Africa’s Women Entrepreneurs Face Difficult Choices in COVID-19 Era (en)
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit women entrepreneurs particularly hard. Almost overnight, women entrepreneurs had to evolve their business practices as a result of social distancing measures, take care of their children full-time as schools closed, and deal with the financial repercussions of a world economy on lockdown. People who already had access to technology were better able to adapt to the social distancing measures put in place. Entrepreneurs and the institutions that support them are working hard to cope in this complicated environment. The #FastTrackTech initiative is already providing remote training and webinars and is working to develop other solutions such as one-on-one coaching to support entrepreneurs
Forced to prioritize family or work
Women bear the majority of the responsibility for household management and child-care. The current situation has forced women entrepreneurs to choose between their businesses and their families. According to Lidia Solomon, founder and CEO of LSSYA, a tech company in Ethiopia, “schools are shut, but there are still companies that require employees to come to work…mothers have to worry about where to leave their children.” The situation is complicated by the gender gap in access to technology. Angela Semwogerere, founder of Coding in Heels, an organization in Uganda that works to have women embrace technology, explains that “women are at home and they can’t even get their work done because they don’t have the gadgets or technology at home like laptops or wifi,” whereas men tend to “have these things already.”
More work needs to be done online and remotely to cope with the crisis. This pivot increases the technology costs for a company. In Uganda, for example, “you can buy 9 gigabytes of data for around $9. A tech person can go through that in a couple of days. I could probably buy food for three people for a week [with that money],” says Semwogerere. In Uganda, there is a tax to access social media sites of about $0.05 per day.
Access to technology is key to coping with the crisis
Women entrepreneurs need to increase their technological capacity to cope with the current situation. Blandine Umuziranenge, the founder of Kosmotive, a Rwandan start-up providing information, health-care services and feminine products, explains it simply—“we were not ready for social distancing.” This sentiment was echoed by Semwogerere—“the idea of working from home has hit the industry terribly.”
Support institutions across Africa can help entrepreneurs cope and adapt by providing technical training and coordinating brainstorming about what needs to be done on the technological side. Since the beginning of the outbreak, more than 70 women have benefited from the #FastTrackTech initiative’s coaching activities and webinars. Solomon says that “#FastTrackTech has helped me adjust my business strategies and adopt different methods during this time by providing intensive online webinars.”
However, there are opportunities as well, provided that the technical capacity is there. Kosmotive has created a telephone help-line for mothers unable to get in-person maternity care. It is also building up its e-commerce capacity to deliver feminine hygiene products to rural areas of Rwanda. Travel between some districts in Rwanda is currently on lockdown, making order delivery impossible. Still, Umuziranenge is hopeful that the lockdown will be lifted soon.
Financed by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands Trust Fund IV, the #FastTrackTech project is implemented by the International Trade Centre. Thanks to a targeted coaching and training offer as well as matchmaking with potential clients and investors, the #FastTrackTech project, since October 2019, is committed alongside digital entrepreneurs who aspire to international growth in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.