Lionesses of Africa, an online community, was founded by editor in chief Melanie Hawken, a passionate advocate for women’s entrepreneurship, with the aim of promoting, celebrating and supporting the growth of women entrepreneurs across the African continent.
“I believe that a community of women entrepreneurs supporting and mentoring one another can accomplish amazing things and accelerate the progress of women entrepreneurship in Africa,” says Hawken.
Hawken, a writer and communications strategist, says she knows from being an entrepreneur herself how hard it can be, which is why she started the platform.
“There is a strong camaraderie that exists among women entrepreneurs – it comes from experience and the knowledge that the world of business is tough out there for women in Africa. Yet, the willingness of women to help each other to achieve our individual entrepreneurship goals is truly inspirational. None of us individually has all the answers, but it’s likely that other women entrepreneurs have faced similar challenges or business dilemmas on their road to success. Their insights and perspectives can be an invaluable resource,” she said.
The social entrepreneurship project empowers women entrepreneurs with advice, insight and a platform to promote themselves, their businesses and their business ideas.
“Lionesses of Africa allows women entrepreneurs to share their stories, their knowledge and experiences, to inspire one another to reach greater heights, and to connect and collaborate with one another for accelerated success,” she says.
The platform offers access to mentorship, moral support, resources and fostering collaboration which are crucial to developing SMES. “There are women entrepreneurs everywhere who are doing it alone. They’re not in touch with one another. And it can be a lonely journey. I wanted to create a platform where they could interact with each other. We have women entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey sharing their experiences and encouraging one another,” says Hawken.
The platform is active on all major social media channels and issues a daily morning newsletter Good Morning Lionesses!. “The majority of feedback we get from staying in touch and encouraging them daily, is that our entrepreneurs realise they are not on their journey alone,” she says.
Hawken understands the importance of “real-world” connection and Lionesses of Africa also facilitates offline interaction by hosting free Lioness Lean In Breakfast Series events, in partnership with Standard Bank. These inspiring events are held throughout the year, in cities across the continent. Each event has speakers from the community who showcase their brands and share their stories.
Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was celebrated globally on 19 November and a series of Lean In breakfasts took place as part of the celebrations. Mthuthukile Msibi, a South African entrepreneur who founded Rain Dear, a business that transforms PVC into weather resistant trendy apparel and accessories, shared her business journey at the event in Cape Town.
“It’s been really helpful for me to hear from other women entrepreneurs, especially about all the mistakes they have made. I’ve realised we all made mistakes. I have made so many, but it’s all part of the journey. It’s how we learn,” says Msibi.
Msibi started her Rain Dear business online and credits social media as the most important tool that has allowed her to grow her business. “Most of our enquiries come from social media. I don’t have a retail outlet and social media has allowed me to promote my business and drives the majority of traffic to my website,” she said.
Digital media builds brands
Hawken emphasises the impact of the power of digital media to build brands and connect and engage with a global audience. “The internet and social media have enabled entrepreneurs and opened up access to markets across the globe, that they would not have been able to connect with previously,” she says.
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, a Ghanaian handbag designer and member of the Lionesses community, founded the luxury accessories brand AAKS using traditional Ghanaian hand-weaving techniques, with the aim of creating sustainable jobs in Africa.
“Akosua has created a proudly African, global luxury brand using the power of digital. She is extremely active on social media, has a huge following and blogs regularly,” says Hawken. The AAKS brand is now sold in twenty-eight countries around the world and is stocked by high-end retailers such as Anthroplogie, Saks and Liberty.
The two biggest barriers to developing women-owned businesses are access to new markets and funding, according to a South African Entrepreneurship survey by Standard Bank, which was conducted in October to coincide with the inaugural Lionesses of Africa Annual Conference in Johannesburg. The survey of 130 South African female entrepreneurs found that most women are still pressured to pursue a traditional career. Yet, if they do, they are then pressured to be the “perfect business woman and homemaker”.
According to Jayshree Naidoo, Standard Bank Incubator head, South African female entrepreneurs play a critical role in economic progress and see creating social change as important as investing for a profitable return.
Recognising the importance of the role of business incubators in supporting small, emerging business owners to ensure sustainable value creation, Hawken has partnered with Standard Bank to set up the recently-launched Lionesses of Africa Accelerator, with the aim of “accelerating Africa’s women-led businesses to the next level”.
“Lionesses of Africa is committed to empowering the next generation of African women entrepreneurs. It’s a platform where today’s successful women entrepreneurs from across the African continent get the chance to send the elevator down to the next generation of young women who will follow in their footsteps,” says Walken.
Images: Lionesses of Africa
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