On 15th of July 2016, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved USD 12.4 million grant for a project called "50 million Women Speak" to create a networking platform dedicated to sub-Saharan women entrepreneurs. The grant will be spread between the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
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The project is an innovative social media platform to enable women to start, grow and scale their business through the dynamic exchange of ideas. According to Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the AfDB's Special Envoy on Gender this digital/virtual marketplace will connect business-women to encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring, and information and knowledge sharing. The platform will cover 36 countries and will be accessible on mobile phones. It will enable women to access business training, mentorship, financial services and locally-relevant business information, while building their own networks of contacts. The project will be implemented within a period of three (3) years starting from 2017. The number of monthly platform user could reach 50,000 women in 2022, and by developing their businesses they expected to create 10% more jobs.
In Africa like in many parts of the world, women business owners continue to face gender-specific barriers such as lower levels of education and business training, weak property rights that deprive them of collateral and tangible assets, legal barriers that impede their economic activities and cultural barriers that discourage women from thriving as entrepreneurs. The consequence is that women have challenges accessing financial and non-financial services and so the size and growth of their businesses suffer. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the financing gap for women is estimated at over $20 billion and is likely to be more acute among younger and upstart women.
"Platform users will learn about their rights and the way to obtain financial support," said Salieu Jack, Chief ICT Engineer & Project's Team Leader at the AfDB. In the concerned countries, the rate of women entrepreneurs with access to banking loans could jump from 4% to 10% by 2022. The launch of the regional platform will be coordinated with the creation of Country Teams which will include Regional Economic Communities (RECs) specialized institutions for content gathering and dissemination, publicity, outreach, and advocacy, targeting women entrepreneurs in their respective member states.
Hosted by COMESA and co-piloted by EAC & ECOWAS, the platform will also provide an opportunity to capture important statistics on financial inclusion in Africa. Its related statistical database should be able to provide sound and accurate data both on SMEs led by women and Financial Institutions products by country. It should hence contribute to generating and sharing knowledge on women's access to financial and non-financial services in Regional Member Countries.
The "50 Million Women Speak" project will form part of the Innovation Lab, one of the Pillars of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program that was launched by the President of the Bank at the Annual Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2016.