Around the world, it’s much more difficult for female entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to grow their businesses. The gender gap prevents women from reaching their potential and costs sub-Saharan Africa approximately $95 billion each year. So how do we solve this issue?
For starters, we can put women in the driver’s seat of capital flow.
Female fund managers are much more likely to invest in female entrepreneurs, and female founders are more likely to hire women. This is what we do at WIC Capital, a $20 million investment fund launched by the Women’s Investment Club (WIC) Sénégal and managed by WIC Gestion. We exclusively target women-led, early-stage businesses in West Africa. We know first-hand that women invest in other women, and more broadly, in their communities. You want to get the job done? Invest in a woman.
Realizing the Power of Finance
I began my career in the banking sector in Paris. It was there that I discovered the power of finance. It is the key to everything that we do not only as people, but also in our businesses. And it was there that I decided I wanted to build a career in investment. I knew I wanted to help businesses grow and thrive, not in the U.S. or Europe, but back home in Western Africa.
Senegal, my home country, has a lot of women entrepreneurs; 31% of entrepreneurs in Senegal are women, which is higher than much of the rest of the globe. However, the rub is that the majority of women-led businesses are operating at a very small scale, generating less than $200,000 USD a year in revenue. And because of that, they are not attractive to banks. We’ve found that about 44% of Senegalese women entrepreneurs who borrow money do so from relatives, and only 3.5% of them use financial institutions to access credit. That is holding them back.
Women-led SMEs are not getting the financing they need to invest in their own growth. And on top of the financial challenges they face, women entrepreneurs lack access to networks or training opportunities that provide them with the knowledge and assistance necessary to grow their businesses.
When I saw this, I wanted to dig in. There was a clear opportunity here that was being overlooked.
Women Investing in Women
When you talk about the private sector in Africa, you’re speaking mostly about small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. These enterprises are driving economic growth, and their success in the market contributes to improvements in living standards and employment for communities, which benefits the continent as a whole. So, in 2017, I became a member of WIC Sénégal. I was enticed by their vision to give women access to modern financial tools for inclusive economic development. It was the perfect opportunity for me to make investments that increased access to capital for SMEs while simultaneously improving the lives of women.
The seeds of what would become WIC Sénégal grew over a lunch in 2015. It was International Women’s Day, and four women – a group of friends and executives from organizations like Dalberg and Deloitte – discussed the challenges and opportunities facing female entrepreneurs in West Africa. They decided to establish a club that would invest in other women in Francophone West Africa, giving them the financing they needed to expand their businesses.
The idea blossomed into WIC Sénégal, a continuously growing collective of women (96 in Senegal, 25 in Côte d’Ivoire) who pool their resources together. WIC Sénégal then uses the funding to make investments. The Club also provides business advice, mentoring, and networks to women entrepreneurs across Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.
Now, we are expanding beyond the collective to bring in additional investors from the region and around the world. With support from USAID , we have launched our first investment fund: WIC Capital. It is the first of its kind in the region, a $20 million investment fund focused on growing women-led businesses in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.
The companies we support must be founded by women, at least 50% women-owned or run, or have a managerial team that is majority women. When we choose an investment, we look at the potential for growth and impact. We want to enable more women-led enterprises and SMEs to go from small- to larger scale; it’s our sweet spot.
The Women We Invest In
Our first investment was in a recycling plant, E-COVER, led by two 25-year-old women. They were young, but what they lacked in experience they compensated for with great motivation and eagerness to learn from us, from the mentors of the WIC network, and the different programs of which they were a part. We also work with women who have had a full career and are now ready to go out and start their own businesses. We have a different approach for each entrepreneur and provide tailored support to help these businesses flourish. This is part of why entrepreneurs are drawn to us.
We also invested in a chain of local bakeries, Mburu, run by a woman who primarily uses locally sourced, organic cereal. She’s not only growing her business; she’s also creating a positive social impact by working with other women along the supply chain – grain producers, processors, and bread distributors. The company can generate revenue and create a nutritious and organic product for the community. These are exactly the types of smaller-scale enterprises we are looking to support. This is where growth and job creation happens. When a small business is able to go from supplying five jobs to 20, 25, 50, that’s a huge win for us.
Excited for the Future
As International Women’s Day rolls around once again, I am excited about the year to come. We will finalize the investments that we have been working on during the first few months of 2022, and we will accelerate our investment process thanks to a hands-on investment readiness program that we designed through the WIC Académie, our in-house technical assistance facility.
This year, we have seen our four portfolio companies – E-COVER, Sarayaa, Les Ateliers de Corinne, and Mburu – thrive and start to generate increasing revenue. Mburu has launched a second bakery in Dakar and the company has tripled its revenue. The owner of the cooking school Les Ateliers de Corinne has opened her first space, including a cake design shop, a restaurant, and a studio for filming her culinary videos. E-COVER has started servicing both the local cement market and neighboring countries, and they are about to do another round of fundraising to increase their capacity.
We are hopeful that once investors get their first taste of what women entrepreneurs in Senegal can do, they’ll come back for more. With support from USAID , we are fundraising from outside institutions, foundations, high-net-worth individuals, and, of course, sources of local capital. We hope to attract more risk-averse investors by building a first-loss layer into the Fund to protect against losses incurred by portfolio companies.
While it’s easy to look at the gender equity gap in most nations and shrug it off as a problem too big for solving, I believe it’s not all bad. In Senegal, our women are free. They have advocates; voices to denounce gender inequities. There are so many strong women that are leading the way for younger ones, so many role models.
That’s why I’m excited to be operating in Senegal. The future of our women-led businesses in West Africa is bright.
Evelyne Dioh SIMPA is the Managing Director of WIC Capital, the first investment fund to exclusively target women-led early stage businesses in West Africa. The fund was set up in 2019 by the Women’s Investment Club Senegal, a group of +80 Senegalese businesswomen. Evelyne is an experienced Investment professional who joined WIC Capital from FONSIS, Senegal’s sovereign wealth fund, where she was responsible for managing +EUR 100 million transactions in several sectors, including industry, energy, agriculture. She formerly worked at the General Inspection of the Société Générale Group. She holds a Master’s degree in Management and a M.Sc. in Management Control from EDHEC Business School in France.
Evelyne’s life mission is to contribute to the development of the African private sector, by reinforcing and growing small businesses. She is also passionate about gender issues in modern African societies. In 2021, she was ranked in The Choiseul 100 Africa, as one of the 200 young African leaders of 40 years old and below, who will play a major role in the continent’s economic development in the near future.