Preparing the next generation of women business leaders

Empowering women in Africa was a key theme of Africa 2018 Forum, which this year, put an emphasis on youth and women. AWIEF founder and CEO, Irene Ochem, who was invited as a panellist at this global event, spoke about the value unlocked for women when they have access to a community of entrepreneurs.

Africa 2018 was held in Sharm El Sheikh, 8-9 December 2018, under the patronage of H.E. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi; and was organised by the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation of Egypt and the COMESA Regional Investment Agency (RIA).

Africa 2018 has established itself as the premier business platform to nurture new partnerships; meet investors and fast track your business objectives in Africa. The 2018 edition built on the success of the previous editions, which have seen the participation of 11 Heads of State and more than 3,000 delegates from 80+ countries. This year the programme was enhanced with a Women Empowering Africa day; a Young Entrepreneurs Day; as well as exclusive Presidential Roundtables with African leaders and CEOs.

COMESA is Africa’s largest trading block and has played an instrumental role in driving the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that was signed earlier this year.

The Forum is one of Africa biggest gatherings of business and government leaders. Captains of industry, including Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman of BUA group in Nigeria; Issad Rebrab, Algeria’s biggest industrialist; and Ylias Akbaraly, Francophone Africa’s most successful businessman, shared a roundtable with the Heads of State attending the Forum. Their focus was on driving greater intra-African investment.

Women empowerment

Ochem was honoured with an invitation to participate in a high-level panel entitled: Women and Youth: Preparing the next generation of women leaders in business, which was part of the Women Empowering Africa conference track. Sharing the panel with her, were: H.E. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations of Namibia; Nozipho Mbanjwa, anchor, CNBC; Hilda Moraa, founder, Pezesha; Sharmla Chetty, Africa and Global MD, Duke Corporation Education; and Gerald Chirinda, founder and CEO, Tapiwa Capital.

“Our panel focused on how you get the next generation of women into business and the challenges; what value women get when they have access to a community of entrepreneurs; and how current leaders can boost young women’s confidence within organisations.”

Ochem also spoke about how governments across the African continent should find a way to enhance implementation of policies. “Government should start designing gender equality into processes. Many governments have gender-sensitive policies, but the challenge is implementation and also, government should be holding corporates accountable.

“It is AWIEF’s vision to connect women-led businesses to Pan-African communities and our focus is on strengthening young women’s networks. It is a bold initiative in the light of Africa’s free trade prospects.”

Ochem said various challenges were also discussed, such as the need for women entrepreneurs and the youth to be able to access finance; access markets; have the opportunity to join a network, connect and exchange ideas and form relationships; mentorships; and capacity building.

“These are all the points that AWIEF works on. We solve these problems through our AWIEF programmes, annual conference and business networking opportunities through the year that we have started.

“We provide mentorship, showcase our young women entrepreneurs and celebrate them through our AWIEF Awards. In addition, we will amplify our learning and information sharing to empower young women business entrepreneurs across Africa through the launch of our digital hub, Ongea.Africa.”

It is AWIEF’s vision to connect women-led businesses to Pan-African communities and our focus is on strengthening young women’s networks.

Women empowerment featured at the heart of this year’s programmes at Africa 2018. Studies have shown that gender parity improves the quality of governance and accelerates development. A number of sessions were devoted to discussions on how to ensure the greater participation of women in setting policy and strategy, both in government and in business boardrooms.

“We should not forget that we in Africa are taking a lead in many respects, with a higher representation of women in cabinets and parliaments than in most countries around the world – including our own Director General at COMESA,” said Heba Salama, CEO of COMESA’s Regional Investment Agency, co-organisers of the Forum, in a report issued by Africa 2018 Forum organisers.

Over 200 startups also participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Day initiative which followed on from the World Youth Forum held in Egypt in November.

Youth entrepreneurship

Ochem’s main takeaway from Africa 2018: “I walked away feeling great that Africa is on the move,” she said.

“There are so many opportunities on the continent, especially for the youth. The youth are holding a lot of opportunity which needs to be enhanced and supported over time.

“There is also a need for Africa to improve, especially when it comes to intra-Africa trade and partnerships. For that to happen, we need to work on infrastructure development to facilitate the movement of people and goods on the continent. We need more collaboration, participation and encouragement and support for youth entrepreneurship from African governments,” Ochem concluded.

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