The Visa Foundation has made a $1 million gift to two African groups, emphasizing the significance of creating an environment for female entrepreneurs throughout the continent.
The financing is part of the Visa Foundation’s five-year, $200 million Equitable Access Initiative, which was announced in April 2020 as a strategic commitment to assist gender diverse and inclusive SMBs worldwide.
The grants will be directed by the Visa Foundation to AfriLabs, the largest and most diverse community of technology hubs, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the African ecosystem, and the Graça Machel Trust, a Pan-African nonprofit founded and led by women that raises the profile of women’s economic empowerment and gender-lens investment on the continent.
The combined $1 Million in funding will prioritize the growth of gender diverse and inclusive small and micro businesses (SMBs) in the region. Through the Equitable Access Initiative, Visa Foundation as of January 2023 has committed $162 Million in grants and investments to 60 grantees and investees in more than 60 countries and supported 3.4 million small businesses globally, including in Africa.
According to the World Bank, while Africa boasts of the highest growth rate of female-run businesses in the world, women only receive one percent of funding from VCs.
Women business owners continue to face challenges that are unique to them—ranging from patriarchy, cultural norms and unconscious bias that impacts women’s ability to access markets, finance, technology and networks. The global pandemic further exacerbated these challenges as women-led SMBs were hardest hit.
“Visa Foundation is working around the world with partners to eliminate barriers to capital by investing in those who have been historically excluded from economic opportunity,” said Graham Macmillan, president, Visa Foundation. “We’re excited to support growing women entrepreneurs in Africa through these impactful organizations that address the stark gender investment gap across the region.”
AfriLabs will use the Visa Foundation award to promote its RevUp Women Program, which helps early-stage, female-led enterprises in Africa. The initiative will provide 500 recipients with capacity-building training and mentorship, and 10 company owners will be chosen to receive a $10,000 investment each from the Catalytic Africa matching fund.
The first cohort of beneficiaries will be selected from Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa. The call for applications is ongoing.
According to Anna Ekeledo, AfriLabs Executive Director, “We are pleased with the Visa Foundation’s support for the initiative because it aligns with our inclusion strategy and sets the tone for our larger vision, part of which is to support 50,000 women-led enterprises by 2026.”
Graça Machel Trust will use the funds to expand its flagship enterprise development program, ‘Women Building Wealth,’ in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa, to reach 100 women-led, small-to-medium-sized firms.
The ‘Firestarters’ initiative expands on the organization’s current investor preparation program, which assists’missing middle’ women entrepreneurs in scaling their firms and galvanizing action on access to finance at the national, regional, and continental levels.
“We are proud to partner with Visa Foundation to break down some of the structural barriers faced by women entrepreneurs in Africa,” said Melizsa Mugyenyi, CEO, Graça Machel Trust. “It’s an honor for our programs to be recognized by a leading organization like Visa Foundation, with a like-minded mission of spotlighting gender-lens investment and women’s empowerment.”