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Winrock International

Accelerating inclusive investment and progress: the rise of Senegalese women entrepreneurs

Dieynaba S. Thiam-Ka, a Senegalese female leader, is chief of party of the five-year USAID Entrepreneurship & Investment Activity implemented by Winrock International in Senegal.

The goal of the team she leads is to promote entrepreneurship and business investment in collaboration with communities, Senegal’s government and the private sector – and to inclusively increase access to services for enterprises and entrepreneurs that boost investment, create employment opportunities and drive positive social change in the youthful, fast-growing nation.

Dieynaba says a central piece of the project’s strategy from startup – and a significant source of its success so far – is partnering with local companies, organizations and government to engage women entrepreneurs across all levels of Senegalese society.

The approach helps to ensure “no woman is left behind, whether she is a highly skilled and trained CEO of a small-to-medium sized enterprise or an equally deserving rural woman owning a small food processing company or a member of a women’s group,” she says.

Dieynaba recently asked her team to summarize some of their approaches to illustrate how the project co-designs activities and builds partnerships that place women “front-and-center in our project’s quest to support entrepreneurs.” Here’s what they said:

We’re inspiring them to be confident and act on business ideas that lead to financial independence and empowerment through better access to information, hands-on training sessions, networking with peers for increased market opportunities and a strengthened Gender Equality and Social Inclusion strategy. Our project is co-producing a series of podcasts titled Conversations Féminines targeting urban women entrepreneurs. The concept was inspired by community radio shows — also initiated by the project and broadcast in rural areas — to inform entrepreneurs, especially women-led economic groups, about existing opportunities and to encourage them through peer-to-peer learning and success stories.”

Winrock’s Acting Chief of Global Programs and Development Amanda Hilligas (left) talks to Dieynaba S. Thiam-Ka outside of woman-owned Maraz Origins leather goods factory in Senegal.

We’re partnering to improve capacity building services for women and by women through a network of Business Development Service Providers led by women. Training includes financial education, accounting, digital marketing, management and soft skills.”

Winrock International Board Member Jerry Adams (left) and Dieynaba S. Thiam-Ka visit a baby food processing business that uses locally sourced products developed by Siny Samba, a woman entrepreneur supported by the USAID Entrepreneurship & Investment Activity.

We’re working with community groups on gender-responsive financing, with innovative financial products exclusively dedicated to women to ensure access and relevance. We helped develop an equity investment mechanism with a Women’s Investment Club, and a debt-funding line called Ellever [which means ‘to rise up’ in French] with Ecobank. In addition, the project co-constructed an innovative financial mechanism with microfinance institutions to provide accessible loans to entrepreneurs in secondary cities where a majority of women have been excluded from the classic financial sector.”

As International Women’s Day 2024 approaches – a day for celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness of discrimination and taking action to drive gender parity – the USAID Entrepreneurship & Investment project team also provided some selected data points that help the project measure its traction amongst women in the West African country. In its first 2.5 years, the USAID Entrepreneurship & Investment Activity has:

Reached 3,485 women

– just over half of the total number of people reached so far – with entrepreneurship and investment-related training, information and services. Of that amount, 1,847 women are aged 15-29.

Supported 1,292 women-led small-medium sized enterprises

– around 57% of all SMEs assisted – with services including training, coaching and networking.

Helped 1,042 women-owned microenterprises

– or over 52% of total microenterprises supported — with pre-incubation, incubation and post-incubation services.

Facilitated financing to 120 women clients

worth $341,866, accounting for 61% of the total project financing value to date.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024, an annual U.N. observance, is: Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.

Dieynaba explains that this year’s theme echoes the E&I activity’s core values and objectives. Women are a priority target as they are generally excluded from access to financial and non-financial services and assets such as land.

She adds:

“It’s important to ensure that women understand their worth and their potential and are given equal chances to their male counterparts through training and access to capital. Socially in Senegal, women are the pillars of the households, so ensuring women’s economic empowerment also means higher education for children, better healthcare and overall improved living conditions, and ultimately, economic growth.”

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USAID Entrepreneurship & Investment Activity

Each year an estimated 300,000 young new job seekers enter Senegal’s workforce. With few opportunities for wage-based employment, self-employment and entrepreneurship currently offer the most viable path to self-sufficiency for Senegalese youth. While small and medium-sized enterprises represent 90% of Senegal’s private sector, most of these businesses are operated and managed informally, resulting in low…