Creating breakthroughs for women in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa

The Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) 4th annual conference was declared open this morning by Founder and CEO, Irene Ochem. The theme of this year’s high level event is Unleashing ideas: Innovation, sustainability and enterprise growth and the aim is to accelerate transformation and stimulate development.

Ochem last night, 7 November 2018, welcomed VIPs, sponsors and speakers at an elegant cocktail reception at the Southern Sun Cape Sun in Cape Town. “We are privileged to have among us the foremost thought leaders, innovators, policymakers, financial experts and the cream of prominent business and entrepreneurial role models,” she said of the conference speaker and delegate profiles.

The AWIEF conference takes place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa, from 8-9 November 2018. The exclusive AWIEF Awards take place on the Friday evening, 9 November, at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town.

It was opened by praise poet and singer Jessica Mbangeni, followed by the welcome address by Ochem.

Below is the full text of the welcoming speech from AWIEF Founder and CEO, Irene Ochem: 

“As I gaze over this assembly I am overwhelmed by the potential power that lies in our unity of purpose. I am honoured to be part of such an august gathering. Welcome to Cape Town. Welcome to South Africa. Welcome, in particular, to our VIPs:

  • Excellency, Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Former & 6th President of the Republic of Mauritius
  • Excellency, Mrs Cecilia Julin, Ambassador of Sweden to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia
  • Excellency, Mrs Helen Budliger Artieda, Ambassador of Switzerland to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia and Zimbabwe, represented by Ms Davorka Shepherd, Head of Swiss Economic Cooperation and Development
  • Elizabeth Thabethe, South Africa Deputy Minister of Tourism
  • Mrs Zanele Mbeki, Former First Lady of South Africa
  • Mr Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)
  • Mr Themba Kalua, UN Women Deputy Representative to Southern Africa
  • Our Sponsors without whom this gathering would not have been possible.

Collectively, we have the power to transform the lives of individuals, communities, nations.

Together, we can harness enough expertise and wisdom, and apply ever-expanding influence, to impact Africa dynamically.

We know we face challenges on our continent. We know the cultural, legal, social and traditional barriers Africa’s women must overcome. We know the inadequacy of education and skills training. The scarcity of entrepreneurial support, advice and mentoring. The lack of access to funding, marketing, distribution.

Did you know that women give back some 90% of their earnings to the health and education of their families and communities? We handle credit better. We have a 5% greater likelihood of innovativeness than men. We gravitate towards community-driven initiatives.

The women of Africa are our most valuable, untapped resource. 

 The women of Africa are our most valuable, untapped resource.

In 2013, global accounting and advisory firm, EY, predicted that by 2028 ‘women will control close to 75% of discretionary spending worldwide’.

Yet. Yet! Women are less likely to expand products or services because they think they can’t do it, or because they don’t have access to training, networks and support.

This is where AWIEF makes a difference. This is where we, you and I, make a difference.

Our conference is not so much a conference but a convocation – a gathering for a special purpose. AWIEF gathers leaders, innovative thinkers, go-getters from across the continent to release creativity and craft solutions for our challenges. Hence our theme: Unleashing ideas: innovation, sustainability and enterprise growth.

I am immensely proud that in the few short years since our first conference in 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria, we have made an indelible mark on the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and on the continent’s economic landscape.

Growth Accelerator Programme

This year, again, the event culminates with our Nedbank-sponsored “Pitch ‘n Grow” competition. Eight bold, innovative women who have passed through our Growth Accelerator Programme will present their business cases to an eminent panel of judges.

AWIEF Awards

The AWIEF Awards honour outstanding women entrepreneurs. We celebrate their vision and ability to overcome challenges and their commitment to making a difference.

Earlier this year we launched our business networking breakfast in Johannesburg in partnership with Nedbank. It exceeded expectations. We’ll host similar breakfasts in different countries to create new networks and encourage cooperation and collaboration.

AWIEF has partnered with the Southern African Network for Biosciences as Country Coordinator for the FemBioBiz II Accelerator Programme for women-owned businesses in health and agriculture biotechnology.

I am delighted to announce that, as a result of this programme, Nomahlubi Nazo presented her business case at the recent SA Innovation Summit. She was awarded R70 000 from the SAB Foundation and R600 000 from the South Africa Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA).

AWIEF is collaborating with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation as Southern African implementing partner in the #VALUE4HER programme funded by the European Union.

We are setting up the first intelligence network, targeting women-led agribusinesses in Africa. This is a significant step in linking them with regional and global markets and improving technical and managerial skills. It will help all women in the value chain.

At AWIEF, we constantly improve our knowledge about women entrepreneurs in Africa, so that we can develop versatile training and advocacy models – adaptable for all business and industry sectors.

Through our conference, programmes and awards, AWIEF has caught the eye of national and international players and is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms of female entrepreneurship.

We must pool our resources. We must embrace digitalisation. We must harness technology to find African solutions to Africa’s problems. We must explore and implement fintech and agritech, stay abreast with the growth of big data, of blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence.

AWIEF digital hub launch

Talking of digitisation – our big announcement for today is the launch of the AWIEF Digital Hub. It will gather the strength of the AWIEF members and inform the world on the development of business women in Africa. Women will be able to access an e-learning and sharing community via the hub. It is the first comprehensive African platform for everything related to women entrepreneurs on the continent.

We are all here today because we are continent shakers. We are innovators who can dialogue with policy-makers to urge them to facilitate women empowerment and entrepreneurship.

Among this influential, experienced body, we have unprecedented opportunities to collaborate in order to bring life-changing solutions to our problems. Let’s dig into our own potential. Our continent is unique. Our solutions must be home grown.

So I urge you plunge into these conference proceedings with no holds barred. Let’s not just ‘push the envelope” …Let’s ‘tear the envelope’ wide open. So wide that innovation, ingenuity and initiative come pouring out.

It is my burning desire that you will be so inspired and motivated by the conversations here that you will return to your own communities with renewed determination and fire to ignite fundamental transformation.

Our challenges are diverse but in our very diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.

If we take hands across the continent, stand united and start implementing change, no opposition will be able to stop us.

We’ll create a future of hope, of progress and of constant, transforming development.

The women of Africa are our most valuable resource.”


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