Increasing access to funding opportunities for young women entrepreneurs: How we do it at the Anzisha Prize

Melissa Mbazo, Program Manager for the Anzisha Prize, is an emerging expert in the field of social sector prize design and access. She shares the team’s effective Blueprint for increasing girl participation in the annual Anzisha Prize program.

‘We received 33% more female applications than we’ve ever had before. It proved the power of digital platforms combined with referral networks as ways to reach the young people we are looking for at relatively low cost.’

In 2017, with the seventh annual Anzisha Prize for very young African entrepreneurs underway, the team were concerned about the comparatively small number of girls entering the program. “We believe that there are plenty of young female entrepreneurs across the continent, but they are constantly fighting bias that makes them less likely to apply for opportunities such as the Anzisha Prize. These biases include cultural expectations, a lack of awareness of female business leaders and the conscious or unconscious bias against women as business leaders,” says Melissa.

1 Finding the flaw

It was not the first time the team had identified this problem and sought a solution. The flaw, they found, lay not so much in the existing campaigns or messages, as in not defining clearly enough the target audience and using specific channels to reach them. “We realized that our 2016 campaign had started and stopped with a call for nominations for female entrepreneurs,” recalls Melissa. “The team has had success with digital campaigns in the past, so instead of creating generic messages for all young entrepreneurs, we decided to aggressively focus on messages for young women entrepreneurs and those that might be connected to them.”

2 Who you feature in your adverts really, really matters

The solution called for a shift in focus from jus t raising awareness of the benefits of Africa’s most prestigious entrepreneurial prize, to ensuring a greater number of female participants. “The team’s strategy was based on one key focus: they ensured that they targeted women in all marketing campaigns. Through Facebook in particular, they ensured that they created ads that spoke directly to young women by giving examples of successful female business leaders, entrepreneurs and female Anzisha fellows. This was to ensure that young female entrepreneurs knew that we wanted THEM to apply – and that there were positive reinforcing female examples that they could access or relate to. The team discovered that it  really matters who you choose to feature in the photos of the adverts you create, as people have to be able to see that they could become whomever you are showcasing.

3 A 3-pronged, multichannel campaign blueprint

The 2017 campaign for young women comprised three different marketing channels.

  • We again ran REFERRAL CAMPAIGN, a campaign that encouraged people within our network to nominate female entrepreneurs;
  • We targeted the female entrepreneurs directly USING PAID FACEBOOK ADS in countries that, according to our research, had significant female youth entrepreneurship activity, such as Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Kenya.”
  • We reinforced these with in-country entrepreneurship workshops aimed at female participants, leveraging a network of partner youth organizations across the continent as a means to deliver them at scale. We required that our partners recruit and host female participants.

Keeping track

The results were almost instantaneous, reveals Melissa. “The results were great. The campaign ran for just under 3 weeks, right at the end of the 10-week application window. Female applications increased almost immediately, and the final result showed double the number of female applicants than we’ve ever had before. Also, considering the share of female entrepreneurs represented in the applicant pool, we saw an increase from 27% to 36% from 2016 to 2017.  Not only did we more female applicants, but relatively more of them compared to males.

True benefits

The success of the campaign had far-reaching benefits, adds Melissa: “It worked two-fold in that our partners got to recognize how important it is to work a little harder to encourage young female entrepreneurs, and young females were in a comfortable environment where they were free to explore their entrepreneurial ambitions.”

The real success of the campaign however is in the talented young women it enabled the team to find and select as Anzisha Prize Fellows, so that they can celebrate their stories. Doing this well is what we call the #AnzishaEffect, and will see thousands of other young girls inspired to follow in the footsteps of Satta WahabDina Mohamed IbrahimRebecca AndrianarisandyThowiba AlhajFadwa Moussaif, Maemu Lambani and Victoria Olimatunde, to start their own businesses and create the jobs our economies so badly need.

“We’re still a long way off where we’d like to be, but this was a significant improvement we’re proud of, and would like other organizations to learn from. It proved to us the power of digital campaigns combined with traditional referral networks to reach the people we are looking for.”


The Anzisha Prize is a partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that celebrates and accelerates Africa’s highest potential, very young entrepreneurs and a growing community of educators and other players who are pioneering how best to provide entrepreneur education and support in Africa. The program aims to inspire and support thousands of young Africans to start their own businesses and create jobs for others, and to improve the quality of entrepreneur support and teaching offered to high-school and university-aged entrepreneurs.

For more information on the prestigious Anzisha Prize, go to


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