How one African woman’s startup spurs new businesses

Two women sitting around coffee table with flowers (Courtesy of Purse on Point)
Thubelihle Ndlovu, right, founder of Purse on Point, speaks with a female entrepreneur at an event in Zimbabwe. (Courtesy of Purse on Point)

During her years working in banking, Thubelihle Ndlovu saw women rejected for credit more frequently than men, even when they were financially stable.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa’s labor market cost the continent roughly $95 billion annually in lost productivity between 2010 and 2014. And UNDP data shows that women in sub-Saharan Africa are less likely to gain access to financial services and credit than men.

Ndlovu launched Purse on Point to help African women gain access to startup capital, one of the biggest barriers to opening a business. The company teaches women entrepreneurship, financial literacy, business and estate planning, and proposal writing, as well as how to navigate the banking system and get approved for credit.

“When these women are trained, they become credit-worthy,” says Ndlovu, whose company operates in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda and Rwanda. “They know what they want. They employ other people for their businesses and those businesses grow.”

Before launching Purse on Point, Ndlovu served as a facilitator for the U.S. Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Zimbabwe and modeled her business after the U.S. State Department program.

Thubelihle Ndlovu (© Ernst Mackina)
AWE facilitator and Mandela Washington Fellow Ndlovu founded Purse on Point to support women’s entrepreneurship in Africa. (© Ernst Mackina)

AWE has equipped roughly 25,000 women in nearly 100 countries with the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch or scale businesses. AWE has operated in Zimbabwe since 2019 and benefited more than 250 women entrepreneurs in the country.

“AWE was such a huge inspiration for me,” says Ndlovu, who is also an alumna of the State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowship exchange program. “When I saw how the AWE program was structured and how it was having such an impact on the women, it [inspired] me to apply those systems to Purse on Point.”

Purse on Point combines in-person instruction with online training modules and seeks to address specific challenges African women face, such as gender norms and disparities.

The program is free for participants, thanks to funding from donors and investors. A State Department grant helped Ndlovu launch her business.

Purse on Point has benefited more than 5,000 women in three years. Alumnae in  Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, founded a law firm and opened a mechanic shop. Other women have broken into industries such as publishing, cattle farming and biotechnology.

“After Purse on Point they know their value, [the women] know what they can do,” Ndlovu said. “They just keep pushing boundaries and they are making big things happen.”

This article was written by freelance writer Roni Kane. A version was previously published by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.