Between 2017 and 2022, $221m was raised by women-led companies in Nigeria.
But an astonishing 97 percent of that amount was concentrated in either the commercial capital of Lagos or elsewhere in the southern region of the country. Only a meagre 2.8 percent of those funds went to women running businesses in northern Nigeria, an area usually associated with minimal progress in developmental indicators.
When investors decide to take risks, they appear to bet more on the more commercially viable southern part of Africa’s largest economy. The main benefit of that is usually Lagos, rated the most advanced startup city in the Global Startup Ecosystem Index and seventh-largest economy in Africa if it were a standalone country.
Still, it consistently ranks very low on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
Consequently, the lack of substantial funding for formal and informal startup ecosystems in the north has left many women living there vulnerable to financial insecurity, even as more of them become entrepreneurs.
A survey on women involved in informal cross-border trade, published in 2019 by UN Women and the African Development Bank (AfDB), shows that the most common reason for business ownership among women in the north is mainly necessity. Most of the women surveyed opened small shops or became small-scale street vendors to earn whatever they can to provide some level of economic stability for their family.
In a report published in 2019, UN Women recommended investing in capacity-building programmes, including training in marketing and sales, for women entrepreneurs to effectively compete in regional markets.
Below are firsthand accounts by women living in the city of Minna in the north-central region, providing a fuller picture of what it is like to maintain small businesses without the financing, visibility, or credibility afforded to their peers living closer to the country’s industrial hub.