by Bridget Boakye of She Leads Africa

She Leads Africa (SLA) is a community and digital platform that helps young professional African women move towards professional success with tools and resources, as well as access to experts and exclusive opportunities.  As an editor at SLA, I provide some context on why this work matters, and share a few of the challenges African women have told us they are tackling in 2016. We hope the vision these women have for Africa’s future inspires you to do your best work in the year ahead.

We know the story well

From 2012-2013, the general consensus was that the tide was finally turning on Africa’s economic trajectory. In 2012, Goldman Sachs, the global financial services firm, published the report, “Africa’s Turn” and The Economist, the prominent international newspaper, published “Africa Rising: A more hopeful continent.” Goldman Sachs’ report and The Economist’s articles signaled to foreign businesses and investors that it was now a good time to invest in Africa.

But, this hopeful message about home and prosperity was too short lived. The same publications that published “Africa Rising” recanted that narrative in 2015. We now know that the middle class boom we expected from decade long growth never materialized; rather, middle class growth was small, and where present, vulnerable.

It is in this larger economic context that two young women, Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei, began their work. They took the Africa Rising narrative and demanded that female entrepreneurs be included in that story. They started the organization She Leads Africa (SLA) and their early mission morphed into a wide array of programs and ventures to build and invest in the next generation of African female leaders.

The very existence of SLA at a time as this says: whether or not the world says Africa is rising, we believe that it is, and we are going to do our best work in that belief.

A roaring lion kills no game

This past year, SLA spoke with a number of young African female entrepreneurs about the challenges their businesses are solving. These Motherland Moguls do not just see challenges in Africa’s problems, they see opportunities and great potential for growth. Below are the opportunities ten women shared with us:


 

Growing opportunities in representing true African beauty

Louisa Kinoshi created BeautyRevNg to celebrate the diverse beauty of African women. The Nigeria-based company is revolutionizing the beauty shopping experience by putting brands that cater to the needs of African women in clients’ hands.

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A large mobilization around manufacturing and buying finished goods from Africa

Abai Schulze started ZAAF—a company that specializes in handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories. Through ZAAF, she creates unique products, opens up avenues of opportunity for talented local artisans, and promotes brand Ethiopia.

A marketplace eager for diverse garment options

Kambili Ngozi Ofili-Okonkwo started her Nigeria-based swim suit company, KAMOKINI, to address the lack of affordable, fashionable swimsuits for average body-conscious women. As she shared: “I was looking for something that was not too exposing but made me feel fashionable and wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg.”

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Growing opportunities to promote and provide conscientious, healthy eating options for Africans

Kasope Ladipo-Ajai started OmoAlata, a Nigeria-based food service brand, focused on the production and sale of hygienically processed and packaged local Nigerian soups, spices, and peppers. She makes cooking easier and promotes healthy eating.

Opportunities to provide products and services for the large number of women of African descent embracing their natural hair

Ngozi Opara started Heat Free Hair to provide women with high quality protective styling options that wouldn’t damage their natural hair. This is no small feat. Ask any African woman.

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An opportunity to reimagine and channel the potential of Africa’s huge and untapped informal sector

Judith Owigar started JuaKali, a Nairobi-based startup, to connect people looking for skilled labor with those in the informal sector. While workers in the informal sector are enterprising and often times skilled, they lack training and access to formal job opportunities. Rather, they often earn below minimum wage and work under terrible conditions.

Opportunity to create ventures that address women’s wellness and personal safety

Mildred Apenyo set out to create a supportive and safe space for women when she started FitcliqueAfrica. The first women-only gym in Uganda, Apenyo provides women with the tools that they need to empower themselves both physically and psychologically.

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Growing opportunities to tap into Africa’s consumer growth story

All of the companies on this list are also tapping into this opportunity. Diarra Bousso created the luxury brand, Dakar Boutique Group, because Africans create and like nice things, too.

The opportunity to embrace and tap into the continent’s vast cultural richness

Rayana Edwards fuses culture and clothing to empower women through her business Harem Clothing, and her project Sari for Change. Harem Clothing creates modern, modest dressing for women of all ages. Sari for Change trains unemployed women to reproduce new garments.

Growing opportunities to integrate and penetrate healthcare into the African social fabric

Brenda Katwesigye created mobile app company InstaHealth to connect users to health centers, medical specialists, and ambulance services. Seeing that healthcare information and centers were inaccessible and expensive for many in Uganda, she tapped into mobile growth to increase access for all.

The work of these young African women proves that for every challenge we face, we can create as many opportunities. During our 2015 pitch competition, SLA heard from nearly 400 female entrepreneurs. In larger numbers, African women are saying: we are ready to lead Africa and the world.

We invite you to join and share your work with us and our growing community on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. There, you can also find updates on these ten ventures. We look forward to a new year of doing our best work together.