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An interview with Ms Afua Osei, Co-founder of She Leads Africa.

1/ She Leads Africa is helping young African women achieve their professional dreams with online content and the organization of regional events. What motivated you to dedicate your life to fight for women empowerment in Africa?

Despite Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest rate of female entrepreneurship across the world, when people think about young women entrepreneurs they focus on small scale and subsistence entrepreneurs. While there are definitely women in need of training and skills development, why is it typically focused on bead and soap making?

Our belief is that in order for Africa to truly grow, it is going to be young entrepreneurs with the ability to create businesses that can grow and scale across the continent, who are going to make it happen. That’s why we started She Leads Africa – to support the millions of young African women with the potential and drive to create long lasting change through business and career.

She Leads Africa helps young African achieve their professional dreams by providing the resources, education and networks they need to be successful.

2/ What are the main challenges faced by young women entrepreneurs in Africa and how is She Leads Africa helping them to achieve their career dreams?

Building a business in Africa is challenging regardless of who you are, but for young women their age and gender present a unique set of challenges when it comes to starting a business. While there are many different challenges that vary based on where you live, we’ve identified three main challenges that we consistently here from across our community as roadblocks on their entrepreneurial journey.

  1. Cultural stereotypes and the media have narrowed down who we see and believe can be a successful entrepreneur. When you look at the lists of top entrepreneurs across Africa or even on the lists of the next generation of leaders, you very rarely see any young women. What people see in the media is very important and if there aren’t role models then that doesn’t encourage young women to believe that business and entrepreneurship is for them.At She Leads Africa we have invested significantly in telling a different story about what it means to be a young African women entrepreneur. Whenever an organization or investor says they can’t find women for panels or events we can direct them to the nearly 1,000 young women we’ve profiled on our website from agriculture, technology, health, fashion, food and so much more. There is incredible talent amongst young African women and we strive to provide inspiration and opportunities for these young women.
  1. Running a business is a lonely endeavor and with many business networks dominated by men, young women don’t always feel that they have a place there. This is especially true in the tech industry where “bro” culture has even permeated Africa and tech hubs aren’t inclusive spaces.She Leads Africa provides a community for young women who are looking to connect with like-minded young women and gain support to achieve their dreams. We do this through our online community and active social media pages. There our community can get inspiration, motivation and business advice. Through our professional bootcamps which we’ve held in 6 different countries, our participants are able to connect and learn with more than 150 other smart and ambitious young women. This is the type of new girls network that young African women need in order to succeed.
  1. Access to finance is very challenging for young women entrepreneurs as very few banks are able to support SMEs and access to investors is very difficult if you don’t have the right networks.We don’t believe that access to finance should prohibit anyone from achieving their dreams so we teach young women how to build sustainable businesses without external funding and for those looking for investors, we connect them to investors who want to support diverse entrepreneurs. Our website has free guides on business planning, building your online community and developing a strong foundation for your business.

Young African women are hustlers and despite the challenges in front of them, they will certainly find a way to power through it. We are here to help more of this generation of women achieve their dreams with less stress and greater happiness.

3/ Who are She Leads Africa’s key partners? Any lessons learned you would like to share with our readers?

We have enjoyed wonderful support from corporate partners who understand the importance of investing in young African women. Some of the positive partnerships we’ve had have been with global companies such as Facebook, Huawei, and South African Airways. Working with corporate partners has taught us the importance of being proactive in identifying areas where both sides can benefit and add value to their users. We worked with Huawei to host 6 young African women technology entrepreneurs from Morocco, Uganda, Nigeria and Ivory Coast in China and it was an opportunity for both sides to benefit. Our entrepreneurs had a great experience and Huawei was able to showcase some of the exciting tech innovations they are bringing to the continent.