To support Africa's rise, support Africa's women

Susan Mashibe, CEO and founder of VIA Aviation, believes that the women are Africa’s untapped resources. Photo by: Initiative for Global Development

From government officials to corporate leaders to philanthropists, the hot topic on everyone’s mind today is supporting the rise of Africa. But as we pour over population projections and examine different drivers of economic growth, too often, we neglect 50 percent of Africa’s population. How can we expect to support the rise of all of Africa, when we’re only supporting half the population?

To successfully support Africa’s rise, we must support Africa’s women.

Looking at the numbers, it becomes clear that women represent one of Africa’s untapped economic resources. Take my native Tanzania, for example. Despite an overall labor force participation rate of 80.7 percent, just 4 percent of women are in paid jobs, earning wages for their work. Research has shown that the increased economic participation of women is correlated with a country’s economic growth and prosperity. Thus, it is not only in a woman’s best interest that she earn wages for her work, but her country’s best interest, as well.

With that information in hand, what is holding African women back? And what can we do to support Africa’s women, and support the rise of all of Africa?

I’d like to answer this in part by drawing on my own experience. In 2003, I returned to Tanzania, armed with my FAA-certification as a commercial pilot who had worked as an aircraft maintenance engineer, after studying in the United States. I was determined to launch my own business, Tanzanite Jet Centre, a fixed-base operations company that specializes in logistical support to business aviation in East Africa. Since then, I have successfully grown my company, now called VIA Aviation, to over $1 million in sales, and worked with heads of state and Fortune 500 executives, including notables such as the former U.S. President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

But VIA Aviation’s expansion is not just good for me, it’s good for all of Tanzania. When I started out, I was determined to demonstrate that African companies can be professional, ethical, and provide the highest level of service in the industry, and to fill a needed gap in private air travel in Africa. With Africa’s economy rapidly expanding and companies looking to expand their investments throughout the continent, including more remote locations not served by scheduled airline flights, this sort of service becomes vital to connecting African countries, making needed investments a reality through reliable travel.

And what is more, VIA Aviation is creating jobs in Tanzania and beyond, as we expand into Senegal and Ethiopia. I am proud to employ 22 Tanzanians and Senegalese, utilizing local talent to build out VIA Aviation’s workforce. Owning a company that operates in Africa, I understand the importance of education, training and workforce development. Africans are capable of fulfilling the workforce needs of its rapidly growing economy, but we need adequate educational support to realize that potential.

Despite the success of VIA Aviation, I have encountered many obstacles and setbacks that are common among not only female entrepreneurs but women in Africa, in general. These include: lack of training and education, including basic business skills; poor access to credit, technology and markets; limited availability of mentors, role models or networks; and discriminatory laws and regulations, especially related to land and property, banking and business ownership.  I had the opportunity to discuss these obstacles with other female African entrepreneurs on a panel discussion at the George W. Bush Institute’s African First Ladies Summit last summer. What struck me most about this discussion was finding the commonality in challenges to economic participation faced by women, spanning countries and sectors. This represents tremendous opportunities — solutions that have worked in one country could be applied to another country to further empower women.  

Through programs such as the Initiative for Global Development’s Emerging Leaders Fellowship, I have been able to overcome some of these obstacles, gaining access to influential networks and learning more about running a business. As a first-generation entrepreneur, opportunities like this are invaluable to me.

While I have benefitted from the support of others, I have also tried to support the rise of the next generation of African women, promoting math and science among female students in elementary and high schools. Supporting women’s education is vital to their future success — providing a firm foundation for them to draw on whether their passion is agriculture, information and communications technology, aviation or another interest.

I know that to realize the full potential of Africa, we must support the full population of Africa. So I encourage the government officials, corporate leaders, philanthropists and others to continuing making Africa’s rise the “hot topic” of the day.

To succeed, we cannot talk about the rise of Africa without supporting the rise of Africa’s women.

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

About the author

  • Susan Mashibe

    Susan Mashibe is the CEO of VIA Aviation, the first of its kind in Tanzania, specializing in corporate, diplomatic and private jets in the region. Born and raised in Tanzania, she is the first female FAA certified commercial and aircraft maintenance engineer in the country. Mashibe has also been honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2011 and was awarded the Jennifer Potter Emerging Leader Fellowship by the Initiative for Global Development in 2013.