This week’s article is provided by Pauline Koelbl, AfriProspect GmbH’s Founder and CEO as well as ShEquity’s Founder and Managing Partner.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled ShEquity: A Refugee’s Path to Empowering Women & Their Businesses that aired on Tuesday, March 8th, 2022.


Closing the gender gap can add $12 trillion to global growth. In Africa, there is a $42 billion gender funding gap that could add roughly $316 billion to Africa’s combined GDP if bridged. But economics is only half the story.

Globally, women are not fully included in economic activities and female entrepreneurs continue to receive less funding than their male counterparts. COVID19 has exacerbated the existing inequity despite the fact that women have been at the frontlines of addressing different challenges linked to the pandemic.  According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. Thus, closing the existing gender gap is not a charity but a smart thing to do!

Accessing funding is even harder for dark and brown-looking women. In Africa, there is a $42 billion gender funding gap that could add roughly $316 billion to Africa’s combined GDP if bridged.  This, despite the fact that Africa has the highest number of female entrepreneurs globally, and 40% of Small and Medium Businesses (SMEs) are led and owned by women. I established ShEquity to address the existing gender funding gap in Africa by providing smart investment to African female founders who are creating impactful, innovative and scalable solutions to many challenges faced by many Africans.

The challenges that African female founders face are widespread and in many ways endemic, but when we discover innovative solutions that many female entrepreneurs are creating, we unearth new ways of accelerating the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and catalyzing inclusive economic growth.

The most enduring hurdle for African female entrepreneurs is financing. The scale of the gender financing gap for Africa’s early-stage ventures is nothing short of breathtaking, as indicated by the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab. It produces rigorous research on what works and what does not work for women’s economic empowerment, and its analysis shows that between 2013 and 2021, only three percent (3%) of start-up funding on the African continent went to all-female founding teams. This gap is not improving: the Big Deal Substack reports that only 0.95% of the funding raised by African startups in 2021 went to startups founded or led by a woman or female-only team, compared to 82% for male counterparts.

If we drill down, there are complex issues at play here, including the fact that there are very few African female Fund Managers and gender-lens Funds as well as the differences in how men and women think about their enterprise financing. Female founders are less likely to pitch for equity investments but are more likely to apply for bank loans. Often, they are also unable to access loans due to the existing collateral biases. This points to the reality that the world of Venture Capital (VC) and Private Equity (PE) is male-dominated and geared towards male entrepreneurs and self-confidence issues.

Being a female-led gender-lens investor, ShEquity brings diversity to the world of investors. Additionally, the matter of self-confidence is addressed head-on at ShEquity. We very pointedly offer more than just financing – we combine cash investment with technical support, and access to high-value networks. We are unapologetic in stepping up and giving the women we work with this kind of practical and operational support – because where inequity exists, action is needed.

But it is not only for the benefit of the woman entrepreneur. Since we launched in 2020, we have already built a strong pipeline of de-risked deals, which allows investors to have access to the fertile African startup market. Investors want to know that the start-ups they entrust their money with are gearing up for success, which is why at ShEquity, we created an accelerator called SHEBA (ShEquity Business Accelerator). SHEBA serves as a Technical Assistance (TA) facility, providing pre-investment support, including a 16-week acceleration program focusing on de-risking qualifying businesses as well as post-investment value addition focusing on the development of growth strategies, networking, and soft skills including leadership.  Our ecosystem strategy allows our investors to have a multifarious return: fiscal, social, and environmental.

The social impact also has multiplier effects, touching upon the lives of so many people in so many ways. When leveraged together, two of the SDGs – gender equality and climate action – can impact nearly all the other SDGs, such as eliminating hunger and ensuring health and well-being. Together, gender and climate alone can unlock opportunities across societal goals. I have seen first-hand how, by leveraging the talents, skills and innovation of female entrepreneurs, we can bring needed actions to global challenges such as climate change and SDG priorities like equitable access to healthcare and food security.

At ShEquity, our investees address a vast array of environmental, social and economic issues. Examples include Ecodudu, a circular economy company feeding the future with insect-based protein, and a bus ride-sharing platform called Shuttlers, which sets out to reduce car use and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Widenergy is dedicated to the last-mile distribution of clean, reliable, and affordable energy solutions. It sets out to realize a world where every African woman and girl has access to clean, affordable and sustainable energy for better life chances, health, education and household income.

This all amounts to the creation of a gender-lens investment model – a brand new ecosystem that provides much-needed support to early-stage female-led and owned businesses. Crucially, it is an approach that reassures potential investors that they are investing in de-risked, scalable and impactful companies. Such companies have the capacity to generate a triple-bottom-line return while addressing different challenges, creating decent jobs and contributing to meeting the SDGs. In the end, ShEquity’s ultimate goal is to be ‘Doing Well While Doing Good’ – and we are proud to bring so many investors with us on such a crucial journey.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Pauline Koelbl is AfriProspect GmbH’s Founder and CEO as well as ShEquity’s Founder and Managing Partner, Pauline is a leading innovation expert in developing & emerging economies, impact investor and seasoned impact-driven team leader with over 20 years experience in international affairs and venture philanthropy.

AfriProspect focuses on connecting African innovators with global markets, and ShEquity provides smart investment to impactful and scalable African female-led and owned businesses. Pauline also has 10+ years’ experience catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa and her passion lies in innovation, entrepreneurship, youth, and women’s economic empowerment.

A double Fulbright -Scholar and Fellow-, Pauline is currently serving on a variety of Boards of companies/organizations connected to business, entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa. Pauline holds an Executive Education in Innovation for Economic Development from Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government; a Master’s Degree (MA) in Poverty and Development, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in International Studies (Honors) from the University of Arizona (UoA), USA.

You can reach Pauline at