Connecting the Unconnected: Empowering Women and Youth-led MSMEs for Africa’s success

June 27, 2023

One of the MSMEs at the Ghana-Kenya Expo


On this MSME Day, we celebrate the tremendous dynamism of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and their vital role in driving economic growth and fostering sustainable development. In Africa, MSMEs constitute nearly 90 percent of all businesses, generate over two-thirds of employment opportunities and are becoming hubs of innovation. This means that MSMEs could play a vital role in facilitating Africa’s industrialization, agricultural development, food security, and structural transformation to accelerate the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is the African Union’s special theme for 2023. 

However, despite their undeniable impact, women and youth-led enterprises often face significant barriers to accessing markets beyond borders and building resilient value and supply chains. There is growing recognition of the importance of addressing the challenges to women and youth entrepreneurship in order to transform our economies and build resilient societies. The high-level event at the UN Headquarters in New York by the International Council for Small Businesses under the theme, "Galvanizing MSMEs Worldwide by Supporting Women and Youth Entrepreneurship and Resilient Supply Chains" represents a significant step in co-creating innovative solutions to overcome these challenges.

For Africa, we must redouble efforts to unlock the transformative potential of women and youth-led MSMEs by connecting them to the opportunities available under the single African Market facilitated by free movement of persons, goods, services and investment across borders. By empowering these enterprises with improved access to markets, financing, and technology, we can enable them to thrive and make substantial contributions to the continent's transformation. 

Connecting the unconnected women and youth-led MSMEs across Africa involves linking ideas, people, and products, forging invaluable partnerships that will drive progress and unlock the immense potential within these MSMEs.

Connecting people, unleashes the power of networks

Africa's single market truly comes alive when we connect consumers and producers across borders to exploit economies of scale. However, many women and youth-led enterprises have limited access to information on cross-border market opportunities and struggle to establish connections with potential buyers, suppliers, and distributors. By connecting women and youth entrepreneurs to relevant training, mentorship, and capacity-building programs, we can enhance their competitiveness and integration into regional and global supply chains.

For example, initiatives like the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum provide networking platforms, mentorship, and training opportunities for women entrepreneurs, enabling them to expand their networks and connect with potential business partners. These connections empower them to access new markets and strengthen their presence in the MSME ecosystem.

Connecting products, builds resilient supply chains

Africa is blessed with abundant mineral and agricultural resources. For instance, Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the largest cocoa growing countries, accounting for over 60 percent of global cocoa production. Similarly, Madagascar is the top global vanilla producer. Multinational companies import these raw materials to produce their food and beverage products which are then sold across Africa and globally. Value addition and creation means suppliers and producers will benefit from growing MSMEs sourcing products easily across countries. Creating resilient supply chains is crucial for MSME growth and sustainability.

A noteworthy example is the recent Ghana-Kenya Market Entry Expo held in Nairobi. This initiative aimed to connect products and unlock new market opportunities for MSMEs. The Expo enabled business-to-business engagements, promoting the distribution of Ghanaian goods in the Kenyan/East African market. To support this endeavor, the Ghana Trade House was officially opened to facilitate the entry of Made-in-Ghana goods into the East African region. With the backing of UNDP and other partners, 60 Ghanaian women and youth-led MSMEs showcased their products at the Expo. Florence Cossou Tomaza, a young woman entrepreneur producing agro-processed goods such as honey and tea, remarked: "I have been aspiring to enter the East African market, and the Ghana-Kenya Expo presented a fantastic opportunity for me to connect and assess the market. It's been an invaluable platform to gain insights and forge meaningful connections."

Connecting ideas, cultivates collaborative innovation

Creative solutions, efficient and innovative products that solve current and future problems will flourish with collaboration within and across borders. Innovation hubs such as iHub in Nairobi and initiatives such as UNDP’s Accelerator Labs provide opportunities and spaces for incubation, collaboration, knowledge-sharing and cross-pollination of ideas among entrepreneurs, technologists and innovators. These platforms serve as catalysts for ground-breaking innovations, leading to the development of products and services that transform industries and contribute to sustainable development.


This MSME Day, let us recognize the transformative power of connecting the unconnected. As Africa embraces the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA, it is crucial to prioritize the integration of women and youth-led enterprises into regional and global value chains. During her recent visit to Ghana for the Hekima Accra, UNDP Regional Director for Africa, Ahunna Eziakonwa, emphasized the need to support MSMEs in leveraging the AfCFTA to expand their market reach. By working together to empower African MSMEs and nurturing their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, we can forge an inclusive and prosperous future where no one is left behind.

By working together to empower African MSMEs and nurturing their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, we can forge an inclusive and prosperous future where no one is left behind.
Angela Lusigi