The realities of Gender- Lens Investment in Francophone West Africa

Brightmore Capital is an impact investment management and advisory firm in Francophone West Africa. Based in the region’s two economic hubs of Dakar and Abidjan, we focus on the development of, and the investment in, high potential SGBs/SMEs across Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.

Brightmore Capital believes in the power of private equity and venture capital to foster economic and social development in Francophone West Africa and we are passionate about empowering the next generation of West African entrepreneurs.

Overall, only 44% of the working population is female. Gender inequalities in Francophone West Africa express themselves in many ways but the statistics tell us a partial story of why this disparity might exist: only 44% of females are enrolled in secondary school versus 81% of males. At the same time, women have an average of five children and only 19% use contraceptives. This tells us that, with less education and a high chance of being tethered to the home, women have less agency in charting their own course, including as entrepreneurs. As part of our work in the region, we are often asked about our commitment to addressing gender inequalities, and, specifically, our role in the empowerment of women entrepreneurs in the region. (Source:

This blog aims to address these questions and provide insights into the role of women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

We need to be gender sensitive not gender focused

At Brightmore Capital we are steadfast in our commitment to driving impact through access to investment capital. We are also committed to helping women entrepreneurs succeed and achieve their goals.

After careful consideration and much discussion, we have focused on and committed to the statement of being ‘gender sensitive, not gender focused’. What we mean by this is that we do not push a gender agenda. Instead, we prefer to highlight and encourage the development of existing female assets already positioned within companies. This is quite a change in mindset in that it places women as equal to men and as holding as much potential as their male counterparts.

As a company, Brightmore Capital always considers gender in our hiring strategies, our metrics and our policy development. But gender is not the driving factor in our decision making. We don’t choose one candidate over another because they are a woman.
Instead, the team looks at gender in respect to other aspects such as competencies, skills and passion, and towards the attainment of a balanced team approach. We are results driven before we are gender driven.

This position places the women of Francophone West Africa as being on an equal footing to men and more than capable of performing and delivering on a project. Which they are and should be seen as. No statistic demonstrates the need for such a stance than the fact that 86% of employed women are self-employed. This highlights both the strong entrepreneurial spirit of women and the extent to which they have been shut out of the formal sector.

At Brightmore Capital we believe that West African women have been, both culturally and historically overlooked as an untapped resource and we believe that in identifying, upskilling, and giving these women the right opportunity, we will be able to develop their full potential. So that is what we do.

Why are so few West African women entrepreneurs?

Historically, female entrepreneurship has not been encouraged. Culturally, for a middle-class woman especially, it is a high-risk decision to go into entrepreneurship, in every sense of the word.

The same rules do not apply to our men, and this is why West African men, with more inbuilt confidence, tend to put themselves forward and to pitch their ideas far quicker than West African women would. And sometimes, too quickly! As a result of this disparity, women are often labelled as, and accused of being risk adverse. And perhaps they are? But justifiably so!

And not for the reasons you may think…

A considered decision

West African women are often seen as cautious or more careful. Especially in taking that first step. In fact, a West African woman that chooses to be an entrepreneur often faces significant judgement and condemnation. In choosing to be an entrepreneur, this woman is subjected to cultural bias, a lack of support (both emotional and financial), and a lack of encouragement.

Entrepreneurship takes considerable sacrifice and many of these women pay a high price. Under such circumstances, against such odds, it’s only natural for a woman in West Africa who is choosing the path of an entrepreneur, to be a little cautious. It must be a considered decision. The road is treacherous, and the challenges are many and it is for these reasons that West African women have been historically hesitant to put themselves forward.

But it is also why, if they succeed, so many of them are so emotionally invested in their companies. They pay a high price to follow their dreams.

This is also why many women entrepreneurs tend to be less interested in equity investment, like their male counterparts, and more interested in loans. It is important for them that they retain control of their journey. They want to do it on their terms. They want the reward for their sacrifice. And this understandable!

At Brightmore Capital we are steadfast in our commitment to driving impact through access to investment capital and are committed to helping women entrepreneurs succeed and achieve their goals.

A sisterhood of resilience

This background also explains why most of the female entrepreneurs within Brightmore Capital’s portfolio are referrals.

Women, tend to be referred by other women. They look after each other. It’s a sisterhood. A close-knit support ecosystem. For a woman in West Africa to choose the path of being an entrepreneur, resilience is essential. For them, failure is not an option. Society will judge them and judge them harshly. They all understand that. This sisterhood is birthed out of need, experience and mutual respect and understanding. They have all walked a tough road.

The state of female entrepreneurship in West Africa

The future is bright for female entrepreneurship. It is currently a really exciting time to be a West African woman entrepreneur. The women of today are cutting a path of change so that the women of tomorrow will have choices. These women are leading by example. Their resilience, their fight, it’s an example for the next generation. Now, more than ever, there is a heightened awareness of the untapped potential of women. There is also more support and more respect. And they are doing it together.

It’s a good time to be a female entrepreneur.

Our advice to female entrepreneurs

In closing, we would like to give all female entrepreneurs a piece of advice. And that is: ‘Don’t take no for an answer’. By that we mean, keep fighting. Keep getting up. Entrepreneurship is a hard road. Failure is okay. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Sometimes you learn from your mistakes, as much as you do from your successes. But experience is knowledge. So, keep going. Keep trying. And do it together. Support is important in this game. You cannot walk this road alone.

It is not an easy road. But it is fulfilling.

The future of Africa is female.

At Brightmore Capital we are steadfast in our commitment to driving impact through access to investment capital and are committed to helping women entrepreneurs succeed and achieve their goals. If you are building a company and would like to chat to use then contact us.

May 09, 2023