In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the significant impact women-led businesses can have on economies and societies globally. In West Africa, women have played a pivotal role in driving economic growth and social development; however, despite their significant contributions, women-led/owned businesses often face numerous challenges in accessing finance, knowledge, and skill-building opportunities, which limits their potential for growth and impact. While women-led/owned businesses play a pivotal role in building small-medium-enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, they rarely have access to the tools they need for those businesses to succeed.

ShEquity an investment firm providing smart investments for women-led/owned businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, is taking an ecosystem approach to investing. By financing these women-led / owned businesses, these businesses become key drivers of inclusive socio-economic growth with the vision to bridge gender funding gaps in Africa. Recognizing the immense potential of women-led and owned enterprises, the USAID-funded West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) awarded ShEquity a $1.2 million co-investment grant in April 2021 to provide fair access to venture development services and venture capital funding for women-led and owned businesses in West Africa.

There is a growing need to prioritize and invest in women entrepreneurs, empowering them to drive change, create jobs, and implement sustainable development practices. By taking an ecosystem approach to investing which includes de-risking women-led and owned businesses through its accelerator, SHEBA -ShEquity Business Accelerator- and providing adequate financial support, ShEquity is fostering an environment where women-led businesses can thrive. Ultimately this leads to locally led impact and the empowerment of other women and the community at large. With the co-investment grant from the Trade Hub, ShEquity will raise $15 million from impact-oriented private investors to support 120 growth-constrained businesses in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria with venture building and mentoring services through its SHEBA program.

SHEBA is an initiative designed to support women-led and owned businesses to become investment ready by addressing investors’ concerns including key investment risks. The 17-week program focuses on getting women-led/owned businesses fit for investment, increasing their chances of getting access to seed funding. The program is also designed to bridge the knowledge and skills gaps, as it enhances leadership and soft skills needed to engage with key partners.

After the 3rd cohort, which had over 30 businesses participating per cohort, ShEquity has successfully reached about 100 women-led/owned businesses through coaching and mentorship, linking them to investors and supporting them through to become impactful and scalable in agribusiness, climate-smart businesses, fast-moving consumer goods, healthcare, logistics, and tech-enabled businesses.

Addressing the financing challenges faced by women-led businesses is imperative to achieving sustainable development and economic empowerment for West African women. By providing gender-responsive financial products, fostering supportive networks such as SHEBA, and promoting capacity building, ShEquity is unlocking the untapped potential of more women entrepreneurs. Through this Trade Hub co-investment partnership, USAID invests in women-led businesses that drive locally led impact, stimulate economic growth, create more equitable communities, and pave the way for a brighter future.