Unlocking the Potential: Investing in Women-Owned Businesses in Africa

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, shared this article as a companion piece to her interview with Pauline Koelbl, Founder & Managing Partner of ShEquity, Sheba & ShEquity: Empowering Women-Owned Businesses. This discussion is part of the International Leadership Association Series.

Podcast Intro from “Faux Mo:” Maureen’s digital twin.

Link to the entire interview:

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

It’s a well-established fact – when women prosper, societies flourish. Yet, the vast potential of women-owned businesses in Africa remains largely untapped due to an imbalance in investment opportunities. It’s a crucial issue that begs our attention – an issue that we, as socially conscious investors, have the power to change. By investing in these women-owned businesses, we’re not only boosting the African economy but also making a meaningful impact on countless lives, communities, and generations. This is more than just an investment opportunity – it’s a chance to be part of a transformative narrative.

Pauline Koelbl is addressing the gender funding gap in Africa through her impact investment firm, ShEquity. Pauline, a refugee from Rwanda turned successful businesswoman, shares her unique perspective on empowering African women entrepreneurs and the vital role they play in driving sustainable economic change.

1. What steps are needed to close the gender funding gap for African female entrepreneurs?

Addressing the persistent gender funding gap in African entrepreneurship requires an extensive and holistic approach. Initially, the key priority must be to foster an equitable investment culture that genuinely acknowledges the equally weighted value of female-led businesses. This means dispelling the misconceptions that often identify female entrepreneurship as high-risk or low profit.

Improving accessibility to financial resources and investment opportunities for African female entrepreneurs remains another key priority. These accessibility improvements include establishing dedicated funds targeted towards women-led businesses and imparting the knowledge and skills required to navigate the investment landscape.

2. How is ShEquity helping address the gender funding gap for African female entrepreneurs?

ShEquity’s focus is primarily set on designing and cultivating an ecosystem that understands, values, and supports the unique challenges of women entrepreneurs in Africa. Women in Africa often lack access to the resources and opportunities they need to grow their businesses. SheEquity works to rectify this issue by making direct investments, providing skill-building opportunities, and cultivating an ecosystem of support for these entrepreneurs. They help women become ‘investment ready’, breaking down barriers for minority businesses to access funding. The ShEquity Business Accelerator (SHEBA) is one such initiative that has already assisted three cohorts of women entrepreneurs in becoming prepared for investment and proficient in negotiation. The program includes important guidance in areas businesses often struggle with, such as team management, deal negotiation, navigating the business world, and financial management. They have also created a pilot fund that is directed toward demonstrating the impact and scalability of women-owned businesses.

3. How does ShEquity assess potential investments and manage risk in the African market?

The process by which ShEquity approaches potential investments and risk management is both unique and meticulous. For starters, emphasis lies heavily upon de-risking businesses by conducting full business evaluations and gaining insights into founders and their business models. A crucial factor is assessing not just the potential risk but understanding how founders react and handle those risks. This often crafts a solid prognosis of their aptitude and potential for success. ShEquity then probes business strategy and assesses operational risk management plans.

4. How can potential investors get involved and support women-owned businesses in Africa through ShEquity?

Investing in and supporting women-owned businesses in Africa is not only a venture that yields financial returns but also has social impact potential. Platforms such as ShEquity provide necessary assistance to women entrepreneurs, who might lack specific tools and resources to grab investors’ attention.

Understanding why investing and supporting women-owned businesses in Africa is a worthy cause forms an indispensable part of the narrative. It ties the factual complexities with the emotional threads, giving the investors a clear vision of the broader picture. They are not just investing in businesses but in a more equitable economic environment that fosters growth and sustainability.

The accomplishments these women-owned businesses achieve further creates a ripple effect, benefiting their immediate communities and even the continent at large through job creation and solving pertinent issues. Therefore, it goes beyond the individual profitability of companies, leading to mutually beneficial alliances and collective societal progress.


The need for gender equity in Africa is not just a social issue but an economic imperative. Through her work with ShEquity, Pauline Koelbl is paving the way for a more equitable future by investing in and supporting female entrepreneurs, a chance to be part of a transformative journey that promises to redefine the investment landscape in Africa and, ultimately, the world.

Increased funding for women entrepreneurs promotes a broader distribution of wealth, which in turn accelerates economic growth and social stability. It allows women-led businesses, which have been largely untapped and marginalized, to merge into the mainstream economy. This integration affords the opportunity to exploit their potential to its fullest, leading to more innovative solutions, job creation, and overall prosperity. Moreover, bringing more women-owned businesses into the fold can amplify diversity in leadership, a trait known to foster creativity, resilience, and broader perspectives in problem-solving and decision-making. It’s a step towards fostering an inclusive and vibrant entrepreneurial environment that nurtures growth on multiple fronts.



ShEquity’s Founder & Managing Partner, Pauline Koelbl is a gender-lens/impact investor and a leading innovation expert in developing & emerging economies with over 20 years of experience in international affairs and venture philanthropy. ShEquity provides smart investment to impactful and scalable African female-led and owned businesses. Pauline also has 11+ years of experience catalyzing innovation and supporting SMES/startups across Africa. Her passion lies in innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment of youth and women.

A double Fulbright Scholar and Fellow, Pauline holds an Executive Education in Innovation for Economic Development from Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government; a Master’s Degree (MA) in Poverty and Development, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in International Studies (Honors) from the University of Arizona (UoA), USA. In 2022, Pauline was recognized as one of 100 Leaders building ‘Meaningful Business’, combining profit and purpose to help achieve the UN Global Goals.

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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

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