OPIC 2X - “Investing in Women: The Opportunity We Cannot Afford to Miss”
On February 12, the Corporate Council for Africa (CCA) and the US Mission to the African Union co-hosted the U.S. – Africa Trade and Investment Forum in Addis Ababa. More than 300 people attended from more than 30 countries, including senior government representatives from the United States, the AU, Egypt, Madagascar, Rwanda, Mauritius, Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, South Africa and Benin. Senior executives from more than 50 U.S. and African companies also attended.
The Forum kicked off with an initial panel on the importance of expanding financing for women. The economic rationale is compelling, given that 60% of the non-agricultural part of African economies are run by women. Women often face greater challenges in gaining access to financing for their businesses, despite the fact that women-owned businesses tend to have repayment rates of 90% (versus 30% for those owned by men). Research has shown that gender is a huge driver of inequality, and is acting as a significant drag on broader macro-economic performance. If Africa cuts inequality levels to those seen in Asia, GDP would grow an extra 1% a year, or 33% faster than the average for the last several years. The biggest barriers are laws that discriminate in areas such as inheritance and educational access.
There is a clear sense across finance agencies that women are a force for development, and that finding ways to provide women more access to training, finance and mentorship is one of the most effective ways of jump-starting the economic growth and job creation that is needed in Africa. OPIC, the Trade and Development Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank detailed some of the programs they are working on to help fill these gaps. In the fashion industry, for example, Africa only captures roughly $200 million of the current $2.6 trillion in global industry income, illustrating the enormous scope to capture greater value chains. Participants also explained programs to support value-added efforts in agriculture and small and medium enterprises, which represent 90% of all companies and 80% of all jobs in Africa.