When you think back to what you thought you could be when you were growing up, the chances are that ‘mobile app developer’ was not an option you considered. The employment landscape has changed so much over the years. With time and technology, it will only continue to evolve, and fast. Entrepreneurs play a big part in determining the future of our economies, and women should be able to take the place they deserve in this field.
Specifically addressing the issues faced by women in entrepreneurship, the 74th edition of the Uniterra International Seminar held in Senegal from November 2 to 16 brought together twenty young Canadian and Senegalese women engaged in entrepreneurship. A precursor to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2019 (Nov. 18 - 24), the International Seminar was an opportunity for participants, most in the early stages of building their business ventures, to share best practices, develop their knowledge and skills, and build an international network of like-minded innovative youth. In the beautiful setting of Dakar’s bustling streets, the two-week program provided these multi-disciplinary women a space for cross-cultural learning, collaborative problem-solving, and networking across borders.
Throughout the world, women are fighting for equal rights and economic opportunities. Still, limited access to education, technology, and financing often prevents them from realizing their full potential. In many parts of the world, women carry most of the burden of household responsibilities, have less access to potential customers, and are often confronted with legal discrimination in matters of resource control. The aspirations of women are also limited by gender norms, stereotypes, and gender-based violence. As a result, only 3 out of 10 businesses are owned by women around the world.
Improving women’s access to entrepreneurship is key to advancing women’s economic empowerment, while also reducing poverty and gender inequality. Young women in particular are important economic actors. They have the energy, determination, and innovative ideas to change their circumstances.
In the context of Senegal, especially the capital city Dakar, entrepreneurship is everywhere. According to the African Development Bank Group, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 80% of all businesses in Senegal and with a majority of the population being 25 or younger, youth represent a large and emerging demographic of entrepreneurs. As a result, the local entrepreneurial ecosystem is not only growing, but also rapidly diversifying with the help of fresh markets and emerging technologies. Due to numerous incubators and vast networks of informal actors, this tight knit community is becoming more interconnected every year and thanks to opportunities like the International Seminar, can continue to expand globally.
This year marked the third occasion in which Senegal has hosted the International Seminar, and also the second consecutive year in which the event focused specifically on female entrepreneurship. Over the years, this theme has become a key area of focus for CECI to combat poverty and gender inequality. As traditional job-for-life career paths become scarce, entrepreneurship provides a different way to access employment and financial autonomy.
Living up to its reputation, the 2019 International Seminar on female entrepreneurship was an incredibly enriching experience for everyone involved. By connecting youth with their peers from around the world, the Seminar allowed 20 female entrepreneurs to share their experiences, develop their knowledge, and acquire skills, including through trainings provided by our partner Enablis Senegal, a local actor in the promotion of female entrepreneurship.
For fourteen intensive days, the Seminar participants collaborated with Marcelio Tevoedjr, Enablis representative and Seminar coach, to create Jokko-Elles (‘Connect Women’ - a combination of Wolof and French). This new and innovative multi-channel resource aims to support young women to develop their businesses in Senegal, Canada, and beyond. Comprised of an online platform and physical guide (to be available in both print and ebook formats), Jokko-Elles offers aspiring and experienced business women alike the detailed processes of enterprise creation and management, a nuanced map of the Canadian and Senegalese entrepreneurial ecosystems (including resources, incubators, hubs, etc.), advice on matters such a networking and building partnerships, as well as interviews by current entrepreneurs sharing their struggles, successes, and words of encouragement.
The group hopes this tool will support and encourage other women entrepreneurs in their efforts in Senegal and Canada, and perhaps even beyond.