We all know the adage “behind every successful man there stands a woman”, suggesting that a lot of successful men have hardworking wives, mothers or girlfriends working in the background to support them. However, when it comes to successful women, there are various diverging stories going around. So, the question is, if behind every successful man is a woman, what is behind every successful woman? At Orange Corners we believe this answer is not straight-forward, nor generalisable. In the context of entrepreneurship, however, there are a few factors that can enable female entrepreneurs to thrive and help them #BreakTheBarrier
First is the general entrepreneurial environment including supportive policies, legal, financial and regulatory frameworks that encourage women-owned enterprises. At Orange Corners, we aim to influence this level through advocacy, campaigns and projects that stress the importance of a level-playing field for male and female entrepreneurs. In this way, we try to remove legal, financial and regulatory barriers that make it harder for women entrepreneurs to succeed by outlawing any form of gender discrimination. For example, Orange Corners was involved in the development of a national Startup Act in DRC which contributed to systemic change at a national policy level for young entrepreneurs in DRC, regardless of gender.
The second layer that is behind a successful female entrepreneur is her direct social environment; including her partner, family and friends. In November 2021 Orange Corners organised a panel on female entrepreneurs in the agri- & hortisector in West Africa. In this session, Orange Corners alumni, trainers, programme coordinators, and policymakers were invited to discuss challenges and solutions for female entrepreneurs in this sector. During the panel, one Orange Corners alumna was asked what supported her the most during her entrepreneurial journey, to which she replied: “my husband”. This illustrates the importance of support from the direct personal environment, especially in contexts where female entrepreneurs are still in the minority. Therefore, Orange Corners strives to include family members of female entrepreneurs throughout the programme by informing them about the programme, involving them in activities, and inviting them to graduation and/or pitching ceremonies. In this way, we stimulate family support structures during and after the incubation- or acceleration programme.
Her Professional Network
Besides the entrepreneurial environment and direct personal support, behind every successful female entrepreneur is her professional network. This network consists of teachers, trainers, mentors, programme coordinators and managers who offered professional or personal support along the way. At Orange Corners, our Local Service Providers are the true champions behind our entrepreneurs. Just as we strive to have at least 50% of female entrepreneurs in our programmes, we also aim to have a gender balance at the managerial and staff level of our LSP’s. Diversity is a crucial element to mitigate negative gender power dynamics and provides a more comfortable learning environment for all genders. Moreover, it can create role models for young female entrepreneurs who see themselves represented in the women around them. Young people are inspired to fulfil their potential by the successful people they see around them, especially when they can recognise themselves in them. Therefore, female representation within our organisations is of crucial importance for unlocking the potential of female entrepreneurs. In the context of International Women’s Day we will launch a series of interviews to highlight these women.
Another factor that enables the success of a female entrepreneur is her network of peers. As a young entrepreneur, it can be incredibly helpful to have a network of other young entrepreneurs around you to discuss daily challenges, struggles and possible ways to collaborate. Especially as a young female entrepreneur, it can be of value to have a network of young female entrepreneurs around you as you may face different barriers compared to your male counterparts. At Orange Corners, we work on building strong communities for our female entrepreneurs through our Alumni Network and partnerships with female Business Angels Networks. Moreover, we are currently running a pilot in Nigeria and Ghana to organise a cross border peer-2-peer exchange between (female) entrepreneurs in similar sectors. In addition, our LSP 249 Startups recently launched the WEE business platform which aims to broaden women’s access to resources and support, and scale their business locally and regionally to enable the creation of successful, profitable and scalable start-ups led by women.
Apart from all the enabling factors mentioned above, the most important driver behind a successful woman entrepreneur is of course herself! In a male-dominated world, it takes courage, perseverance, creativity and a lot of energy to succeed as a female entrepreneur. Therefore, we are proud to have so many successful female entrepreneurs in our programmes who are ready to become role models and #BreakTheBarrier for the next generation!