Matina Razafimahefa from Madagascar and Nelly Chatue-Diop from Cameroon are showing how women can take a leading role in entrepreneurship in Africa. These female start-up leaders are breaking the glass ceiling by innovating in digital training and cryptocurrency, and setting an example for the next generation. A profile of two women who broke new ground in more ways than one.
They were born on opposite sides of the African continent, but ended up pursuing a similar path: studying in France and going on to become entrepreneurs back in their home countries. Matina Razafimahefa, originally from Madagascar but grew up in Côte d’Ivoire, studied political science at the Sorbonne. Nelly Chatue-Diop, from Cameroon, studied engineering, and went on to business school.
No sooner had they finished their studies in France, than they both began to make big plans for their return home.
Training for professions in digital technology
In January 2018, thanks to €5,000 raised through a crowdfunding campaign, Matina founded the platform Sayna, which means “intelligence” in Malagasy. For €9.90 euros per month, Sayna offers certified online training in digital professions. “When I discovered that education and access to books were practically free in France, I said to myself: ‘Why not apply this model to Madagascar by providing quality training, online and at a lower cost to students?’” says Matina.
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Thanks to a network of about 50 partner companies, the Sayna platform also offers paid “microtasks” to its students. This helps them improve their job prospects later on. Four years after its launch, the start-up has become a success. With support from donors such as The Seed Fund by Digital Africa, it has raised more than €100,000. These funds have helped Sayna train nearly 200 students – with another 600 people on the waiting list.
Access to banking services
With Nelly’s love for mathematics and physics, it’s no surprise that she became interested in cryptocurrencies, which she discovered while working in several major firms in the new-technologies sector. But, as an employee, she got bored very quickly: “After a few months, I realized that doing a tech job without participating in business decisions was of little interest to me.”
That’s why Nelly launched Ejara—a name inspired by the word jara, “lion” in Bambara—in 2020. When she launched the mobile investment and savings platform based on blockchain technology, she was one of the very few African women entrepreneurs in this field. Today, her start-up has about 15 employees, based mainly in Cameroon.
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Ejara was created so that the general public – especially women, rural residents, and community groups—can access banking services with a very simple interface. As Nelly explains, “Using a digital interface and the non-political currency Bitcoin offers higher returns than traditional financial services.”
Her team is proactive in approaching prospective customers: “We go out of our offices and look for women at markets, on the street, or in associations, to explain how our tool can be useful to them,” says Nelly. “It’s important that they understand that our platform offers them the opportunity to have their financial resources more easily available and to make them grow.”
Being a woman in a man’s world
But behind the success stories of Matina and Nelly are also doubts and difficulties. “As a woman in tech, you often find yourself alone up against men who are looking out for each other,” says Nelly. “In the business world, women are not always taken seriously. We often endure offensive and even sexist remarks. It’s always up to us to redirect conversations.” Matina also encounters this skepticism about women in her daily life as an entrepreneur. “As a young woman, it hasn’t always been easy to convince men to invest in our human resources and to develop training.”
But Matina, who also happens to be co-president of the Antananarivo French Tech Community, continues to wage this battle in the professional as well as non-profit fields. She also regularly organizes events to promote the hiring of women in the new-technology industry. Both Matina and Nelly are leading a new generation of women in their wake, thanks to both the services they offer and the example they’ve set in their respective careers.