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.
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:
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.
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.