Promoting a new generation of women leaders in Africa

The Leading Women of Africa initiative is a pan-African forum for promoting a new generation of women leaders. The organization seeks to promote unity and economic empowerment of women in Africa. Today we had a chance to connect with its founder Mrs. Madelein Mkunu.

Can you tell us about yourself and how you came upon this new Business concept?

“I am a thought Leader and I believe in the potential of women in general and women of Africa in particular. I believe women are natural Leaders and they just need to be that.

Can you tell us about your Woman Investor’s Program?

“The Women Investor’s Program (WIP) is a platform that brings together women in business in Africa and abroad, as well as corporate companies that have Africa as part of their growth strategy, in order to access trade and Investment opportunities available on the continent.

In recent years we have experienced a strong wave of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa, however, we do not see a strong presence of women in this process. We also believe that women must not be limited in the traditionally easy to access sectors … It is time to see more and more women in the INFRASTRUCTURE development sectors. Hence, we need to form a platform that improve access for woman entrepreneurs to the sectors previously dominated by their counterparts.”

What is the opportunity for female entrepreneurs, why should people look to support your work?

“WIP assists women in business and improves access to markets in a well planned, coordinated and organized  system put in place by Leading Woman of Africa. In this way we seek to help woman grow their businesses beyond the borders of their own countries.

WIP needs support. Research and experts agree that women entrepreneurs in Africa could achieve more if they were well supported. The kind of support that we are looking for? WIN-WIN partnerships. We seek financial and non-financial partners from around the globe. They will win in terms of ROI and the participating women will gain improved access to the mainstream sectors of the economy.”

What are the major challenges you feel woman entrepreneurs face?

“The main challenge faced by women entrepreneurs, especially in Africa, is access to finance. And I mean big finance as opposed to the  peanuts available! However access to information (research) to new markets remains another obstacle. We invite both financial and technical partners to come on board and work with us on these challenges.”

You recently inaugurated WIP, can your reflect on this?

“The recent event in Cape Town marked the official launch of the Women Investor’s Program.  We connected our strategic partners from government and the private sector, and from Africa and abroad. The move was well received and the outcomes look promising. Our next step is to roll out nationally, I mean in South Africa, and then expand into the rest of Africa. WIP promises to truly become a strong movement of women in business that will change the face of Africa.”

Your focus is mostly South Africa, what are you doing successfully that could be applied elsewhere?

“South Africa is our starting point, but WIP is a pan African platform. We have already established strategic partnerships with the Economic Blocks of Africa. A strategic partnership with the East Africa Business Community (EABC) has just been finalized and we hope to start promoting business opportunities of the region in the start of the new year. By the end of 2012 we aim to establish a strong presence in SADC, EABC and ECOWAS regions.

Do you have some success stories you can share with us?

We have many success stories and a number of business linkages have been formed since our beginning in 2008. We have linked women from Ghana, Nigeria, DR Congo, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire … They are now all trading amongst each other. Our biggest goal is to have more institutional support so we can reach even more women. We are pleased to join the committee of the Gender and Women’s Economic Empowerment Department of Trade and Industry – South Africa. We Salute EABC for partnering with us in their aim to strengthen the participation of women in the East African Economic community. And we look forward to more of these kind of partnerships as we race toward integration of more women in the mainstream economy. We have a great starting point.”

What is your message to the international investment community looking at the Africa growth story?

“To the international investment community I would like to say, ‘No more HANDS OUTS in Africa.’ We recommend WIN-WIN partnerships that create jobs and reduce poverty.”

Do you have a message for the VC4Africa women entrepreneurs working so hard to build promising companies across Africa?

“Oh, yes. Women entrepreneurs are the backbone of African Economy. I would like to encourage my counterparts in Africa to hold hands and work together. We must start thinking about bigger investments, opportunities, returns and growth. To share your ideas on how we can work together, please do not hesitate to contact us at info [at] leadingwomenofafrica [dot] com.”

Thank you for sharing your work with our members here at VC4Africa. We look forward to following your progress and to working together. Our group dedicated to the woman entrepreneurs of VC4Africa is open and free to join. This is certainly a starting point for bringing people together!