Melanie Hawken

Expert commentary by Melanie Hawken, CEO and Founder, Lionesses of Africa Public Benefit Corporation

Lionesses of Africa Public Benefit Corporation is a social enterprise working to advance Africa’s women entrepreneurs by building and delivering entrepreneur development programmes, mentoring programmes, business tools, digital media channels, community platforms, networking events and information resources. Delivered at scale to women entrepreneurs, always free of charge, the mission is to drive change, so that Africa’s women entrepreneurs have the opportunity to become the change agents Africa needs.

Lionesses of Africa has more than 700,000 users across 54 African countries and also reaches tens of thousands of users in the diaspora in Europe and North America. It is on target to reach the goal of empowering one million women entrepreneurs across Africa.

Africa is flourishing with entrepreneurial spirit and has the highest rates of women’s entrepreneurship anywhere in the world. Lionesses of Africa’s community includes a prosperous number of emerging high growth potential women entrepreneurs. These women are supported through our accelerator, education programmes and mentoring programmes, and are selected to be part of our pan-African and international events programmes where they gain access to capital, access to markets, and access to partnership opportunities.

Our 100 Lioness community includes women at the top of their game who have built successful and impactful businesses. These women play a vital role as advocates, role models, mentors and strategic advisers to the Lionesses of Africa project. The importance of women-led high growth companies in Africa cannot be overstated.

These outstanding women entrepreneurs are not only amazing engines for economic growth, but we are also a powerful force for equitably distributing that growth. Women entrepreneurs in Africa typically reinvest 90% of what they earn back into their communities, by investing in education, nutrition, household expenditure, and caring for children and the elderly.

These women are deeply motivated to solve pressing problems in their communities. With Africa’s growing young population, job creation is one of the biggest challenges across the continent. Between now and 2035, 18 million new jobs will need to be created every year just to keep pace with the rapidly growing population. The desire to create jobs is commonly the driver of entrepreneurial intent for Africa’s women entrepreneurs. They are also leading Africa’s response to tackling the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Given the enormous potential of Africa’s women entrepreneurs, at Lionesses of Africa, our focus is to build and deliver programmes to support them in four key areas: access to education, capital, markets and partnerships. To fund these programmes we partner with Impact Partners around the world who share our commitment and vision for advancing Africa’s women entrepreneurs. We believe these programmes, with the support of Impact Partners, have the potential to lead change for Africa’s women entrepreneurs.

While so much still needs to be done, we are encouraged by what we see. Women across the continent are building gender-busting companies and entering into industries previously seen as male domains. Women are building businesses that are reversing Africa’s commodity trap, especially in agriculture where they are creating exciting products and brands that add value. Women are leveraging ancient handcrafts and skill sets across the continent, creating exciting new products that appeal to global buyers. Women are leading the way.