Women’s economic participation is critical for West Africa’s prosperity; therefore, promoting women’s leadership development and entrepreneurship is key to the U.S. Government (USG). This priority is reflected in the high-level visits that allow for intentional points of connection between USG officials and female leaders and staff in the region. Further, increasing women’s participation is a goal for the West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) and a prerequisite for partnering with businesses. This involves engaging women-owned businesses and those that meaningfully engage women and youth to co-create private sector jobs and develop other sustainable initiatives for long-term women and youth participation and benefits.

On Monday, May 22, 2023, USAID/Senegal’s Economic Growth Office organized a roundtable dinner (held at Alkimia Dakar restaurant) around the theme “Women’s Economic Development in Senegal and Experience Sharing as Women Business Leaders.” The discussion brought together USAID Deputy Administrator, Paloma Adams-Allen, USAID/Senegal Mission Director, Peter Trenchard, and talented female entrepreneurs who demonstrated exceptional leadership potential and commitment to positive social change.

Photo caption: Deputy Administrator, Paloma Adams-Allen, with a Group of Women Entrepreneurs Including Trade Hub’s Biosene CEO, Salamba Diene; Delta SA CEO, Lena Tall Faye; Nest for All CEO, Khadidiatou Nakoulima

From the Trade Hub partners, three female CEOs joined the event: Léna Tall Faye, CEO of Delta SA (a construction and public works company with WASH services); Salamba Diene, CEO of Biosene (an agribusiness processing company with exports to Europe and the United States); and Khadidiatou Nakoulima, CEO of Nest for All (a medical network that provides quality services for low-income women and children).

After welcoming the invitees, Christine Ndiaye Sene, USAID/Senegal’s Investment, Trade, and Policy Specialist introduced the female entrepreneurs. An introduction from Adams-Allen followed, where she connected her role and specific ways of supporting their organizations and their female staff before opening the discussions. The female CEOs presented their career paths and gave key advice to fellow young women who are considering investing in their respective sectors.

Diene emphasized how management training for women, access to finance, and engagement of private actors are essential for Biosene’s development into a competitive and sustainable agribusiness. She explained how the company supports more women in starting and growing sustainable and profitable businesses in agriculture.

“One main challenge is to find and attract qualified personnel affordable for SMEs. Setting up networks of businesswomen can help create new opportunities and develop new contacts so that together we can grow our businesses and our leadership skills.”

Salamba Diene, CEO of Biosene

Nakoulima clarified Nest for All’s business model and the way it enables more women in low- and middle-income communities to access quality and affordable health care while still making her business sustainable. She also highlighted how innovative models can help increase access to maternal and child health care in Senegal.

“We were delighted to share our experiences with USAID’s Deputy Administrator, Mrs. Adams-Allen, and USAID’s team. We realized, with fellow women business leaders, that we need, first, to be more connected to each other as we face similar challenges and create professional networks. Secondly, we should foster an environment, within our companies and professional associations, where women can reach leadership positions or take entrepreneurial initiatives.” Nakoulima continued, “This is what we strive to do at NEST by empowering midwives and nurses, helping them break the glass ceiling on their careers, through training and professional development. We strongly believe that, for better maternal outcomes, they should be at the forefront of women’s health.”

Tall Faye shared her experiences over the last 20 years of leading a WASH company and partnerships that prepared her business to benefit from opportunities and play a prominent role to attract more women in the sector.

“At Delta, the advancement of women is at the core of our development strategy.  In a traditionally male-dominated sector, new approaches are needed to increase the recruitment and retention of women. With the Trade Hub, we continue to implement a gender plan to champion women (with equal skills) in our recruitment and in their promotion to positions of responsibility. I, therefore, personally intend to carry out advocacy to ensure that more girls take up professions in the water and sanitation sector.”

Léna Tall Faye, CEO of Delta

Similarly, earlier this year in January, Diene (Biosene) was invited by USAID/Senegal to participate in a roundtable discussion on women entrepreneurship with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Janet L. Yellen, and eight other Senegalese female entrepreneurs at the office of LA DER/FEJ.  At that event, which was also attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Michael Raynor, Diene acknowledged the impact of USAID’s support through the Trade Hub to strengthen its competitiveness to meet the increasing international demand for indigenous food. Through that support, Biosene is now on track to commission its factory in July 2023 and has hired 117 staff (of which 64 are women), surpassing its co-investment project target of hiring 96 staff by April 2024.

Photo caption: Secretary Janet L. Yellen (3rd from left) with a Group of Women Entrepreneurs Including Trade Hub’s Biosene CEO, Salamba Diene in Senegal

The Trade Hub enables talented women leaders to attain economic empowerment in both the public and private spheres—by facilitating entry to and advancement in decision-making positions. Throughout the Activity, the Trade Hub has provided co-investment grants to 17 women-owned/led businesses, created 27,262 jobs for women, and engaged 143,033 women; providing technical assistance in the form of coaching, training, mentoring, and capacity building for other groups. Events like this recent roundtable dinner, are instrumental in providing meaningful points of connection and dialogue that are inspiring and instructive.