My Week with Women Entrepreneurs in Ghana

Maggie Moore is a vice president in Goldman Sachs Asset Management where she leads environmental, social and governance efforts for the Fundamental Equity business. She recently traveled to Accra, the capital of Ghana, to participate in a week-long leadership program with investors, a local bank and several women entrepreneurs running businesses in the region. The program provided training and guidance on accessing and using capital to fund business growth. 

Maggie previously worked in the firm’s Urban Investment Group in New York, focused on the GS Social Impact Fund and the Women’s Entrepreneur Opportunity Facility, which was created through a partnership between the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

The Ghana leadership initiative featured a combination of personal engagement with local entrepreneurs, leadership workshops, team breakfast sessions, one-on-one executive coaching, and hands-on strategic project work. FMO, a Dutch development bank and lead investor in the Women’s Entrepreneur Opportunity Facility, facilitated the program.

Maggie answers some questions about her experience below.

What brought you and the other women leaders in this space to Ghana?
We wanted to meet with local female entrepreneurs to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and challenges, and support the development of Access Bank Ghana’s gender finance platform and business proposition.  It was also an opportunity to build a global network of women who are committed to catalyzing gender finance. We had women from around the world in the program: entrepreneurs and bankers living and working in Accra, and women working at financial institutions, development banks, and corporate finance in the US and Europe.

Tell us about your week.
There’s so much to tell!  It was quite an emotional and impactful journey—to really get to know women who are building businesses on the ground and have the opportunity to share in their lives, at least for a week, was incredibly powerful and moving.  It was also very tiring!  We worked long days and packed a lot in—everything from seeing their businesses, meeting their families and colleagues, rehearsing business pitches, and joining together for meals and social events. 

One of the women involved in the training worked for Goldman Sachs years ago and contributed to research on how economic investment in women business owners can spur a country’s economic growth. [Editor’s note: See related research and video].  She really put it so well by saying “everyone here is selling something; everyone is an entrepreneur.”  It rang so true—there were so many inspiring stories we heard from these women.

Was there one woman’s story that really hit home?
Emelia told the story of how her father moved thirty years ago from the village into the city of Accra and started a bottling company, with merely “a couple of bottles in the garage.”  Though their home at the time didn’t have a proper floor and they slept on mats, he worked tirelessly to be able to send her to the best schools. He ultimately built the business into one of the leading beverage manufactures in Ghana, and now employs over 200 people. Emelia grew up under his tutelage as the business also grew, and from a young age knew it would be her duty to carry on his legacy in what has become a flourishing family business. Today the family operates a number of companies serving the African market, and Emelia is building a new subsidiary — a corrugated packaging company — that she started just over a year ago. In a short period, it has grown revenues meaningfully, reached Ghana and West Africa with their products, and achieved significant market share versus entrenched leaders. The company employs 75 people and Emelia is especially proud of the employee training, fair market wages, and benefits that the company provides. You can see how much this means to her as she speaks about it. Her employees are earning a stable income and supporting their families: they are an extension of her family—they are her brand, her people, and her passion.

What are the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Ghana?
There are many challenges facing women entrepreneurs as they operate and try to grow their businesses, raise families and build support networks.  Capital is hard to come by and the exchange rate is volatile. The economy relies heavily on importing goods and prices for raw materials can fluctuate—this can be difficult when pricing products, engaging customers, and just managing growth of a business. One observation we had in our work together is that banks are not always fully trusted by the business community; they can be perceived as rigid and focused on their targets. In turn, entrepreneurs can sometimes be viewed as “flashy” and indifferent.  So there’s more work to do in bringing entrepreneurs and finance providers together to build more shared understanding, deeper partnerships, and innovative solutions to the many challenges inherent in the local operating environment.  Providing strategic advice, long term partnerships, and access to capital and education will all help them to prosper.

In working with Emelia and her team, what did you learn about their specific business challenges?
I learned how the problem of intermittent energy supply is a critical issue for a business like Emelia's, which needs electricity to power its machines.  Solar energy presents a potentially cheaper and more reliable source for running their factory more consistently.  While energy intermittency is specific to their operating environment, the issue of energy affects businesses elsewhere in the world, too, as the energy landscape shifts and consciousness about environmental impact increases.  It was interesting to strategize with Emelia and her team about this issue, because it’s so critical to their future in a number of ways.

Do you have any takeaways from the experience?
Definitely!  Empower women. The multiplier effect of investing in women and how that benefits everyone is real—the research says it, but seeing it in the lives of the entrepreneurs really drives it home.  All over the world, women truly do need to be empowered.  In our family life, we need to choose partners who support us and provide an environment in which we can thrive, as people—in our work, in our homes, and in our relationships. In our work life, we need to be empowered to be equal, to be decision makers, and to be trusted. In our societies and our economies, we need to be recognized for all that we are: not just as women who work nor just as wives, partners, mothers, daughters, sisters, but as leaders, who drive change, progress, and productivity for everyone around us.