The funding struggle

Cerina Bezuidenhout, co-founder and COO of Future Females Empowerment Initiatives, lays out the facts about women and inequitable financing, based on research done in South Africa and four other countries by the organisation.


According to a report published by the International Financial Corporation (IFC) in 2019, South Africa had a $49-billion unmet financing demand for female founders, making it evident that there is a massive female-founder financing gap. This disparity often leads to low growth margins for female-founded businesses as they rely on alternative sources of funding.

For that specific reason, Future Females Empowerment Initiatives, in partnership the International Tech Hub Network, a UK government initiative, conducted research on “Why Female Founders are Still Not Raising Financing Equitably in 2023”.

The overall research, which consisted of surveys with open-ended and multiple-choice questions, was conducted with Tech Hubs in five locations: South Africa, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Three important questions were identified:

  1. What is the current financing gap for female founders globally?
  2. What are the barriers faced by female founders in raising funding?
  3. Why have the existing interventions that target these barriers been unsuccessful?

The survey revealed that female founders across the five countries are mainly bootstrapping their businesses to keep them operational and have raised an average of less than $10 000 to date. Furthermore, 95% of female founders are still actively looking for funding but most of them struggle with identifying the funding opportunities available and how to connect with these opportunities. Plus, they are unfamiliar with the fundraising process and its requirements.

There is a wide gap between the current form of business financing that female founders use and the type of funding they need to grow their businesses. The survey data yields extensive insight into the amount of funding raised to date across business stages, and the various sectors in which female founders operate.

Key findings

The research identified the following key reasons that inform the funding gap that female founders face in South Africa:

  • Lack of comprehension of the fundraising process: Only 19.5% of the female founders surveyed reported confidence in their ability to go through the fundraising process. (This number rises to 46% of questioned candidates in Kenya.) All other founders surveyed indicate needing help with the fundraising process, from grant-proposal writing to pitching, with 30% saying that they can’t go through the process by themselves.
  • Lack of information on investors: There is a gap in information about the funding opportunities available to female founders and the types of investors to approach. 42.1% of female founders report they do not know relevant investors to approach (an increase of 29.4% from Brazil). In the same vein, 39.6% report that they choose to stick with their current form of funding because they do not know how to access any other form of funding although a high percentage (91.8%) would welcome it.
  • Experienced gender bias: Though there is no explicit evidence of gender bias in our survey, 71.7% of South African female founders interviewed for the report said that they feel the fundraising process is more difficult because they are women. (This is higher than that of Indonesia where 45.6% feel this is a factor.) Overall, 13.2% say that the biggest challenge is that investors do not take them seriously.

It is clear that female founders face big challenges globally in raising funding, especially when it comes to being educated on the funding process since a big gap for educational programmes persists. The series, consisting of a white paper for each of the five participating countries, includes insights on the current funding needs of female entrepreneurs, how these are or are not matching the funding that is available in the market, commentary around “the gap”, and why previous interventions failed to close this gap.

Thereafter it provides solutions to target these shortfalls and how female founders can draw on the resources available to them, requiring a multi-dimensional approach. This undertaking integrates female founders, startups and/or SME enablers such as incubators, accelerators and investors. The integration allows for information on funding opportunities to flow freely between investors and female founders, with enablers working as binding agents that train them on the fundraising processes and facilitating investor-founder matchmaking.

After receiving repeated feedback about funding from our community, we were very excited to finally explore why, after so many efforts from the entrepreneurial ecosystem, there is still a gap between male and female funding. We are delighted to share the findings with everyone, and specifically the key players in the field, the startup enablers, the entrepreneurs themselves, and the different funders such as banks, grant originators and investors. May everyone who reads this feel they know better now how to close this gap. Future Females vouch, as an education platform, that we will support women and work with partners to educate women in the fundraising process, and we are happy to work with any partner who shares this goal.

You can access the full white paper series on “Why Female Founders are Still Not Raising Financing Equitably in 2023”:

About Future Females

Future Females is a movement that exists to increase the number of and support the success of female entrepreneurs globally. We provide a space digitally, physically and emotionally where women can connect, inspire and collaborate with each other and access the resources they need to succeed.

About Future Females Empowerment Initiatives

Future Females Empowerment Initiatives exist to support the development of female entrepreneurs globally. We drive this empowerment through the digital skills development, interpersonal support and entrepreneurial activation of women, through our structured training programmes across the world including Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Mozambique, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia.

About UK-International Tech Hub Network

The International Tech Hub Network is a UK-government initiative delivered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the Digital Access Programme. It aims to catalyse more inclusive, affordable, safe and secure digital access for excluded and underserved communities in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia.

Cerina Bezuidenhout