From 8 to 10 January 2023, Giacomo Ciambotti, Andrea Sottini and Giovanni Negri, researchers of E4Impact and ALTIS, have participated in the 6th Biennial Conference of the Africa Academy of Management on the theme: “Management Praxis in the African Context: Sustainability, Responsibility and Ethics”.

The Africa Academy of Management (AFAM) is a professional group of academics and practitioners interested in management scholarship and teaching in Africa. It aims at the development and improvement of members’ capabilities for research and teaching of management in organizations in Africa.

Within the Conference, our researchers discussed their paperHow women entrepreneurs create social change by filling institutional voids: evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa” for which they received the Best Paper Award of the Social Issue in Management Division.

In their paper, Giacomo Ciambotti and Andrea Sottini together with prof. David Littlewood, from University of Sheffield, explore the extent to which management research can be used to address social issues, such as poverty, inequality, healthcare, and sustainable development in the African context. In particular, they focused their research around the case of twenty-six women doing business in Africa, in the slums of Nairobi and the most rural areas of Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Prof. Giacomo Ciambotti has met these women entrepreneurs during two and a half years of study on the Continent. The stories were often very painful: these women lived in contexts of absolute poverty, where the difficulty of taking care of hygiene, raising children and living a healthy life was compounded by cultural issues of discrimination and social exclusion. “If in a slum, a man has to struggle to break free, for a woman it is almost impossible” explains prof. Ciambotti.  

Many of these women have been victims of violence and social exclusion. In addition to physical discrimination, there is a deep-rooted patriarchal component that relegates women to domestic work or exploitation and does not allow them access to entrepreneurship. This means that a woman is precluded from the possibility of freeing herself from her condition by working creatively. 

However, it was precisely in these contexts, that the surprise emerged: among them, some women succeeded. The research documents explored how some women have succeeded in empowering themselves and breaking out of the ‘trap’, being at the end accepted in their social context. 

One among them is Habiba (fictitious name used in the academic paper to protect her privacy), a 30 years old woman from Khartoum (Sudan), who was able to study pharmacy and receive a bachelor’s degree in Sudan. She got an MSc of E4Impact and, finally, she managed to have her own business, selling skin care products and providing other women with a care center.

Prof. Caimbotti had the opportunity to meet also Mabel, a 24 years old kenyan entrepreneur. She did her bachelor in Entrepreneurship and Management and she also got an MBA. “I have set up a foundation to help girls go through high school. I tend to hire women and train them on how to export high quality products, using the power of social media“, she explained.

Another interesting and successful story is the one of Jacqueline Kiage, from Kenya, who is also an E4Impact Entrepreneur. She noticed how healthcare has always been (and continues to be) a very big issue in her country. It is extremely expensive and thus reserved to the wealthier part of the population. That’s where the idea of opening the Innovation Eye Centre came from: Jacqueline wanted everyone to have the possibility to monitor their eyes’ health, so to eliminate preventable blindness. “Eye health contributes to the overall health and wellbeing, social inclusion, improved quality of life, increased work productivity, improved school performance and visual disability inclusion”, affirmed the Kenyan entrepreneur.

All the stories collected by the researcher tell about brave and ambitious women, who succeded not to become rich or to go away, but to build small enterprises that meet basic community needs, such as production or the purchase of basic necessities. Through their business, these women generate an impact on their environment, affect social change, improve lives, and develop the community in a sustainable way.

This is a process in continuous evolution, which will also be the subject of new studies by the Altis and E4Impact Research Team, not so much to verify theories constructed in the academic sphere, but to trace vital points where a new sociality can be built from the bottom up