Women entrepreneurs are a growing global market force, serving as a critical source of innovation and job creation as well as fueling economic growth. However, they often face barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential.
“It was really difficult to get people to think that I was building a serious business versus a hobby or a lifestyle business,” said Affiong Williams of Nigeria, who five years ago started her own business called ReelFruit.
With passion and drive — and some support from a U.S.-backed program — she’s grown it into one of the leading dried fruit-and-nut companies in Nigeria today.
Williams is employing a team of young, hardworking people at her processing plant and office in Lagos. All of ReelFruit’s management and 64% of its employees are women.
Her business is giving people the opportunity to make a living, continue school and save for their futures — all along the supply chain.
Today, Nigerians can find ReelFruit’s healthy dried fruit-and-nut snacks in over 350 stores as well as in airlines, schools and hotels across the country.
Feed the Future, through the United States Agency for International Development, launched the Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs Award in 2017 to help women in Africa, like Williams, take their businesses to the next level. The program has helped 458,000 women around the world access agriculture-related credit, including more than $80 million in rural loans.
Williams is also keen on improving lives in rural communities. Her agribusiness sources from smallholder farmers in Nigeria, providing a reliable market for their produce. Not only do they earn more, but they enjoy a steady income by working directly with her.
With access to investment tools, Williams plans to take her company even further. She aims to sell her products in more markets and increase the demand from smallholder farmers — putting more money in their pockets.
“I believe it’s companies like ReelFruit,” she says, “who are moving Nigeria forward in terms of creating jobs, buying raw materials from smallholder farmers, reducing unemployment and most importantly reducing poverty.”
A longer version of this article appears on USAID’s website.