Topical Focus: Women in business

Female-Founded Innovation 

As a boutique pan-African talent incubator for female-led innovation, WomHub is committed to enhancing gender parity in STEM. By partnering with leading diamond company HB Antwerp, we explore a sparkling future for Motswana women 
 
Writer: Phoebe Harper
 
 
In a bid to address the gender disparity prevalent across Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing (STEM), one significant new partnership is breaking new ground for opportunities in Botswana.  
 
Enter, the Innovation Lab. A platform dedicated to gender parity and job creation, Innovation Lab results from the partnership between WomHub - a boutique pan-African incubator for female led innovation, and the diamond mining company HB Antwerp.  
 
Bridging the invaluable exchange of knowledge between Belgium and Botswana, the HB Innovation Lab programme offers 30 soon-to-be and recent Engineering and Technology graduates a comprehensive training programme intended to cultivate sector-specific skills and attract local talent for HB Antwerp’s operations facility in Botswana. 
 
The programme honours the traditional artistry of stone polishing and cutting that Belgium is known for, whilst identifying and implementing innovative approaches to diamond manufacturing using diamonds from Botswana. 
 
We speak with Naadiya Moosajee, Co-Founder of WomHub, and Margaux Donckier, Communications and External Affairs Director at HB Antwerp to find out more. 
 
Africa Outlook (AO): Could you tell us more about the foundation of WomHub – what inspired you to create the boutique incubator? 
Naadiya Moosajee, Co-Founder of WomHub (NM): WomHub has developed the entire ecosystem for women and girls in STEM across Africa, first through our foundation WomEng, and over the last six years, through WomHub as a way to create more financial sustainability to the foundation work we have been doing since 2006. We have seen first-hand the gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector, and made it our mission to support talented, diverse people entering the engineering industry, working from attraction (how to get more women and girls into engineering) to ownership (how to develop and grow women-owned businesses in the engineering and tech industry) and everything in between.  

“Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”

Margaux Donckier, HB Antwerp

AO: What is your current take on gender diversity across the STEM industry?  
NM: We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. We have a strategy here to build an ecosystem, because the challenge of gender diversity is at every point of entrance into the STEM industry. Girls as young as five and six are told they are not good at maths and science, or engineering is something that boys do. These formative thoughts have lasting negative consequences. When women eventually make it into the industry, they face a tougher challenge, often working more than twice as hard. We work with female founders on ownership of the sector, the challenges around harassment, and the lack of capital going to female founders that limits the growth of their businesses. In Africa in 2021, of the almost $5 billion of venture capital that went to entrepreneurs, only 0.98 percent went to female founders. Entrenched gender norms still perpetuate, and biases against women are still rampant, which makes the work that we do and the partnership with HB Antwerp so powerful around building local, diverse manufacturing capabilities in Botswana.
 
AO: What led to HB Antwerp’s launch of the Innovation Lab? Why now? 
Margaux Donckier, Communications and External Affairs Director, HB Antwerp (MD): We launched the HB Antwerp Innovation Lab as part of our mission to develop a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. The HB Antwerp Innovation Lab prepares and supports Motswanan soon-to-be graduates and new graduates with skills for the engineering and technology industry. The programme develops leadership, innovation and intrapreneurship skills required by young graduates to succeed.  
 
We recognise that young graduates don’t just need another training programme — we need to provide real job opportunities, and we are proud that job creation and gender parity are key areas of focus for this programme. We are extending job offers to some of the participants upon completion of the programme and that for us is really exciting.  
 
AO: Why is HB Antwerp seeking to attract more female talent in engineering and technology? Do you feel that more progress needs to be made in terms of gender diversity in the diamond industry?  
MD: We must foster entrepreneurship and innovation in order to cultivate a workforce that is inclusive and equitable for the future. This includes supporting more women in STEM fields. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
 
There’s always more work to be done, and we believe there should be an urgency for the diamond industry to actively embrace a strong ESG charter with more transparency from mine to retail. Businesses can play a critical role in changing attitudes, through supporting the empowerment of women and girls and gender equality, building responsible practices throughout the supply chain and creating inclusive and safe work environments for everyone.  
 
AO: What made WomHub the perfect partner for this project? 
MD: WomHub is an award-winning organisation created by women to nurture female-led innovation in STEM fields in Africa and to deliver real, tangible outcomes. We have come together from different sectors to collaborate, to drive change and to collectively acknowledge that the time for action is now.