5 questions on female entrepreneurship in Mali

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where women are more likely to be self-employed than men and where 27% of women start a business – the highest rate in the world. The project FACEJ aims to support young people in the creation and/or development of their business, whereby 40% of supported entrepreneurs are women. Swisscontact has asked five experts in entrepreneurship to share their experiences of female entrepreneurship in Mali.

The FACEJ project (Le Fonds d'Appui à la Création d'entreprise par les Jeunes) in Mali is financed by the Royal Embassy of Denmark and implemented by Swisscontact in partnership with PlanBørnefonden. The project's objective is to support young people between 18 and 35 years of age coming out of technical, professional or higher education in the creation or development of their business.

5 Questions to Chloé Elise Rismann, Communication & Gender officer Swisscontact Mali

Chloé Elise Rismann

FACEJ’s vision is to promote entrepreneurship amongst young people and especially women. Its target is that 40% of supported entrepreneurs are women. What specific measures do you take to reach that goal?

Promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Mali is not an easy task, especially in the more remote regions. In fact, while the 40% indicator has already been easily achieved in Bamako, we have been experiencing some difficulties, particularly in the regions of Tombouctou and Ségou.

As of today, the FACEJ project responds to three main obstacles encountered by women seeking to become entrepreneurs in Mali:

  1. Access to information
  2. Access to funding
  3. Access to training


  1. Access to information: The FACEJ has 52 partners or facilitators, whose first task is to identify young people who wish to start a business. Some of those facilitators are only focused on identifying and supporting women. Through their own channels and networks, the facilitators spread the information about the project and its financial terms and conditions, and continue to support and accompany the women entrepreneurs over 12 to 18 months.
  2. Access to funding: The main objective of FACEJ is to support, through a bank loan, young business promoters in the creation and/or development of their company. When a woman has elaborated her business plan and is selected by the FACEJ committee, she is often allocated a bonus, which allows her to reduce the amount of credit needed to develop her project.
  3. Access to training: As part of the mechanisms set up by the FACEJ, young entrepreneurs benefit from support in the elaboration of their business plan and receive training sessions in business management and financial education.

We are currently working on an action plan aimed at promoting and supporting women entrepreneurship in the remote regions of Mali, and particularly in Tombouctou and Ségou.

What are the challenges in promoting female entrepreneurship and implementing the above-mentioned measures?

I think the first question we must ask ourselves is “What is female entrepreneurship?”. In Mali, many women already carry out small informal income-generating activities for their families. However, those activities are often not perceived as entrepreneurship, as they are not formalized. The main challenge then comes with formalizing those activities. Providing such activities with a formal structure can mean increasing access to funding, training, information and networking for those women.


"In Mali, many women already carry out small informal income-generating activities for their families. However, those activities are often not perceived as entrepreneurship, as they are not formalized. The main challenge then comes with formalizing those activities."

Chloé Elise Rismann, Communication & Gender officer Swisscontact Mali


Due primarily to social and cultural barriers, it is very difficult for women, especially in the more remote regions, to start a formalized business. From an early age, they are assigned roles within the society that revolve around taking care of the family and the home. When a woman wants to start her own business or work, she needs the approval of her husband and family, and, in some more remote regions, that of the elders and the village chiefs. She might also not have access to the education she requires to create and develop her own business, or the financial means. While the FACEJ offers numerous opportunities for women, especially regarding funding, providing the 5% personal contribution required to obtain a bank loan still represents an important obstacle for them.

Which sectors are especially promising for women’s business and why?

If we take into account our current indicators, women intervene in all sectors including agriculture, and even in the construction and building industries, which are often regarded as rather masculine sectors. They remain predominant in the food processing, cosmetics and clothing industries.

Nonetheless one must remember that, as aptly stated by Barakissa Sylla in the interview: “It’s not a question of because I’m a lady I can’t do this, or I’m not allowed to do that… There’s none of that! Always remember that a lady can do anything, unless she has not decided to do it.”

Does it cause problems that – according to a statement in the film – women nowadays are given preference over men? For example, with regards to gender equality and the traditional role of men in African cultures?

What people in Mali might perceive as preference must also be considered as establishing a sense of equality. The FACEJ has, of course, set up mechanisms to promote and encourage female entrepreneurship, but simply so that women can have the same opportunities as men. If we take the bonus that is allocated to women to reduce their credit as an example, it could indeed be considered as a preference. Yet, given that it is a lot harder for them to obtain a loan in the first place and more difficult for them to assemble their 5% personal contribution, awarding them a bonus encourages equal opportunities and chances.

27% of sub-saharan African women open their own business, the highest rate worldwide! What could women and other gender groups around the world learn from them?

It is important to remember that women in Africa create their own business often by necessity to feed and take care of their families. This percentage is particularly impressive considering the number of obstacles women face in their everyday life. For me, this clearly highlights their courage, strength and perseverance.