Have you ever wondered why they say “if you support a woman, you support a community”? Development has a way of creating jargon and clichés that water down the importance of a notion such as this, but the evidence speaks for itself.
According to the 2015 ‘The Power of Parity’ report by McKinsey & Co, “if women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion or an increase of 26% could be added to the global GDP by 2025”. This is what gender inclusion can help achieve if all stakeholders prioritised it.
It would have been great to talk about gender inclusive policies for entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but the truth is that most of the policies we have related to entrepreneurs are gender neutral. The implication of this then is that only those who take full advantage of these policies will benefit. It is therefore important to ensure that women have the support they need to take advantage of these policies, so let us explore a few of them and what needs to be done.
First, through the establishment of The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC); an inter-governmental and inter-ministerial council, the Federal Government is working to remove bureaucratic constraints that hamper the ease of doing business in Nigeria and make it easier to start and grow a business. The Nigerian Finance Bill 2019 recently passed by the Senate makes provision for a tax reform policy which was championed by PEBEC to alleviate the tax burden on small businesses amongst other things.
The introduction of the new Company Income Tax (CIT) rates which proposes zero tax for companies that earn below N25million and lower tax rates for companies that earn between N25million and N100million will allow MSMEs focus on growing their business with minimal issues around taxes. Women owned and managed businesses therefore stand a better chance to scale their businesses beyond something they do as a hobby or to take care of their family needs.
Secondly, addressing a challenge that faces both male and female entrepreneurs, Government at the Federal and State levels have diverse programs to provide better access to finance for MSMEs. I will highlight a few of these with minimal barriers to entry as the evidence shows that most women will not go through with a funding application that has a lot of requirements. Most times the women are as qualified as their male counterparts and have the prerequisites but lack the confidence to go through with the application process. It is therefore important to create a women fund that takes into consideration the peculiar needs of women-owned and managed businesses.
The Bank of Industry has a gender desk to make it easier for women-owned businesses to access their funds. In addition, the Central Bank of Nigeria also set up the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) to de-risk farmers including women farmers. At the State level, the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) loan programme was designed to provide loans of up to N5million to MSMEs including start-ups. The criteria to access the funds is through a simple application process that requires no collateral and just a social guarantee. LSETF in partnership with Access Bank recently launched a dedicated women’s fund to support women led businesses in Lagos State. These are all opportunities women should be encouraged and supported to take advantage of.
Closely linked to access to finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced a collateral registry which enables women to borrow against any movable business or personal asset such as machine equipment, generators, trucks or cars.
Furthermore, at the micro level, the federal government setup the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) with micro-lending products such as Farmer Moni, Trader Moni and Market Moni to alleviate lack of access to finance for entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid. Though these are small amounts, it is a great way for women to access funding with minimum requirements and build credit history that will be relevant to access higher amounts and meet requirements of commercial institutions.
The MSME Clinics organised by PEBEC were also setup to improve the success rate of viable businesses by providing them access to information and services from other government agencies like the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) etc. in one place. This is a platform more female entrepreneurs should take advantage of as it is a cost-effective means to engage all the agencies small businesses need.
Finally, women naturally gravitate towards support groups and associations and there are various Government led initiatives across the Country that encourage clusters in specific trade or business areas as well as associations and cooperatives which make it easier for women to get access to the support they need to start and grow their business.
Though these are all laudable policies, Nigeria needs to play catch up when it comes to gender inclusive policies for entrepreneurs and gender-lens investing generally. Issues such as access to land and property ownership, insurance and business advisory in critical areas (Legal, Accounting, Marketing, Human Resources, Market Access, Digital Skills) are all gaps that need to be addressed.
In conclusion, developing women’s entrepreneurial capacity and gender friendly policies that specifically increase their chance of success could go a long way in increasing their ability to build businesses that create jobs, make them financially independent and contribute to the Country’s economy. Policy makers must continue to work towards creating an enabling environment by removing specific gender barriers that women entrepreneurs face.
Abosede George-Ogan is a tri-sector leader with over 15 years' experience working across the non-profit, private and public sectors as a development professional. She began a career in development over a decade ago with ActionAid International Nigeria and has moved on to coordinate Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Citizenship for Keystone Bank, FirstBank and Samsung Electronics West Africa respectively. She is currently the Director, Strategy, Partnerships and Stakeholder Management at the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. Abosede George-Ogan has a degree in Political Science/Public Administration from Igbinedion University and an MSc in Communication for Innovation and Development from the University of Reading.