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Meet 5 inspiring businesswomen who are building great businesses in Africa

Entrepreneurs across the African continent are striving hard to turn the fortunes of the business sector around.

Meet 5 inspiring businesswomen who are building great businesses in Africa

Some have gone through several challenges trying to build their businesses to reach international standards.

The book, ‘How I Made It In Africa’, a collection of the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who have built thriving businesses, features the stories of some African women who have helped raise standards of business across the continent and inspire millions of people to a better life.

Here are 5 of those exceptional women.

1. Dr Hend El Sherbini (Egypt)

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Hend El Sherbini is the Group Chief Executive Officer & Director at Integrated Diagnostics Holdings Plc, a consumer healthcare company, with operations in Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Nigeria.

She is also on the board of the American Society of Clinical Pathology and Professor at the University of Cairo. In the past, she occupied the position of Chief Executive Officer for Al Mokhtabar Medical Laboratories.

Dr Hend El Sherbini received a doctorate and a graduate degree from the University of Cairo and an MBA from London Business School.

In the book, she admits that “it is a challenge to be a woman and a leader in our part of the world.” She adds that overcoming this obstacle takes consistency and time. “When you start, there might be people who are not very happy that their boss is a woman but when they see you are serious about what you are doing and that you consistently apply your standards, they accept it,” she said.

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In her company, about 30% of the employees are women – a ratio they are working to improve.

The CEO said, “We don’t differentiate at all between women and men, not when it comes to the level of pay or any other area,” adding that, “We completely believe in gender equality.”

2. Tseday Asrat (Ethiopia)

Tseday Asrat is the founder and Managing Director of Kaldi's Coffee. She introduced a new twist to how Ethiopians drink coffee.

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Kaldi’s Coffee has 38 cafés throughout Ethiopia. Asrat opened a boutique store when she was 24. In 2004, she opened the first branch of Kaldi's Coffee by Edna Mall and found her passion.

Meanwhile, it became increasingly difficult to maintain consistency in quality across the different outlets. Kaldi’s experienced challenges in its supply chain. Each café was sourcing milk from local dairy farmers but it was often watered down or of poor quality.

According to her, “Instead of giving up, I saw it as an opportunity to start our own supply company to assure Kaldi’s of the quality and quantities it needs. It motivated me to do more and create more jobs.” As a result, she diversified and added a dairy producer and milk-processing company, Loni Agro, as well as a roastery which buys coffee on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) to her business interests. Kaldi’s has more than 1,800 employees with another 175 people employed at Loni Agro.

3. Nana Akua Birmeh (Ghana)

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In 2017, Nana Akua Birmeh was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women. She is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Ghanaian architecture firm, ArchXenus.

The driving motivation for starting her own company was her desire to be a mother and still be an architect.

Meanwhile, the company she was working for before setting up her own was not suited to accommodate maternity, motherhood and family life. So, she gathered her life savings and started out on her own in 2008.

Nana Akua said, “People shouldn’t have to choose between having a fulfilling career and having a family,” adding that, “Today, it is not unusual to see small children running around my office with a nanny hot on her heels.”

4. Navalayo Osembo (Kenya)

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Navalayo Osembo and her co-founder are the brains behind Enda, a company that manufactures Kenya-themed running shoes to celebrate the country’s legacy as the home of Olympic long-distance runners.

Although Enda wanted to manufacture its shoes entirely in Kenya, financial constraints and the manufacturing sector’s lacked capacity forced them to turn to Chinese manufacturers who would accept their small production order.

Manufacturing outside of Kenya proved difficult. Their second production of 6,000 pairs experienced quality issues. As it’s not possible to check each shoe imported individually, the defects were discovered only on arrival in East Africa. To avoid such challenges, Enda is diversifying its supply chain; if one factory experiences a manufacturing fault, another can take over production to ensure deliverables stay on schedule.

The imported shoe components are assembled in a factory in Mtwapa, northeast of the Kenyan port city Mombasa. 

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While Enda’s supply chain is divided between Kenya and China, their aim is to make it a 100% Kenyan-produced brand in the next three years.

5. Monica Musonda

Monica Musonda was a former employee of Dangote Group. She is a Zambian. She is the founder of Java Foods, a food processing company based in Zambia. 

Her company’s first product was Eezee Noodles, a Zambian instant noodle brand.

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Her aim was to provide affordable nutrition “using, as much as possible, local raw materials to make good, nutritious foods”.

According to her, “People thought we were mad – that it wouldn’t work.”

Within three years, Eezee Noodles was Zambia’s biggest instant noodle brand and it still accounts for 80% of Java Foods’ sales. After focusing exclusively on instant noodles for the first few years, in 2016, the company introduced fortified breakfast cereal made from maize and soya beans, followed by Num Nums, a maize snack, in May 2017.

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