28 July 2021

3 Women Entrepreneurs Breaking Down Barriers in West Africa

Women entrepreneurs in West Africa are leading the way in creating sustainable businesses, growing their respective economies and generating lasting change.

While entrepreneurs face all kinds of challenges starting up businesses anywhere in the world, women often have to deal with additional hurdles to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. Cultural and regulatory biases, as well as lack of access to ​financial support, market information, networks and technology, are some of the most common ones and entail a loss of opportunities for their economic and social development.

From empowering the youth to addressing plastic pollution to supporting children with dyslexia. Know the stories of 3 ambitious women breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship and creating innovative solutions for a greener and fairer future.

Magdalene Otonba: Tackling plastic pollution in urban Ghana

Ghana is one of the 10 most polluted countries in the world. Of the over million tons of plastic waste generated in the country, only 2%-5% gets recycled. Magdalene Ontoba founded Magvision to address this problem in Accra, Ghana’s largest city. 

Two of the most important reasons for Ghana’s struggle with plastic waste management are lack of infrastructure and lack of awareness of the importance of recycling in its people. With Magvision, Magdalene focuses on offering solutions to both issues.

The company collects and recycles household and manufacturing plastic waste, but also educates local communities on sustainable waste management. Its goal is to help create a plastic-free community by adopting a circular economy model where everything consumed is reused or recycled instead of discarded.

“Magvision collects and recycles household and manufacturing plastic waste, but also educates local communities on sustainable waste management. Its goal is to help create a plastic-free community by adopting a circular economy model where everything consumed is reused or recycled instead of discarded.”

Patricia Wilkins: Economically empowering women in underserved communities in Ghana

Patricia Wilkins moved to Ghana from the United States after a successful career in marketing. That was when she found the Chorkor community, an underprivileged group that struggles with poverty and the challenges associated with it, such as high dropout rates, low school attendance, and violence against women. 

To help change this situation, she set up Basics International. An organization that provides educational scholarships for young people. But she soon realized this was not enough. 

Women entrepreneurs in West Africa

Patricia Wilkins, Basics International’s Founder and Managing Director

The core of the problem, Patricia observed, was the need for sustainable economic empowerment. In response, Basics International launched Hedzole which means ‘Freedom’. A social enterprise that helps women and youth to develop income earning capacity and achieve financial freedom. 

How? Through professional skills training in areas like textile design and manufacturing, quilting, upcycling and cooking, and facilitating access to internships and buyers. Hedzole donates the profits it receives to the scholarship and sponsorship program of Basics International, thus contributing to the main purpose of the organization.

Anita Nchat Kevin: Supporting children with dyslexia in northern Nigeria

Dyslexia is one of the most common reading disorders in the world. According to Dyslexia Nigeria, 15%-20% (or 3-6 children per primary school class) of the world’s population has some form of dyslexia. 

In the experience of Anita Nchat Kevin, the founder of Amina Dyslexia Center, this figure is exactly right. She explains that “2 in every 10 children I have taught in the last 13 years have shown signs of dyslexia”. In addition, the dropout rate for dyslexics can be as high as 35%. This figure is particularly relevant in Nigeria where only 42% of students receive some form of secondary education

Despite these figures, many Nigerians have never even heard of the disorder. A study carried out by Amina Dyslexia in Northern Nigeria found that about 98% of teachers had never heard the word ‘dyslexia’. So it is easy to guess that many children in Nigeria with the disorder are not getting the support they need and are likely dropping out or failing in school.

Anita is determined to change this reality through the Amina Dyslexia Center, which offers specialized educational programs for children with dyslexia. Currently, it is based in Kaduna, a state in northern Nigeria, but Anita’s dream is to expand its reach to the entire northern region, which has the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

Women entrepreneurs in West Africa

Anita Nchat Kevin, Amina Dyslexia Center’s founder

The need to support women entrepreneurs

The pandemic has had a significant effect on women’s employment. While the employment rate has fallen for both men and women globally, women’s participation in the workforce, as well as their working hours, have seen a dramatic drop. 

Women-led businesses and ideas must be given ample support during this time. This is why the New Economy Booster, a program designed to support ​innovative West-African entrepreneurs to excel despite the pandemic, ensured that women were well represented in the cohort.

The support provided enabled these women entrepreneurs to thrive. For example, Amina Dyslexia Center was selected for the Social Innovators incubator program by Donors for Africa and to pitch at the Nigerian Tech Summit held by the US Embassy. 

Amina Dyslexia Center’s happy faces

Magdalene of Magvision gained knowledge to help move her business to the next level. She expressed that the training during the program helped her with pitching and “helped [her] company get to a point where it can manage its finances and resources.” 

Hedzole’s mission focuses on empowering women financially, but when the pandemic came, the women in their program were very affected. According to Patricia,” the women were making a minimal salary, but when COVID hit, we couldn’t export goods and the women were making no money.” She decided to participate in the New Economy Booster program to strengthen the resilience of her organization and learn to make it more sustainable.

One of her greatest takeaways from the program was that Hedzole’s product was not the bags or quilts, but the empowered women. For her “knowing that each woman’s income is something they can be proud of and maintain. That is the most important thing.”

Learn more about these amazing women entrepreneurs in West Africa and others like them in the New Economy Booster program’s Dealbook

This article is part of a series featuring impact-driven entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria sparking innovation in COVID-19 affected sectors. To keep up to date with the New Economy Booster program, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and listen to the testimonies of the participants and program managers on our YouTube channel.