Virtual Launch of “Female Shift“– A mentoring programme for female entrepreneurs

Creating synergies and supporting innovative approaches through exchange between female entrepreneurs in Africa and Germany

Even though the influence of women in business is generally growing, the gender gap is still strong in terms of leadership positions, earning and career opportunities. Also, female founders are still underrepresented in the start-up environment, particularly in developing and emerging countries. But it is precisely there that the potential of female start-ups is great, as local societal challenges can be tackled with socio-ecological innovations. The newly launched “Female Shift” mentoring programme therefore aims to support these innovations by empowering female entrepreneurs.

Fostering female leadership and empowering female entrepreneurs through reverse mentoring approaches, the recent virtual launch of the “Female Shift” programme aligned perfectly with the concurrent celebration of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on 19th of November 2021. Around 35 participants from both Germany and a number of African countries attended the launch – most of whom were female entrepreneurs – and was organised by the Business Scouts for Development programme in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Potsdam, Germany.

Overcoming obstacles to female entrepreneurship

After welcoming remarks by Barbara Nitsche, Head of Department Advocacy at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Potsdam, Tamara Moll, Business Scout at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Potsdam, and Anastasia Barner, founder of FeMentor, introduced the mentoring approach. In the subsequent panel, Mariane Akwenye, founder of Nomad African Spa, Andrea Bury, founder of ABURY Collection GmBH, Dr. Alexander Hirschfeld, Research Team Lead at Bundesverband Deutsche Startups, and Gabriele Freifrau von dem Bussche, Long Term Expert at Sparkassenstiftung Gambia engaged in a lively discussion on the topic of “Women Success Stories – Germany and Africa”. The panelists were particularly highlighting the challenges female entrepreneurs face when starting a business, with Dr. Hirschfeld noting that only 18% of founders in Germany are female.

In this context, Mariane Akwenye shared her own experience about the importance of having a mentor to overcome female specific obstacles in her professional career. Growing up, doing housework while her five brothers were out having more opportunities than her, she noted how her guidance teacher was the one who brought her to an airfield, where she developed the goal to become a pilot, which she later achieved. For her, gaining confidence through guidance of a person who believed in her, when others didn’t, was a valuable asset she now utilizes managing her own spa in Windhoek. Mariane Akwenye received support from Gabriele Bussche, who added that it is crucial to give women the space and confidence to try new things, to overcome the shyness some woman may feel, if they are not aware of their own strength’s. She spoke in confidence of the mentoring programme and visioning it to be also used as a scouting tool to find talented women entrepreneurs.

Concluding, the panel agreed that while it is a female topic, it is also of upmost importance to make men aware of the challenges females face in entrepreneurship.

Pitching business ideas by female entrepreneurs

The Female entrepreneurs presented in short pitches their business ideas. One of the biggest challenges concerns the recruiting process, as Antonia Zock of AIVITEX noted that she did not receive a single female application for a tech position in her company. AIVITEX uses video technology to solve customers’ problems remotely. Ana Selina Haberbosch from seedtrace presented their business model on sustainable supply chains via blockchain technology. As a third pitch, Vragments is a company from Potsdam/Berlin producing virtual reality and augmented reality applications. The CEO, Linda Rath, showed impressively how the balancing act between successful business and family can work.

Application open

The session was concluded by an overview of the planned matching and application process for the mentoring programme. Registration is now open and interested women submit their application on “Female Shift" Mentoring Programme” until February 28th, 2022. The mutual mentoring programme, which will run for about half a year in 2022, will focus on the Berlin/Brandenburg region in Germany as well as Namibia, Rwanda and South Africa in its pilot phase.

Further women economic empowerment and female leadership in business activities will take place under the heading of Female Shift, organized by the Business Scouts for Development programme.

The programme

The mentoring initiative is part of the Business Scouts for Development programme. The Business Scouts for Development work as development policy experts in around 40 countries across the globe. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), they advise German, European and local companies on development policy matters and promote responsible business engagement through cooperation projects.

Headerphoto: © Alexander Suhorucov

Toast content has launched a special call supporting companies in Ukraine and Moldova, as well as civil society organisations in Germany. Find out more on the special pages.