Despite the ups and downs of the last year, three African countries have claimed the highest number of women business owners in the world, according to the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE). The 2020 report looks at 58 separate economies and provides insights on the factors that both improve and hold women back in the entrepreneurial space in their respective countries.


A look at data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) the report reveals that Uganda (39.6%), Botswana (38.5%) and Ghana (36.5%) take the top three spots respectively, leading the way with the most women business owners. The United States and New Zealand come in at a close third and fourth.


The report shows a higher representation of women business owners in less developed countries including Uganda, Botswana, Ghana, Malawi, Angola and Nigeria, compared to more developed countries, revealing a stronger entrepreneurial spirit in economic climates where stable incomes are not a given. Why? The report suggests that this is because the size and scale of business operations are smaller, require less or no technological input and are more informal in less developed countries.


Additionally results collected from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reveal that “in general, the degree of fear of business failure among women in the Middle East & African economies such as Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda are the lowest compared to other regions”.


The report of course, also takes the COVID-19 pandemic into account. While women in Africa are more willing to get stuck in and start a business, women-owned businesses were greatly affected by the pandemic. With the shift to contactless commerce as the “new normal”, a study by the International Trade Centre showed that 64% of women-owned businesses were strongly affected, compared to 52% of men-owned businesses, with over 90% of women entrepreneurs reporting a decrease in sales.


Many governments have applied relief funding to help SMEs affected, including South Africa with the UIF TERS benefit. The TERS fund has reopened for SMEs affected by the recent level 4 lockdown regulations in place from 25 June 2021 to 25 July 2021. 


While South Africa isn’t close to the top three, we have moved up four places from the 19th spot to the 15th spot in the Women’s Advancement Outcome section. This is a measurement of women’s progress as well as limitations as business leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs and general labour force participants. The main reason for this improvement being the higher level of entrepreneurship by women in the last year. The report found that entrepreneurial activity by women had increased from 9.6% in 2019 to 10.2% in 2020.


Keen to know more of details? Download the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 report.