Rwanda is a global leader in promoting women’s leadership and inclusivity, as demonstrated by the high proportion of female representation in Parliament and other key positions. However, this success has not been proportionately mirrored in the entrepreneurial arena.
Despite being the first country in the world to achieve a majority of female MPs in the 2018 elections and consistently ranking highly in the World Bank's Women, Business and the Law report, Rwandan women entrepreneurs still face numerous challenges. From inadequate financing to cultural barriers, the road to success for women-owned businesses remains arduous.
As CEO of a bank that has a strong presence across the East African Community, including a cross-listing on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, I recognise the importance of investing in women entrepreneurs as a smart business move.
Women account for 42 per cent of business owners in Rwanda, one of the highest ratios globally. We firmly believe that supporting women entrepreneurs not only drives economic growth but also fosters social progress.
However, our research has identified several obstacles that prevent women entrepreneurs from scaling up their businesses. Limited access to financing, poor record keeping, restricted credit history, patriarchal asset ownership, and cultural expectations all play a part in stifling growth. Additionally, the lack of a strong support network further restricts access to information, funding, and new opportunities.
To address these challenges, the Bank of Kigali adopted a holistic approach. We provide financial management training, market access guidance and confidence-building initiatives to help women entrepreneurs scale up their businesses.
Women play a central role in the production chain, offering immense potential for growth in agribusiness. Furthermore, tourism, financial services and IT present opportunities for high growth.
The envisaged wider EAC and the African Continental Free Trade Area open the door for women entrepreneurs to create tailored solutions for regional consumers, further expanding their business prospects.
In celebration of this year's International Women's Day which was themed, ‘Banking on Women’, I had the opportunity to visit a diverse range of women-owned businesses and witness their inspiring success stories. This experience reinforced our decision at the Bank of Kigali to establish a $135 million agri-business fund dedicated to supporting women SMEs in the sector.
A majority of women in the EAC region are engaged in the agricultural sector. These funding initiatives must also include components of entrepreneurship skills development and digital adoption acceleration.
As a bank CEO and a woman leader, I am both encouraged and challenged by the resilience and determination of women entrepreneurs in a male-dominated world. Investing in women entrepreneurs is not just a moral imperative; it is a smart business strategy that unlocks untapped potential and drives progress across society.
Dr Diane Karusisi is the CEO, Bank of Kigali.