New York University: South African Women Entrepreneurs Are Engines of Economic Growth Across Africa But Need Reliable Data

Understanding the strengths and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, who are drivers of economic growth across Africa, can provide better support to them in the COVID-19 pandemic and afterward. However, reliable information has been in short supply. High-profile advocates are calling for improved data, for, as Melinda Gates has noted, “the data we do have—data that policymakers depend on—is bad. You might even call it sexist.”

In collaboration with Lionesses of Africa – and drawing on the organization’s network of 1.3 million women entrepreneurs across the continent – researchers at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management are helping to gather reliable, timely data and insights into women entrepreneurs and their businesses. Th goal is to give Africa’s women entrepreneurs a stronger voice in shaping resources targeted to them.

The first study produced under this collaboration, supported by the Absa Group, includes findings from a survey of 913 women leading businesses in South Africa, representing a wide range of business types and sectors.

The survey responses underscore the manifold challenges these women face. For many, COVID-19 was a substantial setback, according to Angela Hawken, director of the NYU Marron Institute. Few of the women business leaders were able to access government COVID-19 business assistance or secure external financing when needed. Access to external resources was particularly challenging for younger entrepreneurs and those leading smaller enterprises.

Despite the blows that COVID-19 dealt these business leaders, the survey reveals great optimism. The majority of respondents anticipate that their businesses will recover from the impact of COVID-19 within two years; they anticipate growth in revenues and are either actively recruiting new staff or planning for near-term hires.

Businesses with a digital presence were more resilient during COVID-19; those that made the majority of their sales through an app or online marketplace were less likely to be affected by the pandemic and had more optimistic projections about their future revenues.

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