Leadership, passion and vision no longer wear a purely masculine face and scores of African women are now counted among the founders of the amazing companies that are contributing to Africa’s development. Their countenance and demeanour, confidence and wisdom; there’s always something about a strong, influential woman. African women that wield the power to make important decisions are becoming with increasing frequency, the norm rather than the exception in everyday business and society across the continent. In no respective order, Ventures Africa lists 7 African women, who founded remarkable companies, chosen for their innovativeness, courage, and contribution to economic development and commitment to integrity despite incredible odds:
Divine Ndhlukula, Securico Services, Zimbabwe
One of Africa’s most successful female entrepreneurs, Divine Ndhlukula is the Director of Security Operations (Pvt) Limited, one of Zimbabwe’s largest security groups. Always a businesswoman, Divine did everything from selling clothes to renting out high-capacity vehicles to farming. After a few small successes and one near-fatal failure, she began Securico Services, now a subsidiary of the group, in her small cottage with four employees. By taking advantage of a huge quality gap in the securities industry, she began providing customised quality security services to businesses and steadily, the business grew. Over the next 12 years, she grew the company from 4 to over 3,500 employees. The firm has since become the largest employer of women – having close to 1000 women on the work force – many of them single mothers. Although Divine’s ‘no bribe’ policy cut her off from many government opportunities, her business has grown consistently as has her reputation. She is a recipient of numerous national and international awards including the prestigious Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in 2011.
Njeri Rionge, CEO Wananchi Online, Insite Limited, Ignite Consulting, Business Lounge, Kenya
Njeri Rionge began her working life as a hairdresser but she always had bigger entrepreneurial dreams. At 19 years old, she began her first business as a yoghurt retailer and soon began trading luxury goods as the opportunity arose. In 2000, she co-founded Wananchi Online, an affordable internet service provider for anyone who wanted to access the internet. Wananchi became East Africa’s first internet service provider oriented towards the mass market. She has since turned Wananchi Online into Wananchi Group, the region’s leading provider of cable television, broadband internet and internet-based phone services. She is also the founder of Ignite Consulting, a business consultancy; Ignite Lifestyle, a health care consultancy; Insite, one of Kenya’s most successful digital marketing companies; and Business Lounge, Kenya’s leading start-up incubator. Njeri Rionge is the quintessential serial entrepreneur, passionate about start-ups. She is widely acclaimed as a speaker and writer, sharing her entrepreneurial experiences with young aspiring entrepreneurs.
Jalila Mezni, Société D’Articles Hygiéniques (SAH), Tunisia
Jalila Mezni is the co-Founder and CEO of Société D’Articles Hygiéniques (SAH), Tunisia’s leading manufacturer of diapers, tissues and feminine hygiene products. Together with her ex-footballer husband, Mounir el Jaiez, Mezni began the business in 1995. Jalila left her job as the Vice President of a Tunisian bank to start SAH, leaving behind the bank’s bureaucracy and limited impact. Despite a difficult first few months, SAH soon began to gain a share in the feminine products market and by 2012, her company laid claim to over 45 percent of the market for feminine products and diapers. The company has since grown from 24 employees to over 1,000 and from one starting factory in Tunisia, to others in Algeria and Libya. Jalila Mezni envisions a future where SAH continues to expand and create jobs in a world region ravaged by unemployment and political instability, and she is working towards it. She was a finalist for the 2012 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship
Tabitha Karanja, Keroche Breweries, Kenya
Tabitha Karanja broke an 87-year old spell when she announced that her successful alcohol production company, Keroche Breweries, would be producing the first ‘truly Kenyan’ beer, Summit Lager. A daring businesswoman, Tabitha went into the fortified wine industry with her husband in early 1997 and for over a decade battled with large multinationals and fierce competitors that used both intimidation and brute force to push her out of business. Against all odds, Keroche Breweries not only reinvented itself but became the first Kenyan manufacturer of beer. Her enterprise has grown from a small factory with three rooms to a multi-million dollar facility that employs hundreds of Kenyans. Keroche beers now claim 20% of the east African beer market, a market once considered impenetrable. In 2010 she was awarded the Moran of Burning Spear (MBS) award by his Excellency President Mwai Kibaki for her efforts to liberalize the Kenyan liquor industry.
Ola Orekurin, The Flying Doctors, Nigeria
Doctor Ola Orekunrin is the founder of West Africa’s first emergency air ambulance service, The Flying Doctors. Raised in the United Kingdom by foster parents, Dr Orekunrin became widely known for becoming England’s youngest doctor at age 21. In a tragic loss, one of her younger sisters died from a sickle cell anaemia crisis. Ola knew that her sister’s death could have been prevented if there had been adequate emergency care and an air ambulance, so setting out to reduce the numbers that die in the same manner, she started The Flying Doctors. Despite the enormous challenge of gathering both government and private support, overcoming rejections and raising funds, Ola has established a business of great social impact. She is the recipient of several awards and honours.
Ndidi Nwuneli, LEAP Africa, AACE Foods, Nigeria
Ndidi Nwuneli is a household name in Nigeria and Africa. She is the founder of LEAP Africa, an organisation committed to developing “an army of committed change agents”, young men and women, business owners and social entrepreneurs that are focused on making a difference in their countries and communities. With a focus on Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism, LEAP has transformed thousands of young people and led to the initiation of thousands of change-projects across the country. LEAP is also a known publisher of leadership literature. After handing over the reins of the organisation to the new Executive Director, Ndidi went on to found AACE Foods, an agribusiness and agro-processing company. By sourcing, processing and distributing fruits and vegetables within West Africa, the company improves nutrition levels, aids farmers and creates jobs. Ndidi’s commitment to social and economic transformation through leadership and entrepreneurship sets a high standard for African women.
Susan Mashibe, TanJet, Tanzania
Born in Kigoma, Tanzania, Susan Mashibe decided early in life she would fly. She dreamt of life as a Delta Airline 777 Captain, traveling the world. Yet circumstances surrounding the September 11 terrorist attacks brought her back to her homeland, jobless and with only prospects for being underemployed. At the suggestion of a South Africa client, Susan turned her skills and experience as Tanzania’s only aircraft engineer and FAA-certified commercial pilot into TanJet, a private jet logistics firm. TanJet provides services for companies and individuals that own and operate private jets and her clients include Fortune 500 company executives, military flights, monarchs, Heads of States and celebrities. In 2011, she was selected to participate in the Fortune/US State Department Mentorship programme for promising women global leaders. She continues to expand TanJet’s operations and inspire young women to pursue careers in aviation.