Esther Dassanou manages the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), an initiative of the African Development Bank to reduce the USD 42 Billion access to finance gap for Women Empowered Businesses in Africa.In this interview with Kadmiel Van Der Puije of The Voice of Africa (TVOA), she provided some insights about the work she does.
TVOA: Can you give us a brief background on what you do?
Esther Dassanou: I lead the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa, which is a Pan-African initiative of the African Development Bank to reduce the 42 billion financing gap for women entrepreneurs on the continent. Basically the goal that we have set for ourselves is that within the next five to six years we want to be able to unlock up to five billion dollars worth of financing for women. The way in which we propose to do that is by working hand-in-hand first of all with financial institutions and microfinance institutions in getting them to be a bit more comfortable to lend to women. That’s leveraging our lines of credit, trade finance and equity investments. In addition to that utilizing a guaranteeing mechanism that will lower the collateral requirements for women when they come in, it doesn’t mean that women will be given collateral or completely collateral free loans. No, it just means that instead of having to pull property, this guarantee can be leveraged to cover a huge portion of the risk and would open up also opportunities for things like asset debentures and movable assets to be used to to cover basically the loans that they are asking for.
In addition to that we will provide skills enhancements to women entrepreneurs to get them first of all to feel more comfortable in aspiring for much larger businesses. We don’t have to remain small we can women entrepreneurs can lead strong large businesses as well and there are few examples on the continent but also in positioning them to negotiate better with their Bankers to understand the risk that that they face as women entrepreneurs and to be able to speak to how they go about mitigating those risks on a daily basis, which would make the financiers a lot more comfortable into lending to them. I think it’s also important within this process to ensure that commercial Banks and other financial institutions understand the difference between men-owned and women-owned businesses and that they take those differences also in the types of products and services that they put out in different SME segments. So we will also support financial institutions in this way and lastly in order to make this work and to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves working with regulators and governments is also critical and these are some of the things that have actually come out. Throughout the sessions of today and so with that ensuring that the right policies are in place to incentivize and encourage depending on who were talking about incentivizing financial institutions, encourage entrepreneurs and to venture more out there is critical. So this is really what the work that we do as well.
TVOA: Why did you get started in this field?
Esther Dassanou: It’s a very long story. So before I came back to Africa, I was based in the US and I actually worked for an institution called the Corporate Council on Africa. Dealing with AGOA related issues and one of the frustrating points for me was seeing how many women entrepreneurs I had as potential clients that could fulfill some of the orders coming from US based institutions or businesses. Unfortunately, the one major hurdle was financing. We would get the orders. But then in order for them to fill these big orders, they would need to go to the bank, they get to the bank.
You can get the financing for a number of different reasons and that kind of led me to to pay a bit more attention as to what the hurdles were and to start thinking about how those hurdles could be addressed. And so that’s how I got into the field. Seeing what women entrepreneurs can achieve when they’re fully supported is amazing. We had women entrepreneurs who once they got financing, you know, we’re able to exploit tons of shea butter to the US via AGOA. I mean even till this day, I remember very specifically a woman entrepreneur in Cameroon who was exploiting ready made t-shirts to the US and today automatically when covid happened, you know turned around and started producing mass in her Factory. It’s just amazing how much more the continent would benefit if women entrepreneurs were fully supported and I think we’re using out so much because that support is not there. And so throughout AFAWA. This is what we want to do in this is where this passion if you will it’s coming from
TVOA: What is your ideal roadmap for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Esther Dassanou: Well, I think the first thing is to get interested. There are differences and very often I say it’s not about gender equality so much as it is about a huge opportunity for development and growth that is lost because we’re not focusing on women taking into account your differences and addressing those. Yes. It’s equality. But I think it goes above and beyond that. So for someone who would follow in my footsteps, I would say get interested in those questions, studying them today. There are courses that focus on that. There are not nearly enough of us that really have seen or brought in the right middle or the right mix between gender and the industry. The more of us there are, the more likely these types of questions would be addressed. We are in need of experts who can accompany the financial institutions through their Journey of addressing the needs of women entrepreneurs and there are not that many out there. I have an MBA so you can have Finance and gender, Business and gender, all these things they work but I think it’s a question of really getting interested in the topic. You can be a banker and do something for women. You can be in development and do something for women. You can be in a very specific industry. For example, today we talked about gender and energy, we talked about where is the opportunity for women within the value chain of an agriculture of pluralism and how we now bring that knowledge together with finance knowledge and the different risks that women face in order for us to provide the solution. So again, I think it’s one: getting interested in the topic, two: having the degrees and then three: in everything that we do, finding that one opportunity that’s there for women that we can develop.
TVOA: Tell us your thoughts about the Legacy Global Summit?
Esther Dassanou: So I think it’s a great opportunity to bring in the diaspora and those of us who are on the continent together. I was particularly impressed with all the conversations on trading and how it happens in the U.S.A; “what are the lessons learned that we can incorporate in our day-to-day work,” but also as businesses develop themselves and as they think about exploiting to the US market, “what do they really need to take into account as they plan on doing that?” So I think that was an excellent platform for that also positioning the continent itself as a great business opportunity. For me as I said, yes covid did happen but business is still ongoing in Africa. They’re still so many opportunities for innovation on the continent and being able to bring those out and to speak about it on this platform was also a great opportunity. So I definitely think it’s a fantastic platform to leverage.
YOUTUBE VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfatVNGYj10