Anne Bioulac: « For women entrepreneurs, the real challenge is to expand their idea at regional level and then across the continent »

Convinced of Africa’s potential, a continent of creativity, Roland Berger is one of the first partners of the Women In Africa Initiative. Interview with Anne Bioulac, co-managing Partner at Roland Berger Paris.

You said that “Africa will be the continent of novelty and creativity.” Why this conviction?

I worked a lot in the telecoms and media sectors. During my career, I worked one year for a telephone operator in Kenya, in 2000. I was very impressed because Africa had caught up its lateness in the sector, skipping a generation, and moving directly to the mobile phone. This shows that the continent has this ability to achieve technological leaps. In the field of telephony but also in the banking sector where Africa appears today as a spearhead. Thanks to this ability to take advantage of its weaknesses to go directly to the next step. Even in Europe today, the landline telephone is being less and less used and Africa has laid out the way. This testifies to the ability of a continent to project itself into the future with its capabilities.

What is peculiar about entrepreneurship in Africa?

The rate of entrepreneurship in Africa is three to four times higher than in other countries in the world. On average, there are 20% of entrepreneurs in Africa against 10% in the United States and even less in France. We can see that there is also this ability to constantly reinvent oneself. However, we must not be naive. This ability also hides the fact that the labor market on the African continent is less structured, with a lower level of education, especially for women. Entrepreneurship is a way of creating one’s own job. This requires specific support in terms of training.

What can Africa bring to the culture of entrepreneurship in France?

The idea that it is possible. We did some studies on women’s entrepreneurship in Africa. What they teach us is that you do not have to be a graduate to start a business. It is truly a message of hope and encouragement for France and other countries around the world.

In your consulting businesses, do you provide specific support for women entrepreneurs?

We basically did studies on women entrepreneurship in Africa. That said, in the framework of Project 54, supported by the WIA Philanthropy Foundation, and that we support as part of a sponsorship of competences we offer coaching to the winners of this 2018 promotion. Our office at Paris has also created a fund that helps start-ups against equity. We note that these start-ups have a vital need to better express their needs, and then be able to raise funds. This support represents a major part of our work. Put the idea into perspective, ensure that it meets the needs of customers, extend the ground of operation. Many start-ups are successfully growing in their area. But if SEs (small businesses) want to grow, it is not always easy. In this context, the real challenge for women entrepreneurs, often limited to their small territory, is to expand their idea at regional and across the continent.

You are a big sponsor of Women in Africa Initiative. Why have you decided to support this global platform since its inception?

Indeed, we were among the first to support the WIA Initiative upon its creation. For two reasons. Aude de Thuin, who came to see us in March 2016, with the idea of developing a global platform for economic development and support for African women leaders with high potential. She had met many women in Africa, inspired by her work with the Women’s Forum. Moreover, at Roland Berger, we consider that Africa is a territory in the making, with multiple social and economic issues. On a more personal note, I am interested in the issue of women leadership. That is why we decided to support this idea which may seem at first glance a little crazy. However, at the 1st Africa Regional Summit, which was held on April 12 in Dakar, we saw this community WIA Initiative federate and support African women from all walks of life, which is very beautiful.

What impact will Project 54 have on young women entrepreneurs on the continent?

The priority of African women entrepreneurs is that of visibility. What project 54 can bring. The selection of these innovative start-ups aims to offer a stage to those who need to sell. For us, it is about giving them a voice. Prizes will be awarded for Fin Tech, companies operating in the energy sector, agriculture. The next step is to identify a woman entrepreneur in each African country, 54 project leaders, to show that entrepreneurship is alive across the continent. It is true that in some countries this «sourcing» is more difficult than in others. At this stage of the year, we have already identified our awardees. Beyond the figures, this is to embody this entrepreneurship and the diversity of projects that is being created in Africa.

As part of your partnership with the Foundation, you are currently carrying out a special study on entrepreneurship and African women. Would you talk about this survey and possibly your first findings?

The idea of this study is that it is possibly carried out regularly, with every year an update, in order to draw up an overview of the woman entrepreneur in Africa. The results will be presented at the WIA Initiative’s Second Annual World Summit to be held on September 27-28 in Marrakech. At this stage of the study, we find that there is not a typical profile of a woman entrepreneur. Considering the 54 countries, it is reductive to talk about the African entrepreneur woman. There are social, cultural and economic realities in each country that make entrepreneurship different in Morocco than in Lesotho. The means of access to education in particular remain disparate. More generally, the message we would like to convey through this study is the following: how to maintain the dynamism of this African entrepreneurship while allowing these women to access a more permanent type of employment. For we are looking at a very encouraging picture, with women taking their destiny into their own hands, but at the same time needing help to go beyond a small survival activity. Africa has the largest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world, but because their employability rate is very low! If they cannot find a job, they create their own job. Our challenge is to reveal the value these women bring to the African continent. Because they create their jobs, wealth. We must invest in them, through access to education, which is essential if they want to expand their terrain, export themselves out of their home market.

Roland Berger advises on the key issues of a company. What are the keys to a successful business?

In our opinion, a successful company has a clear roadmap, shared by all employees and in line with the expectations of its customers.

Implanté en France depuis 1990, Roland Berger est le premier cabinet de conseil avec une direction d’origine européenne. Il conseille les grands groupes français et internationaux sur les problématiques clés de l’entreprise.