Women traders: Training alone not enough, we need funds

A potential customer samples items on sale at a Nairobi expo meant to empower women entrepreneurs in showcasing their talents. Women entrepreneurs have expressed concern that they attend many empowerment workshops but get not funding for their businesses.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ninety female entrepreneurs have been selected from Kenya in the first cohort of the newly launched E4Impact Foundation Wonder Programme.
  • It has enrolled 150 women entrepreneurs from Kenya and 60 from Cameroon, says E4Impact Kenya accelerator Isabella Tenai.

“I have attended so many women entrepreneurs’ empowerment workshops I have since lost count. All graced by notable dignitaries and held in high-end hotels, yet each time I leave the workshops, my pockets are more empty than before,” remarks Junky Bins Chief Executive Officer Lucy Ngorongo.

Lucy is among 90 female entrepreneurs selected from Kenya in the first cohort of the newly launched E4Impact Foundation Wonder Programme, which is funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Programme under the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (Afawa) initiative. It has enrolled 150 women entrepreneurs from Kenya and 60 from Cameroon, says E4Impact Kenya accelerator Isabella Tenai.

“Following a call for application in Kenya launched in December last year, 26 companies were selected to pioneer the Wonder programme aimed at strengthening the capacity of African women in the business sector,” announced Tenai during the unveiling of the initiative early this month.

“The firms will undergo three-year training, which is intended to enhance women's business productivity and growth.”

Lucy is grateful that her company is one of those selected and optimistic that the programme will be a breath of fresh air while still cautious to manage her expectations. She says this is not the first training she has enrolled on, adding she has been in several similar scenarios before, only to be “left high and dry”.

“As women in business, we are going everywhere, everywhere in all these meetings. Just last week I was at Radisson Blu with the European Union and I am worse off than before because for two days I was not in the office,” she exclaims.

“People see your photos in those events and think you came loaded with lots of money. You will hear someone say ‘lend me Sh100,000, I will pay you back next week,’ but the bank knows I have a loan of about a million shillings, Sh2 million, Sh5 million. Actually, I am considering stopping to attend such events altogether.”

According to Lucy, despite a myriad of donor institutions targeting women, Kenya still has a long way to go in enabling funds access for female entrepreneurs, some of whom are already struggling with loans to keep their businesses afloat.

“When people see you smart they think you are doing very well and we thank God for that and we own that part of doing well. But the reality is, we need the money,” says the CEO who runs a recycling company and has a team of 17 employees.

Prohibitive subscriptions

“There are so many subscriptions. There are so many organisations. They are calling us everywhere—the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa). I am a member of Kepsa because I am a sector member but cannot afford to pay the subscriptions.

“The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce (KNCCI), we would love to join you but paying that subscription. We have so many loans. Do I pay the loans? Do I pay the staff, or do I pay the hefty subscriptions in each outfit?” Poses the investor, who has been in business for over a decade.

Lucy aspires to open a material recovery centre comprising women, but she quickly points out that this can only come to fruition if she has funds.

“We know that when you empower a woman you empower the community. For the material recovery facility, it is going to be 90 per cent women, but I need money to pay them because I do not want them to do charity work. I do not want them to carry remains to take back to their homes. I want them to put decent food on their tables.”

Her sentiments are echoed by journalist turned investor Miswaleh Zingizi, who is the Kaya Nuts director. Lack of financial support remains the greatest impediment to female entrepreneurs’ efforts to realise their full potential, offers Miswaleh.

She argues that, while training and equipping women with the right business skills is important, without funding there is nothing much they can do. “Businesses fail, businesses have challenges and women have issues. We have big dreams, but we lack support. We have seen so many programmes training women in this country and every day we are busy applying and then we pause and ask ourselves: Why I’m I doing all these programmes? What is the end game?” she argues.

“Everybody is getting funding to train women but then, these people do not think that we need money. At the end of the day, we cannot take all those good business ideas and go with them at home or to the kitchen. We all need money.”

She appeals to organisations targeting women to also consider empowering them to start and grow their businesses other than bombarding them with countless training programmes. “Give us the right skills but also enable us to say ‘we were at stage 4, today we are at stage 10,’” says Miswaleh, who has a team of 400 female employees in Kwale County.

“As a woman entrepreneur it is not easy because it is like you are carrying children, you are carrying people, because you are not doing this alone. As I stand here, there is a team waiting for me in an incomplete shed and they believe, ‘mama’ is the one who is going to bring a solution and maybe I am broke. When I return I tell them all these big dreams and they think I am loaded.

“Running a business as a woman is a journey, you have all these other obligations. Getting funding, especially in Kenya, is like going to the sky and coming back. Sometimes as a business, you start and need support, but the banks will tell you ‘go and grow, get ready then come back.’ Scaling and market access is also another issue. Sustaining these businesses need stamina. We need support.”

Speaking at the Wonder Programme launch, KNCCI Vice President Fatma Elmaay said the only way to accelerate economic growth is to enhance the numerous startups operated by women.

“It is through scaling that we are able to contribute to the country’s economy. We have a lot of startups and there is nothing wrong with startups. We are now moving away because those assisted to grow which will result in economic growth because we increase income to the middle class,” stated Tenai.

She further emphasised the need for women entrepreneurs to work together with women legislators, as well as their male counterparts, through partnerships, coaching and mentorship, to upscale their enterprises.

“It is important for women to work with others. We must be able to work in partnerships with men, it is not something we can do alone. Men bring a totally different mindset to the table. Pick the good stuff.”

Afawa East Africa principal officer Susan Okoh said AfDB is keen to increase inclusive business support for women entrepreneurs on the continent.

“Afawa’s primary objective is to bridge the $42 billion finance gap for business women in Africa and unlock their entrepreneurial capacity and full potential,” said Okoh.

ABSA Bank business director Elizabeth Wasunna called for the bridging of the gap between men and women in all sectors for sustainable economic growth. “When you go to classes in schools we are all there and we are all at par. What changes between school and business? What biases do we find as women that stop us from being able to step forward and to pivot in these businesses?

“Women form 50 percent of Kenya’s population and we ask ourselves if these women can be empowered in boardrooms, in business environments, similar to the menfolk, what will we be doing to the economy in Kenya. We need to do the right thing and empower women.”

The E4Impact Foundation brings universities, companies and institutions together to enhance sustainable and fast-growing economies by training entrepreneurs and scaling the growth of their businesses.

The foundation, which is sponsored by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, has presence in 22 countries and is one of the eight centres implementing the Wonder Programme in Kenya.