RENEW Strategies

An Ode to Africa's Businesswomen

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Laura Davis
| March 8, 2019

Close your eyes for a few minutes and imagine that you are a businesswoman in East Africa. What inequalities might you face? What extra challenges might come into play as you go about the daily work of growing your business? Are there extra family obligations your life might entail that your male counterparts don’t typically face? How about equal access to land, finance and markets?

According to a recent study conducted by the IFC, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the largest proportion of financially constrained small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (54%) in the world.[1] Women-owned SMEs in SSA face additional barriers to trade and finance because they often lack the collateral, banking relationships and market linkages afforded to their male counterparts. The same IFC study outlines that, despite their smaller average size, female-owned businesses in SSA account for an outsized share of the finance gap, at $42B.[2]

As an example, one of our portfolio companies, Mama Fresh, is an injera company in Ethiopia and is a family business comprising of Konjit Zewdie and her husband Hailu and son Miraf. The Mama Fresh team has been baking injera daily in Ethiopia since 2003. With entities registered in Ethiopia and the United States, the company now offers a range of traditional Ethiopian food products and consumers can find Mama Konjit’s food in restaurants and retail outlets in Ethiopia, the United States, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait and Nigeria. The company currently has 39 employees, and 69% are women.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) worked with RENEW to design and implement the Accelerating Business Growth (ABG) Project in Ethiopia. ABG helps address some of the challenges faced by companies like Mama Fresh. The project helps SMEs, especially women-owned and managed, access finance from a growing network of domestic and international angel investors committed to building Ethiopia’s economy. The ABG project goes beyond addressing access to capital; it provides an executive training program for the C-suite of companies, helping them build and strengthen their governance, financial management and sales and marketing. All of this aims to create thousands of jobs in Ethiopia and build a vibrant and sustainable economy in Ethiopia.

Here are some numbers that we are tracking for the ABG to keep us focused on building gender equality:

  • 40% of the SMEs that have received an investment from our angel investors have female shareholders. We want this to get above 50%.
  • 70% of the jobs provided across our portfolio are held by women.
  • 40% of participants in The Exec’s Program are women. We will push to get this to 50%.
  • 38% of the professionals in the CFO100 are women. We want more!
  • 39 or 27% of the North American angel investors are women. We want to have more women join the IAN.

And finally, 50% of the RENEW team that manages the ABG project are women. Gender-balanced!
Why is gender equality so important for projects like ABG? Just as women are often the backbone of a family, they are also the backbone of an economy. And this is why all of the work we do at RENEW and with our partners at Global Affairs Canada emphasizes gender empowerment and equality.

So please stay in touch to keep learning about the high-impact work we are doing in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is much more coming on the horizon.

The Accelerating Business Growth (ABG) program is undertaken with support from the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. The Impact Angel Network (IAN) is one of the largest North American-based angel networks for Africa. RENEW is an impact investment firm working in Ethiopia that implements the ABG project and manages the IAN. To find out more about the ABG Project, contact us at, follow us on Twitter @RENEWLLC or find us on Instagram @impactangelnetwork.

[1]MSME Finance Gap: Assessment of the shortfalls and opportunities in financing micro, small and medium businesses in emerging markets. International Finance