Rwanda is a global leader in promoting women’s leadership and inclusion, evidenced by the high proportion of women in parliament and other key positions. However, this success has not been proportionally reflected in the entrepreneurial arena.
Despite being the first country in the world to achieve a majority of female parliamentarians in the 2018 elections and consistently ranked high in the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law report, Rwanda’s female entrepreneurship remains high. are facing the challenge of From inadequate funding to cultural barriers, the road to success for women-owned businesses remains rocky.
As CEO of a bank with a strong presence across the East African Community, including cross-listing on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, I recognize the importance of investing in women entrepreneurs as a smart business move.
Women make up 42% of business owners in Rwanda, one of the highest percentages in the world. We strongly believe that supporting women entrepreneurs not only drives economic growth, but also social progress.
However, our research identified several obstacles that prevent women entrepreneurs from expanding their businesses. Limited access to financing, poor record keeping, restricted credit histories, patriarchal property ownership and cultural expectations all contribute to constraining growth. Additionally, the lack of a strong support network further limits access to information, funding and new opportunities.
To meet these challenges, Bank of Kigali has adopted a holistic approach. We provide financial management training, market access guidance, and confidence-building initiatives to help women entrepreneurs scale their businesses.
Women play a central role in the production chain, offering immense potential for the growth of agribusiness. Additionally, tourism, financial services and IT offer high growth opportunities.
The envisioned broader EAC and African Continental Free Trade Area will further expand business possibilities by opening the door for women entrepreneurs to create customized solutions for local consumers.
In honor of International Women’s Day this year with the theme of Banking by Women, I had the opportunity to visit a range of women-owned businesses and witness their inspiring success stories. This experience reinforced our decision at Bank of Kigali to establish her $135 million Agribusiness Fund dedicated to supporting women’s SMEs in this sector.
The majority of women in the EAC region are employed in the agricultural sector. These funding initiatives should also include elements of entrepreneurship skills development and accelerated digital adoption.
As a bank CEO and female leader, I am encouraged and challenged by the resilience and determination of female entrepreneurs in a male-dominated world. Investing in women entrepreneurs is more than just a moral imperative. It’s a smart business strategy that unlocks untapped potential and promotes progress for society as a whole.
Dr. Diane Karshisi is CEO of Bank of Kigali.