The MSME sector in Kenya, primarily comprising informal businesses, makes up approximately 40% of the country's GDP. A gendered analysis of the SME sector and related policies in Kenya, as reported by Oxfam, reveals that 31.4% of SMEs in Kenya are female-owned, 48% are male-owned, and 17% are co-owned by both men and women.
While the World Bank states that 58% of SMEs in Africa are owned by women, these women-led businesses still face significant challenges that hinder their progress compared to their male counterparts. These challenges are primarily rooted in long-standing structural issues, such as limited access to finance, skill and labor gaps, exclusion from crucial networks, and social and legal constraints influenced by societal norms. Additionally, women entrepreneurs must navigate unique challenges, including the need to balance increased household responsibilities during times of business crises.
Despite these obstacles, women-owned businesses have a recognized impact and play a vital role in driving economic development by creating employment opportunities, fostering greater economic growth, and harnessing women’s productive potential.
To ensure the success of women business owners and de-risk SMEs, substantial efforts are required. Providing comprehensive support throughout their entrepreneurial journey necessitates the implementation of a robust frameworks that facilitate networking opportunities, access to resources and knowledge, customized business support from experts, and capital availability. Many global brands recognize gender equality as a strategic priority and understand the importance of establishing a robust support system for aspiring women entrepreneurs and those already engaged in business.
While initial efforts have been made, it is evident that further action is necessary to fully unlock the potential of women-owned businesses and create an environment where they can thrive. All organizations with a vested interest in their success, including large companies and governments, must adopt a more holistic and collaborative approach to enterprise support. The goal should be to strengthen the underlying ecosystem in which MSMEs operate.
In line with this goal, the National Bank of Kenya (NBK) has implemented financial inclusivity products to address sustainable development and banking practices. One notable solution is NIA, launched earlier this year by NBK and aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs. NIA provides access to financial support, including business loans, asset financing, and overdraft facilities, while also offering capacity building and mentorship to enable sustainable business growth.
To ensure the success of NIA, the Bank has partnered with Adanian Labs, a pan African technology studio that drives business digitization and enhances technology capacity of startup businesses. Under this partnership, we air a digital property show launched on YouTube called "You've Got Business." which connects female entrepreneurs with experienced business leaders who provide guidance and advice on business growth and also propose grant funding for the business.
The show features women from diverse backgrounds whose businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them an opportunity to seek a second chance for their ventures. In addition to the YouTube show, "You've Got Business" the bank will deliver a series of masterclasses facilitated by a business support team from National Bank, Adanian Labs, and other partners. This initiative aligns with NBK's goal of creating job opportunities for youth, equipping them with self-employment skills and providing funding and exposure to foster business growth and scalability.
Strategic Partnerships are key drivers of startup, growth, and sustainability of businesses. It is crucial for government institutions, public organizations, and private entities to proactively create opportunities and foster an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs.
Government institutions can implement policies and programs promoting gender equality and empowering women in business. These initiatives can involve providing financial assistance, offering training and skills development programs, and establishing supportive regulatory frameworks.
Public institutions such as MSEA (Micro and Small Enterprises Authority), Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and industry as well as other business associations can organize networking events, mentorship programs, and educational initiatives tailored to young women entrepreneurs.
Private organizations also play a significant role by offering mentorship programs, access to networking events and funding opportunities. Collaborating with young women entrepreneurs, private organizations can provide guidance, share expertise, and provide environments that foster connection to potential investors and business partners. Moreover, creating platforms for knowledge-sharing and collaboration among women entrepreneurs can foster a supportive community that empowers and uplifts one another.
By collectively working towards creating a supportive ecosystem, we can unlock the potential of young women in business and ensure their long-term success. Providing the necessary resources, opportunities, and support systems that enable young women entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute to economic growth and societal development is a shared responsibility.
Article By Alice Kimuhu