For the Belgian Development Cooperation promoting women entrepreneurship is an important lever to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the initiative of Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities, the Belgian development agency Enabel has launched the Awa Prize. With this award, Belgium aims to reward promising initiatives by women entrepreneurs in Africa and the Middle East and promote women’s leadership.
Out of 2400 entries from 16 countries the Belgian Development Cooperation selected twelve laureates, in four categories: start-up, scale-up, innovation and a People’s Choice Prize. The four winners are from Morocco, Mali, Rwanda and Burundi. They received their prize at the official ceremony on Thursday 26 January in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Mathilde and Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities Caroline Gennez.
Aminata Simpara from Mali is awarded the Awa Prize in the Start-up category. She is the founder and director of N’terini, a company based in the capital, Bamako. In 2021, the company started manufacturing washable and reusable sanitary pads. Aminata has a degree in journalism and communication.
With her business, she offers a ready-made solution to address the taboo of menstrual insecurity. In Mali, many young girls cannot afford sanitary pads and often do not go to school during their period. In less than two years, Aminata’s business has reached 5000 clients and created six direct jobs. “If you don’t have access to sanitation during your rules, it causes a lot of problems. It has an impact on your work, at school and on how you interact with others. When I was little, there was hardly any access to menstrual hygiene or information about female reproduction. That uncertainty does something to you. Only when I later saw a television broadcast about women in India who had the same problems, did I suddenly realize that many more people suffer from this. That’s when N’terini was born.’
‘It took us a year to test products, but in the end, we came up with a reusable sanitary napkin. That way it is less expensive and has a lesser impact on the environment. The name N’terini means ‘my friend, my confidante’ and it stands for being able to talk about your rules and reclaiming your dignity. Also, a bit about breaking the taboo by sharing information via social media and training. There is still a lot of room for growth. Especially in rural areas, while it is important there because there are few pharmacies and hospitals.’
Credia Umuhire Ruzigana from Rwanda is awarded the Awa Prize in the Scale-up category. Credia (25) is the founder and director of Imanzi Creations, a company created in 2019 that produces novels, comic books and board games – bringing forgotten tales and heroes of Rwanda’s rich past to life.
Rwanda has few libraries and publishers, making access to reading difficult. Credia actively promotes literacy in a country where reading is not a widespread pastime.
‘In high school, my friends and I read the same books, we watched the same movies, but there was no one we could really identify with. None of those stories came from Rwanda, but it couldn’t be that we didn’t have heroes to tell stories about, could it? In the end, we pooled our talents and founded Imanzi, so that the young people after us will not collide with it. We wanted to tell stories that are recognizable for all Rwandans, but especially for children and young people.’
‘At first, we only thought of comics, but we soon came up against our limits because the creative industry is still in its infancy in Rwanda. As a solution, we also incorporated the stories into puzzles and games, so that children who do not like to read could also hear the stories. This way we can preserve our culture and history.’
‘Due to globalization, we lost many things that symbolize Rwanda. With our stories and the way, we shape the characters, we try to restore a piece of our identity. Rwanda is growing and developing, but it is important not to lose our individuality.’
‘I especially hope that this prize could open doors so that we can inspire people to tell their own stories.’
Rim Machhour (26) is the co-founder and director of Dealkhir.ma, a Moroccan-based company. She is awarded the Awa Prize in the Innovation category. In 2021, after obtaining her Master’s degree in social innovation, she co-founded Dealkhir.ma, a solidarity e-commerce business.
Online shoppers are encouraged through the Dealkhir platform to make a donation to a social community project. Dealkhir can offer such deals thanks to strong partnerships with companies. In two years of time, Rim Machhour has succeeded in forging 60 deals, benefiting 8 social projects.
‘I studied social work, but I also always did volunteer work. Almost none of the organizations I came into contact with managed to save money for sustainable long-term projects. Since the lockdown, e-commerce in Morocco has increased significantly, so Dealkhir.ma seemed like the perfect way to change that.’
‘The recognition motivates me, but above all I hope it helps me to grow. If we manage to expand, it would be great to go abroad as well. My ultimate dream is to set up an orphanage, linked to this organization. If we can take care of children and provide education through the website, that would be really great.’
Finally, Kathia Iradukunda from Burundi, the founder and director of the Hyacinth Art House, is awarded the People’s Choice Prize. Kathia (26) is passionate about environmental protection. She launched her business in 2021 fighting the invasive water hyacinth in Lake Tanganyika.
The Hyacinth Art House collects water hyacinths in the Lake and uses them for art products (baskets, carpets, table pieces…). It thus contributes to clearing Lake Tanganyika, promoting Burundian crafts and empowering women. In less than two years, the Hyacinth Art House has already removed more than 5 tonnes of water hyacinth and trained 100 women in weaving techniques.
‘I have always been fascinated by entrepreneurship. I just didn’t really have a concrete idea when I was studying at university. All I knew was that I wanted to do something to contribute to society and that I wanted to have my own company.’
‘When I discovered that only seven plant species still lived in the lake near where I studied, it affected me. The place I came from had the same problem, due to an invasive water hyacinth. I therefore investigated how we can do something about this invasive plant, with the materials we had available. Now we dry hyacinths from the lake to make art with them. In this way we contribute to the environment and we provide employment for women in the area. Because it is such an invasive plant, we don’t have much impact yet, but we are managing to conserve part of the lake.’
‘This prize is an opportunity to acquire competences so that we can find solutions to the problems we still encounter. In this way we hope to be able to restore part of the lake and create even more employment opportunities for women.’
Emancipation over inequality
Globally, one in three companies is owned by a woman. In sub-Sahara Africa, most self-employed people are women. In societies where paid employment prospects are limited or non-existent, entrepreneurship is often the main livelihood for men and women. For women, it is a lever for financial empowerment whose positive effects are also felt in the family. Almost 90% of the income women generate through their businesses is reinvested for the benefit of the family or the local community and thus by extension for the whole of society.
But women, more often than men, face obstacles on their way to entrepreneurship. These are not always easy to overcome.
By promoting promising women entrepreneurs as role models, the Awa Prize aims to demystify women’s entrepreneurship. The award aims to show to both men and women that entrepreneurship can be synonymous with social success, personal development and positive effects on communities, while maintaining the balance in the household.
Source: enable.be / standaard.be