Q&A: Nigerian gender minister on 'ecosystems' for women entrepreneurs

Aisha Abubakar, Nigerian minister for women’s affairs and social development. Photo by: UNIDO / CC BY-ND

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire — At the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative’s first regional summit last week in Côte d’Ivoire, many of the speakers talked about the need to create “ecosystems” around female entrepreneurs in order to help them thrive.

Aisha Abubakar, Nigerian minister for women’s affairs and social development, was one of them. Devex sat down with Abubakar to learn more about building these ecosystems and the challenges that women entrepreneurs in Nigeria face.

“A lot of handholding needs to take place for women to access funding. We need to remove all of the barriers.”

— Aisha Abubakar, Nigerian minister for women’s affairs and social development

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve talked about the importance of building ecosystems around female entrepreneurs. What do you mean by that?

Women do not have access to services on a continuous basis in order to help their businesses grow. To change that, we need to set up ecosystems where they can gain access to human resource experts, lawyers, accountants, and auditors. This will help them with their bookkeeping and also help them to access funding.

Women entrepreneurs also run into problems with contracts and need help. A lot of the time you find that this is what keeps small businesses from growing. They just don’t have the money to seek out this kind of help. We are trying to build these ecosystems in development centers across Nigeria. They are working to help women at flexible and affordable rates.

Financial institutions often see women entrepreneurs in the developing world as risky. How can that perception be changed?

For de-risking in the agriculture sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria set up the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending to de-risk farmers. This, of course, also helps women farmers.

We also have the collateral registry that allows women to borrow against equipment within their homes: generators, cars, and movable assets. We are also allowing women to use certificates to access financing.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for getting finance to women entrepreneurs?

A lot of handholding needs to take place for women to access funding. We need to remove all of the barriers. Women don’t own land, women don’t own collateral. There needs to be a focus on their businesses and the development of the business.

In Nigeria, land ownership is a cultural thing more than a legal thing. Women do not own land or houses. It is changing, though. Some women don’t have the capacity to understand legal arrangements. They might not understand contracts with the banks and so they just sign the contract in order to get the money. It’s only when they face problems that they are shown the small print.

It’s almost impossible for women in rural areas to access funding due to many obstacles. Typically the beneficiaries of funds are women in urban areas and the younger generation who are more agile, who are mobile and able to get information. For older women who have been in business for a very long time, it’s also difficult to access funding.

What is the best way for the development community to support women entrepreneurs?

There is a need for the development community to coordinate the activities of women-owned businesses and women associations, in order to better understand them. There is a need to know where women are and what kind of businesses they have. That can then be used as a baseline.

Secondly, the development community can help facilitate the creation of these ecosystems around female entrepreneurs.

Finally, there is a need to leverage technology. With technology, capacity building can happen for these women online. It can help women access markets. Women can also get exposure for their businesses.

I think development partners need to focus on those things, in addition to providing affordable finance.

About the author

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    Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.