African female entrepreneurs tackling climate change challenges and much more

Pauline Koelbl, founder and managing partner at ShEquity


One of the lesser discussed characteristics of climate change is its unintended but innate gender bias. Women are more affected by climate change than men – 80% of people displaced by it are women. Their roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make them more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur. There are also many more women than men employed in agriculture – Africa’s largest single industry by value and jobs. It is a sector that accounts for 14% of total GDP and 43.8% of total jobs. It can be hardly surprising therefore that so many of Africa’s climate solutions are coming from women entrepreneurs.

Yet many face institutional, cultural and structural challenges. One of those is the vast gender financing gap. The World Bank estimates that only 2% of global private equity goes to women-led start-ups and that the global gap is $1.7 trillion, with Africa accounting for $42 billion. It also suggests that Africa’s untapped female economy is worth $15 trillion. Even when women join forces, analysis of start-up financing deals shows that since 2013 only 3% of funding went to all-women founding teams. All-male companies received 76%.

Equitable access

Women entrepreneurs deserve equitable access to financial and technical support. This is where the investor platform, ShEquity, steps in. ShEquity is committed to providing smart investments to female-led and owned businesses and to building a female-focused investment ecosystem that economically empowers African female innovators and entrepreneurs. That ecosystem is a key to unlocking the potential of African female-led and owned businesses.

Gender-lens investing is much needed and timely not least because female entrepreneurship is on the rise globally – and Africa has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world, with one in four women running their own business. As demonstrated by ShEquity portfolio companies, women-owned businesses are making tremendous strides in sectors as diverse as health, digital technology, agriculture, transportation, and clean energy.

By leveraging the talents, skills and innovation of women entrepreneurs, we can bring needed actions to global challenges such as climate change as well as healthcare and food security. Backing women entrepreneurs and innovators has the great potential of accelerating the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Examples of ShEquity’s investees addressing climate change, healthcare and food security challenges include:

  • Ecodudu: a circular economy company feeding the future with insect-based protein
  • Les Cereales de Laury: transforming Fonio, a climate friendly ancient African Superfood Grain
  • Medsaf: a healthcare supply care management platform ensuring transparency, accuracy and safety of medication and other pharmaceuticals
  • Shuttlers: Bus ride sharing platform leading to fewer cars on the road, consequently reducing carbon dioxide emissions
  • WidEnergy: providing last mile distribution of clean, reliable, and affordable energy solutions while also empowering women

Beyond climate

Climate focused women-led companies like Widenergy are crucial catalysts for the realisation of the SDGs. When leveraged together, two of the SDGs – gender equality and climate action – can impact nearly all the other SDGs such as eliminating hunger and ensuring health and well-being. Together, gender and climate have the capacity to unlock opportunities across different sectors.

It is also the case that, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate-related projects and policies that involve women have proven to be more effective.

Policies, projects and investments implemented without women’s meaningful participation are less effective and often aggravate existing gender inequalities. The first step towards tackling the challenges of climate change is, therefore, the economic empowerment of women to safeguard the environment.

Triple bottom line

When investing in less mature ecosytems, cash alone is not enough to allow early-stage female led/owned businesses to cross the “valley of death” and embark on a growth journey. What is needed is “smart investment” which involves a holistic approach, combining cash investment with technical/operational support and facilitating access to high value networks. For instance, ShEquity’s Accelerator, SHEBA (ShEquity Business Accelerator) serves as a Technical Assistance (TA) facility, providing pre-investment support including de-risking qualifying businesses as well as post-investment value addition focusing on growth strategy. SHEBA TA support equips female founders with the skills needed to build successful companies. This approach allows ShEquity investors to access a de-risked and investment-ready pipeline composed of scalable and impactful female-led and owned businesses.

ShEquity’s ecosystem approach provides the much-needed support to early-stage female-led and owned businesses while also reassuring potential investors that they are investing in de-risked, scalable and impactful businesses. Such businesses have the capacity to generate a triple-bottom-line (financial, social, and environmental return) while also addressing different challenges, creating jobs and contributing to the SDGs. At the end, ShEquity’s ultimate goal is to be “Doing Well while Doing Good”.