How Invest Salone partners to support investment in female entrepreneurship 

Sub-Saharan Africa has over a quarter of working women involved in entrepreneurial activity – the world’s highest rate. Supporting them to build profitable and sustainable businesses has the potential to generate huge social and economic benefits for their communities and countries. 

Through its PROSPER Salone grant scheme, Invest Salone is working with London based impact investing group – Truestone and its portfolio company A Call to Business (ACTB) Savings and Loans to build a strong generation of women entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone by providing financial products tailored to their needs. 

Women connect investment to impact  

In Sierra Leone, financial inclusion is low at only 29%. And for women it is even lower at 25% – a consequence of the low level of financial literacy in the country, and the lack of financial products tailored to women. With a customer base that is over 70% women, ACTB plays a significant role in empowering women in business. 

ACTB provides microloans of between Le1,000 and Le 59,000, and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) loans of between Le60,000 and Le 500,000. Here, as all over the world, women are the main seekers of microfinance loans, which help them grow economically and improve their status within their communities and families. To simplify the microloan application process, ACTB requires applicants to produce their ID card, passport photos, their guarantor’s ID card and proof of payment of the annual city council business licence fee. The SME loans require additional documentation including a business registration form and up-to-date tax returns. 

Truestone, ACTB’s investment partner, used a PROSPER grant from Invest Salone, to report more comprehensively on the impacts of the companies it invests in. The published impact report directly contributed to helping ACTB to raise over US$6 million of additional debt capital to expand its lending operations. 

“I love being in business” 

Aminata Bangura, one of the 15,423 women business owners who are ACTB’s clients, has been able to grow her business and hire new staff because of ACTB’s women-friendly financial products. 

Aminata owns Natal’s Enterprises, a general merchandise retail outlet in Freetown’s prestigious Central Business District, selling dry and canned foodstuffs, toiletries and some home improvement and building materials. With three years of steady business growth behind her, she approached ACTB in 2020, for a microloan of Le40,000 to pay import duties on new stock for her shop. After successfully repaying the microloan, she was able to apply for an SME loan to fund the purchase of stock from Turkey and China and has since expanded her business by acquiring the premises next door and employing two members of staff. 

“I love being in business, it’s what I have always wanted to do,” she says. “I started as a petty trader with a small shop. Then three years ago, I moved into Henry Street with just one shop. I went to ACTB to get a microloan because I wanted to grow the business and needed the money to clear a large shipment from the ports. After this I took an SME loan to buy more stock. Within seven months, I was able to rent the next-door premises as well.”

Aminata sources her stock from China and Turkey. “I started going to Turkey during Covid because China was closed off. I travel about three times a year. It’s important to go yourself, because if you’re not there in person, you’ll be sent goods with a short expiry date,” she explains. 

Another ACTB customer is Hawa Bundu, the proprietor of Hawa Bundu’s Classic Boutique on Circular Road, which sells women’s clothes and accessories.  

She started buying and selling women’s fashion via WhatsApp, but after a friend invited her along on a buying trip to China, she set her sights higher and decided she wanted to expand her business.  

When Hawa’s sister passed away, Hawa took over her lease on the Circular Road premises, and in 2021 approached ACTB for a microloan of Le15,000 to finance a larger order of stock. “My late sister used ACTB,” she explains. “They are a very nice bank, and I went to them because her experience with them had always been so positive.” 

Hawa, who employs her aunt and her sister in the boutique now makes buying trips to Dubai, Togo and Turkey as well as China and hopes to continue expanding her business. 

A matter of access 

“In Sierra Leone we are largely a consumer economy, almost everything is imported,” says David Kamara, CEO of ACTB. “People want to start up their businesses and engage with this economy, but then access to capital has been a significant problem.” 

ACTB is giving women somewhere to come for that access. “They are able to come boldly, take out a loan, maintain their dignity and they’ll carry on with their lives” – and with their big plans for their country’s future economy. Investing in women now accelerates progress for future generations, as David Kamara states. “They’ll tell you, ‘I did not have the opportunity to go to school, but I want to give my children the best education’ and therefore they want to be as productive as possible and want to continue to expand their business.” 

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