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Report: Africa’s Online Sector Could Grow with More Support


A woman walks past a sign with a portrait of Ivanka Trump before she takes part in the first West African summit on female entrepreneurship, in Adzope, north of Abidjan on April 17, 2019.

A global development organization says women run more online businesses in Africa, but face greater challenges than online firms led by men.

The International Financial Corporation, which is the arm of the World Bank that helps the private sector and Jumia, the largest online business platform in Africa, said in a new report that the pandemic has hurt sales for women’s online businesses by 39%. In comparison, male-led businesses saw sales drop only 28%.

Charlotte Ntim analyzes disruptive technologies for the IFC’s gender and economic inclusion group. She says there are more women in high-competition fields like beauty products, where it is hard for individuals to distinguish themselves.

“When you think of selling for example in beauty, just beyond high levels of competition, when you think about with the pandemic and the closure of borders having to get products in from different parts of the world to sell online that presents a whole other challenge," Ntim said. "A lot of the challenges are impacted by the spaces in which we find women.”

Jumia, Checkers, Sixty60, Konga, and Kilimall platforms have made Africa's online shopping flourish.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says African online shopping has increased by 18% since 2014, compared to a 12% increase globally.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hit women’s businesses especially hard.

The World Bank and Facebook “Data for Good” survey released in June 2020 found that 43% of female-owned firms were temporarily closed, compared to 34% of male-owned businesses.

In South Africa, 52% of female-owned businesses closed. In Nigeria, the number was 44%. In Ghana, 37%.

Ntim says digital and financial gaps continue to hold businesswomen back.

“There is a huge financing gap globally, it’s about a trillion dollars, and you think the fact as well that regardless where you are in the world, women do use the internet less than men and that’s is fundamentally related to the cost of access," Ntim said. "Sometimes depending on where they are in the world, there are social norms prevent their use or ownership of even mobile phones for the use of different purposes.”

Wacu Mureithi sells hair products online. She has been in the business for four years but she struggled to understand the online behavior of Kenyan buyers.

“The learning curve is very long it takes a while to understand how things work," Mureithi said. "It took me two years to figure it out. You know how people talk about Google voice being the future, how people search for things, how they type? That mentality is a little bit deeper than what you learn in marketing class online is the other way around you have to put yourself in their shoes.”

The IFC is urging women not to be afraid of taking out loans and other forms of financing to help them operate their businesses. The financial organization is calling on online platforms to provide training for women-led businesses.

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