The global Covid-19 pandemic saw the exponential growth of many innovative solutions, especially in Africa. According to the Rose Review 2022 report, more women than ever are starting new businesses.
Over 140,000 all-female-founded companies were created last year, and this figure is growing by over a third each year1. South Africa moved up two places on the Women Business Owner benchmark to rank forty-fourth, with 21.9% of all businesses owned by women in 2021 versus 21.1% in 20202.
Women in innovation have continuously shown unwavering potential despite the sociocultural challenges that they’re faced with. These have had an impact on the opportunities available to them within the innovation space.
Women account for 30% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s researchers and innovators and face limited access to funding and skills gaps that are key to business enterprises’ formation, scale-up, and sustainability3.
Global Alliance Africa’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for South Africa, Marisa Naidoo, who plays a key role in supporting women in innovation says: “There is a gender bias that women have to be up against. Historically, they were not provided with certain opportunities, and as the world is changing, these opportunities are becoming bigger.
Often enough, we do not focus on a woman’s lifestyle, about how we train them for business, we expect them to fall within what’s already created.”
Naidoo, who has 8-10 years of experience in advocating for support for women in innovation adds: “The innovation chain needs to put more emphasis on the support for women, to enable inclusivity and to show them that they belong in innovation. Women have a natural ability to be community leaders, and champion innovation and change in communities”.
To actively create this inclusivity, Global Alliance Africa has designed the Place-Based Innovation (PBI) programme, which focuses on developing innovators and entrepreneurs, specifically women and youth, from their early development to commercialisation. In addition to Place-Based innovation, the Innovation Exchange programme utilises current ecosystem players to ensure that women are being supported.
“Often enough, programmes that are done in isolation, lack successive steps. When we create our programmes we focus on ensuring that we guide women and youth from the early stages of the innovation journey, right through until they commercialise. In other initiatives, such as Open Innovation, we have included things such as pitch training and mentorship support- which is our effort of enabling inclusivity for those innovators that have not had any training.”
These programmes have contributed to the success of women such as Sharon Rapetswa, who is the founder of Triple Shine Detergent Solution, a female-owned, and run business that uses an environmentally friendly and innovative approaches to empowering village or township entrepreneurs (youth and women) to establish micro-enterprises distributing refill cleaning detergents.
Through the Innovation Exchange programme, Unilever selected the initiative to develop a new line of refillable plastic packaging for Unilever’s bleach, detergent, and fabric softener products. In addition, the Gauteng-based PBI intervention works with female ecosystem representatives such as Makhosazane Luthuli from Allegro Enterprises to identify barriers and find solutions to investment in innovation.
Adding to the need for funding for women in innovation, Luthuli says: “Women in tech and innovation tend to be over-mentored and under-funded. It’s easy for them to join an incubation or acceleration programme. It is harder for women to raise capital to develop their innovations and create commercially viable enterprises. In order to close the gender inequality gap, we need to adopt practical and sustainable financial solutions that break the economic barriers and promote financial inclusion; we need to bet on women.”
“With women’s successes in innovation over the years, I would encourage them to stand up and be a voice. When women in innovation are the only ones in a room filled with men, they tend to lower themselves and be quiet. I encourage women to be the voice for other women in innovation because women also belong in innovation,” concludes Naidoo.