Amina Oyagbola on the battle for loan equality


How Nigeria’s Women Entrepreneurs are Looking for a Level Playing Field

A report by the ‘No Ceilings’ initiative from the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has revealed some inspiring news about the state of women entrepreneurialism in Nigeria, and also some disconcerting challenges as well.

On the positive side, an encouraging41 percent of Nigeria’s entrepreneurs are women — which is the highest participation rate in the world, and four times greater than the U.S. Indeed, Nigerian women are making their mark — and driving profitable business ventures — in a variety of sectors, such as fashion design, beauty, crafts, education, accommodation, and food services.

However, on the negative side, only 42 percent of Nigeria’s women entrepreneurs have access to formal financial services, and just 2 percent have obtained funding from financial institutions. The majority are obligated to raise working capital through friends and family, and by risking their own personal savings. It is a situation that Amina Oyagbola, the Founder and Chairperson of the non-profit organization WISCAR (Women in Successful Careers) says is unfair, unnecessary, and unprofitable for the country as a whole.

“According to research by the International Monetary Fund, improving gender equality in Nigeria — which includes establishing loan equality for women entrepreneurs — would increase the country’s economic output by 1%-1.25%, which would translate into between $3.75 billion-$4 billion more GDP each year,” comments Amina Oyagbola. “It would also have a positive influence on other African countrieswho, like Nigeria, experience chronic and systemic gender-based loan inequality.”

In the view of Amina Oyagbola, supporting Nigeria’s women entrepreneurs in sustainable and permanent manner requires three integrated strategies: increasing access to education, providing mentoring and role models, and giving financial institutions incentives and targets to be part of the solution.

Increasing Access to Education

The biggest reason that women entrepreneurs struggle to impact, and influence male dominated sectors like construction, transportation, and manufacturing is a lack of broad access to entrepreneurial training programmes that adequately prepare them for the long haul of entrepreneurship. While there are a number of organisations offering entrepreneurial preparatory training, these are few and far between when compared to the actual demand.

There thus needs to be more emphasis and more opportunities for access to required training to build up the capacity and opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship as part of curricula in schools would also ensure that even from a young age, girls are encouraged to see entrepreneurship as an option.

Providing Mentoring, Role Models and Networks

Aspiring and emerging entrepreneurial women also need mentoring opportunities. Programmes that provide access to female-role models who are living proof that professional and business success for women is not some lofty ideal but a practical reality are required.

According to Amina Oyagbola there are a growing number of programs targeting this need, including her organization WISCAR, which is dedicated to empowering, developing, and supporting entry and mid-level professional women in careers and enterprise in Nigeria and across Africa, through a structured mentoring program that provides strategic career advice, inspirational guidance, and ongoing support. Beyond mentoring, support networks are also required to encourage women to stay the course in entrepreneurship. These networks often provide peer-to-peer mentoring and shared opportunities.

Incentives and Targets for Financial Institutions

Last but certainly not least, financial institutions need to take the lead in making it easier and more affordable for women entrepreneurs to get both seed and ongoing funding.  Amina Oyagbola explains that the key to solving this is by setting aggressive but achievable targets and quotas, and also giving financial institutions attractive incentives to approve loan applications from women entrepreneurs. This will go a long way towards establishing loan equity.

She further explains that incentivising women’s businesses in this way would definitely be a case of enlightened self-interest among financial institutions, because when their female clients thrive and grow, they will need a partner to help them invest and save — and financial institutions will be perfectly positioned to fill that role.

Amina Oyagbola’s Final Thoughts

Female entrepreneurs in Nigeria account for the highest participation rate in the world; however, despite their incredible efforts, they are not being supported nearly enough. As Amina Oyagbola has discussed, the change agents needed to adequately support the entrepreneurial efforts of women in Nigeria are to increase access to education, provide mentoring and role model programs, and provide incentives and targets for financial institutions. If Nigeria can address these issues, women will be on their way to receiving the support they deserve.