All over Africa, young women are making their mark on career paths that used to be exclusively dominated by the menfolk. African women entrepreneurs are raising the bar and proving that they’re as equally capable of building successful businesses as men.
African women have consistently demonstrated the capacity to contribute meaningfully to economic change. Yet, for many years they have been relegated to the background by outdated socio-cultural norms and practices that silence their voices and ignore their potential.
But a new generation of African women entrepreneurs is rising above the barriers with a powerful voice that cannot be silenced and an audacity that cannot be trampled upon.
They are changing the narrative in their corner of the continent by succeeding in careers that men dominate.
Out of many, here are 5 African women entrepreneurs shattering the glass ceiling.
Leah Wambui is an inspirational property developer and the CEO of Cheriez Properties Limited.
She conceived and built the Royal Finesse Home, a 200 unit multi-million-dollar luxury real estate project in Nairobi, Kenya.
Her journey to the top was far from rosy. At a young age, she lost her mother, which terminated her dream to secure a university education. She later got a low paying job as a receptionist to cater for her basic needs.
But Leah wasn’t content with merely scratching the surface. She wanted more out of life and was inspired to dream big by her maternal aunt, a successful businesswoman. Leah admired her aunt’s way of life and wanted to be like her.
After trying her hands on some businesses that didn’t quite work out as expected, she decided to go into real estate. But like many women her age, the capital was a challenge.
In 2009, with her husband’s consent, she sold all the family’s assets to raise the needed capital. They sold the family house and shares in companies and topped it with their savings.
At this point, Wambui was very confident that the project would be a success because of its top quality. She started with 10 houses which she completed in 2015.
She was so confident that people would fall in love with the project at first sight. But she got a rude shock.
“We had our first show house and we invited people to come. I thought that the moment we had the show house we would get clients. I got into a rude shock. People came – and the questions that followed; are you an architect? Are you an interior designer? How many projects have you done?” she recalls.
Everybody that came walked about without buying. Not even her decision to embark on a roadshow to London to market the property yielded results. It seemed like it was doomed to fail, and her investment was going down the drain.
By the end of 2016, just as she contemplated giving up, two buyers showed up from nowhere and made payment. That was the turning point for the business. By the end of 2017, she had enough money to expand the project.
She expanded from 10 buildings to 78, which were all sold out by 2020. But demands were still pouring in, so she started phase two of the project.
Wambui has risen above her struggles, and she is now celebrated as one of the top real estate business owners in Kenya. She is one of the most celebrated African women entrepreneurs in Kenya, where she mentors younger women to dare the impossible.
If you thought Wambui’s story was remarkable, wait until you meet 26-year-old Jumoke Dada, who founded and runs ‘Taeillo’, a multimillion-dollar furniture business in Lagos, Nigeria.
Her accomplishment is probably one of the most inspiring entrepreneurial stories from a woman her age. She started with no capital and no prior experience in furniture making. All she had was an idea and a computer.
She used the payment from her first job to buy materials for the first furniture piece she made. Jumoke made N12, 000 profit from that transaction.
From then on, she got referrals from clients, family and friends, and her clientele kept growing until it became a multi-million company.
Jumoke, who describes her brand of furniture products as Afrocentric household products, says her passion is to brand Africa’s culture and identity in appealing modern designs through furniture.
“What I wanted was to create a great piece, because I realised that many of our traditional arts and crafts evolved to include practical and decorative items and that human expressions find their way through various forms of art,” she says.
Men largely dominate the furniture business in Nigeria, and the industry is also saturated, but by leveraging on technology and being innovative, Jumoke’s brand has recorded fast growth and delivered thousands of unique Afrocentric pieces of furniture to Nigerian homes.
“When we were going into the market, we understood that the furniture market was saturated, but we were still able to grow the business because we leveraged on technology. Technology helped us scale our business model, coupled with the strong investment we put into research and development to continue to produce exciting designs,” she states.
Speaking on the challenges she faces, she said it is the skill gap in the industry. Jumoke noted that the industry lacks skilled professionals that are detailed in craft and design.
She challenged the local, state and federal government to invest in human capital development to bridge the gap.
Gone are the days when the furniture business used to be seen as the exclusive preserve of the men; the ladies are populating the industry.
Another young Nigerian woman that is dominating the furniture industry is Demi. She is the CEO of Chesterfield. Her style is unique, and her products are world-class.
Though Demi was born in Nigeria, she lived, grew up and schooled in the UK. She also worked as a furniture designer in the UK and then relocated to Nigeria to set up her business.
In an interview, she explained that her journey into the furniture industry started accidentally.
“My journey began with a distressed leather sofa and armchair which was restored to its rightful condition. Its style and timeless design graced our home, and we loved its ethos and thus, Majeurs Chesterfield was born,” says Demi.
Majeurs Chesterfield Specialises in preloved leather and fabric furniture and new ranges, including Classic twentieth-century pieces and progressive contemporary design-led sofas.
She decided to relocate to Nigeria after being told she could make more of an impact in Nigeria with her furniture business.
“The moment I learnt I could make more of an impact here, I came here, saw the people. I fell in love with my people and I have been here ever since. That was 2016,” she says.
According to her, she came over to Nigeria to build an empire. And true to her word, the business has grown fast since she started. Last year, Demi acquired a new and bigger property to accommodate the rapid expansion.
Like Jumoke, Demi sources most of her raw materials locally. She only resorts to importation when the material is unavailable in the domestic market.
While recognising the many social challenges facing the country, she insisted that Nigeria still has a lot of potential and opportunities for growth.
Mosibudi Jo Mathole and Khomotso Ramodipa
African women entrepreneurs are kicking down the patriarchal doors and taking on seemingly impossible tasks. Mosibudi Jo Mathole and Khomotso Ramodipa are classic examples.
They’re celebrated worldwide for the impact they are making in the diamond industry, a field largely dominated by men.
The South African sisters run one of the few women-owned diamond cutting businesses globally and are succeeding at it.
Even though the diamond market has been shrinking in recent times, the ladies have been doing well and growing their client base steadily.
Their passion for the diamond business made them abandon their former careers as investment bankers and optometrists, and they have not looked back ever since.
After qualifying as diamond valuators, in 2008, they started a cutting and polishing shop, Kwame Diamonds – the first and only one run by sisters in South Africa.
Kwame Diamonds has been able to stay afloat because they have carved out a niche in cutting and polishing fancy and bespoke cut diamonds.
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