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Empowering Women Business Leaders In Africa’s Digital Transformation

Digital transformation in Africa promises significant social and economic benefits to the region. This article examines opportunities for governments and international donors to support a segment of women poised to catalyze Africa’s growing digital economy – African women business leaders.

To maximize women business leaders’ potential in Africa, governments and international development organizations must balance their support among two distinct groups: bridging the gender gap in digital adoption by women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses (W-MSMEs) and empowering women tech founders to launch and scale innovative digital solutions.

Informed by Deloitte’s work across the region, an extensive literature review and stakeholder interviews, this article summarizes persistent barriers facing these groups and the interventions designed to address them.


African governments, business communities, and donor partners are committed now more than ever to using digital connectivity and emerging technologies to advance or even leapfrog towards development objectives, address market gaps, and facilitate inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

The African Union’s visionary 2020-2030 Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa includes plans to create a Digital Single Market, expand universal access to basic connectivity, improve the enabling environment, and digitize the agriculture, health, and education sectors. Since 2018, the World Bank Group’s Digital Economy 4 Africa Initiative (DE4A) has invested $10 billion over 100 projects across the continent. In 2022, the U.S. government announced its support via the Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) initiative, through which multiple U.S. agencies partner with African and U.S. businesses to strengthen connectivity infrastructure, workforce development, and the digital enabling environment. In 2023, the U.S. government mobilized $82 million to fund new digital infrastructure and programming under the DTA initiative.

Yet according to the World Bank, only 36% of Sub-Saharan Africans have access to broadband internet and, for those who do have access, basic data plans can cost up to three times more on the continent than in regions with more advanced digital infrastructure.

The continent also faces a persistent digital gender gap. Within Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile internet use—the primary access point for internet users—has a 37% gender gap, reflecting the over 190 million women not using mobile internet services.  This digital gender gap extends to the growing digital economy in Africa, where women-owned or led businesses are often lag in adoption and use of these technologies.

Given Africa’s digital gender divide, strategic initiatives have objectives to include women and address the root causes of gaps in access, literacy, and usage, notably by investing in STEM education and ICT skills training for women and girls. However, for African governments and international donors to achieve their ambitious digital transformation goals for the region, women need to be engaged not just as passive beneficiaries of programs and policies, but as a set of active and emerging champions catalyzing digital growth.

This article examines opportunities for governments and international development organizations to support a segment of women uniquely poised to advance Africa’s growing digital economy – women business leaders.

While women decision-makers in leadership in large companies have a key role to play, in this paper we focus on women business owners and founders. One important distinction that is often missing from initiatives focused on women in business or digital economy is the difference between women-owned micro-, small- or medium-sized businesses (W-MSMEs) and women tech entrepreneurs or startup founders. Each of these groups—which are diverse in themselves and can and should be further segmented—adopts and uses digital technologies differently.

W-MSMEs aspire to deliver a product or service to customers to earn revenue and some use digital solutions as enablers to do this (e.g., mobile money or social media). On the other hand, women startup founders aspire to bring innovative and disruptive solutions to market and rapidly scale these solutions, with digital technology often at the core of their business model (e.g., fintech, mobile apps, AI, IOT-based ventures).

This article focuses first on W-MSMEs and then women tech entrepreneurs, exploring the sometimes intersecting, but distinct challenges and opportunities related to their roles in Africa’s digital transformation.

About the Authors

Courtney Keene

Senior Manager, Deloitte US

Francesca Cavalli

Manager, Deloitte US

John Millock

Senior Consultant, Deloitte US

Get in Touch

Kathleen O’Dell

Lead Client Service Partner, USAID and US-IDO, Deloitte US

Mohamed Malouche

Public Sector Lead Partner, Deloitte Afrique

Urvi Patel

TMT Industry Lead Partner, Deloitte Kenya

Adarsh Desai

Principal, Strategy and Analytics, Deloitte US

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