Ochem argued that by not supporting women, Africa is developing 50% less than it should be.
Tangier – Irene Ochem, founder and CEO of the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), introduced herself at MEDays 2019 as a representative of Africa’s female entrepreneurs and innovators.
Ochem, from Nigeria, participated in a forum on “Enhancing Africa’s Competitiveness: Financing SMEs and Supporting Entrepreneurship.” As one of the esteemed invited speakers at MEDays 2019, Ochem brought the issue of gender to the forefront at the first session of “Africa Business” on November 13.
The panel addressed the obstacles faced by Africa’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) when trying to obtain financing.
Some panelists highlighted issues of corruption and poor human capital, while others emphasized how the dominance of the informal sector in Africa adversely affects the prospects of financing for SMEs. Many foreign investors, in particular, view investment in African SMEs as “risky business.”
Ochem turns the spotlight on gender
Although she was the third woman to speak, Ochem raised a point that had not yet been touched on: The under-resourcing of women entrepreneurs and business owners.
Ochem believes that women are Africa’s most important yet most underutilized resource and that African women entrepreneurs face unique challenges that their male counterparts will never experience.
African women have restricted access to financing due to a variety of cultural and structural barriers. Investors also lack confidence in female African business owners, causing businesswomen to lose confidence in themselves.
Ochem’s non-profit organization, AWIEF, is a highly influential pan-African women’s economic empowerment organization and business network. Seen by many as a visionary, she works tirelessly to facilitate the empowerment of African women and to help them realize their full potential for economic growth.
“Investing in women is more efficient for every society,” she said at the panel, noting some of the crucial sectors in African countries that are dominated by women, such as agriculture.
“At the end of the day, Africa is losing a great deal by not supporting 50% of the population,” she stated during the panel. “We are developing at 50% less than what we should be.”
“It is in our best interest to finance women.”