’re bankable – as a group.

 

While micro finance institutions have played a key role in addressing the financial needs of female entrepreneurs, this type of financing does not provide sufficient scale for our businesses to transition to the SME and large business enterprises.

 

Notable recent initiatives to assist Women’s enterprises to scale up include Vital Voices and WeConnect, African Women’s Development Fund, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Walmart’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, Coca Cola’s 5by20 Women’s Economic Empowerment, to name a few.

 

During the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Kenya in July this year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation plans to join Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women and the IFC in the first ever global finance facility dedicated to women-owned SMEs. A proposed $100 million commitment is expected to help finance new projects in the many global markets where there is great potential to empower women and grow economies.  While this is a noble and laudable effort, these are only 100,000 women.  We are half the world’s population. $100 million, is not, and will never, be enough. There must be a Plan B.

 

It is true that our counterparts in Europe and the U.S. face fewer hurdles than we have to deal with, but the gender gap in fundraising in these economies still remains miserable.  One would imagine that start-ups are more likely to get assistance from private equity and venture capital firms than we are here in Africa. 

 

Unfortunately, it turns out that entrepreneurial women are unlikely to get any support from venture capital firms where a whopping 77% of these firms admit they have never had a female partner.  They are also unlikely to consider women-led ventures and historically, approximately 2% of the PE funding has been accessed by women-led firms.

 

As at July 2015, the entire list of women venture capitalists in New York stood at around 30-40 – and that includes entry level associates.  Compare that with other professions – can you imagine there being only 40 female attorneys in New York?

 

Unhappy with these statistics, two young women in their twenties woke up in July this year and announced their intention to set up their own VC-fund and invest in women enterprises.  We will keep a close eye on them and hope the next 12 months will be successful for them.

 

What am I getting at here?  In much the same way that very few of the great businesses of our time were started with finance from traditional finance houses, we – sitting here today – have to device mechanisms that suit us.  

 

There is great benefit to continuing the dialogue around improving access to finance for women entrepreneurs.  There are several other issues that impact on our effective participation in the economic growth of our continent.  Simple things like land ownership or the inability to get identity documents which then restricts our movements and access to finance, because banks want to know who you are and what you own.  These conversations need to continue.

 

However, we here, can choose to do things differently today.  We have a missing middle – women who need to transition from micro or small businesses to medium and large conglomerates. We need to ensure that small businesses owned and run by women not only survive, but grow into larger enterprises across the continent.

 

In order to do this, we need to call upon our fellow sisters to help set up the right framework for achieving this.  Is it a Fund?  Is it a Bank?  How will it be capitalized? How can we channel some of the money around us to fund bigger initiatives? What specialized products will it avail to its women entrepreneurs who are unlikely to have the requisite collateral?  Will invoice factoring or LPO financing work? Will asset and equipment leasing work?  What would the financing terms and conditions be? What institutions can we partner with? What kind of mentoring will be required for, and from us? With fund managers perennially complaining over “too much money chasing too few bankable deals in Africa”, what technical assistance services or project preparation facilities need to be availed?

 

And let no one tell us we don’t know much about finance.  90% of the decisions on finance in African households are actually, and ironically, made by women.  We have several female finance ministers on the continent. And we have large financial institutions led by women today. 

 

The Chief Executive of Barclays Africa is a woman. Citibank’s East African CEO is a woman. Further afield, Australia’s oldest and second largest bank is led by a woman.  As is Key Corp bank in the U.S. Credit Suisse Group made history as the first European bank to be headed by a black CEO, who also happens to be a woman.  So we do understand this finance stuff.

 

We must passionately pursue what works for us.The Prophet Muhammad did not go to Khadija.  She sent her emissaries to propose marriage to him.  She knew what was good for her, what she wanted and she pursued it. Our Proverbs 31 Woman “considers fields and she buys them…”. These women knew what they wanted, and they went for it.

 

Unless we know what we want – not just generally, but in great detail – we shall keep getting what we don’t want, and be surprised that what we really seek remains elusive. Let’s group up, raise the money and buy the land we will not inherit from our fathers – and therein lies our collateral! Group up and build shopping malls for our merchandise. Group up and set up those chocolate factories. And then the money will chase after us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the thing about poverty is the indignity of it all. You are so conditioned to things being difficult, being hard, being insufficient and being mediocre, that it is impossible to actually aspire to greater things because you do not know or believe that you are entitled to a good life, the Abundance of the Universe, peace of mind, and excellence.

Given all we know today, I believe we need to simplify our solutions and approach.  We need to fight less and do more.  We have to be smarter and just do what we need to do. Quietly, like China did and we woke up one day to find we had a new super power!

So here we are.  As African Women. If you’re like me, you love being in your chocolate skin. We are powerful women.  Beautifully voluptuous women. We are intelligent women. We are Survivors.  We have made it in the face of war, of rape, of discrimination and of humiliation.

I would like to believe that we are congregated here today, not to mourn about how hard life is for us – but to Celebrate ourselves.

Today, let us remember the great women who came before us.  Who remind us that we have been here before.  We have been queens and great traders and fierce warriors. Each and every one of us here, represents a chance to do things differently, and to be part of the next wave of growth in this Continent.  Because we re-invest in our homes, communities and countries.

I hope that, by the end of the day, we will be able to adopt a resolution for a plan of action to be executed in the next coming months.  Your first Conference in 2013 led to the development of a successful structured mentorship programme.

We are living in exciting times, and the opportunities are boundless. Let’s start the process towards Plan B today.



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