Learn how the World Bank Group is helping countries with COVID-19 (coronavirus). Find Out

Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY March 5, 2020

Two Women In The Private Sector and Civil Society, Who Are Defying The Odds


Business success in Mauritania remains elusive for many women entrepreneurs who face a myriad of challenges while launching and maintaining their business. Lack of technical skills and access to funding, information and networks, as well as behavioral and cultural norms and gender-based violence often exclude women from economic opportunity, particularly in the formal sector. For International Woman’s Day we lift up the voices of two women, at different stages of their careers in the private sector and civil society, who are defying the odds.

Dickel Dia

"With no education or resources, girls often feel their only hope is marriage."
Dickel Dia

The first person from her village to get a degree thanks to a scholarship, and a survivor of sexual assault and female genital mutilation, Dickel has devoted her life to fighting violence and discrimination against women in her country.

By the age of 20, Dickel had founded her NGO, the Association for Women Potters of Hebbiya and Yirla (AFPHY), in 2017, to combat gender-based violence and discrimination, particularly in rural areas. Knowing that many women are often trapped in abusive marriages and relationships because they lack the means to provide for themselves and their children if they leave, Dickel grounded her organization’s mission in  creating economic opportunity. With 235 members across four villages around M’bagne, AFPHY provides basic skills to women and girls, including in traditional clay pottery, integrating them into the local and national economy and providing them with a means to provide for their families.

Dickel points to the high incidence of early marriage and teenage pregnancy in M’bagne and its surrounding villages. The overall rate of child marriage among women in Mauritania is 30%. She says a lack of options for young women prevents them and their families from making better choices for their futures. “With no education or resources, girls often feel their only hope is marriage.” Taboos around discussing sexual health and education compound this challenge, leaving girls uninformed and vulnerable to predatory behavior as well as unplanned pregnancy.

Last year, Dickel presented her NGO as a social enterprise (WIRA - Women Impacting Rural Areas) to the Kosmos Innovation Challenge, an eight-month incubation program and start-up competition run by the Kosmos Innovation Center incubator in the capital, Nouakchott. Though WIRA did not win a cash prize, the program allowed Dickel to develop a business plan and a strategy to modernize her women members’ traditional pottery practices. She was also able to demonstrate that her social enterprise would quadruple the returns on investment within a year.

Education changed Dickel’s life. She is now focusing on the wider social challenges that negatively impact women and girls, especially access to education. She recently launched the Development: Women Impacting Rural Areas (D-WIRA) program in M’bagne that will establish resource centers within the local education system.

And all of this before her 30th birthday!

Lalya Kamara

"One SME can create 150 jobs – what I want to do is create jobs."
Lalya Kamara

Lalya Kamara – CEO and investment fund manager – boasts more than 20 years’ experience in finance and investment, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018, she returned to her home country of Mauritania to launch Sahelinvest, an investment and private equity advisory company. She is currently raising an impact fund of EUR 15 million to invest in growing SMEs in seven Sahel countries (Burkina, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal).

Before founding her own investment fund, Lalya was a Director at AFIG Funds and Senior Financial Advisor to the CFO of Dakar-based ASECNA, a regional African aviation security institution. In total, she has worked or invested in more than 12 countries in Africa.

Today, Lalya is leading an international, multilingual team in Sahelinvest – a first-of-its-kind company for Mauritania with an eye to the wider region.

Lalya has already taken innovative measures to address this gap. Previously she founded the Réseau FAM (Femmes Actives de Mauritanie – Working Women of Mauritania Network) to encourage women entrepreneurs struggling to launch and run their businesses. Inviting women of different backgrounds, the idea of this professional network is for members to share their experiences and challenges, particularly social obstacles, and to benefit from each other’s expertise.

As an investor, fostering a stronger network between women entrepreneurs has also provided Lalya with the opportunity to better understand the lending profile of these businesses. Organizing members into groups of six or seven women, she has personally financed their small initiatives in order to better understand the local ecosystem.

Lalya has emerged as a leader. She leads and participate in several boards and is Secretary General of the Mauritanian Entrepreneurs Club. Lalya is also a guiding voice for budding entrepreneurs, offering  strategic advice and moral support. She also regularly invests in and advises new start-ups on the market, including SmartTrash – the 2018 winner of World Bank-financed start-up competition, the Entrepreneur’s Marathon.

Lalya’s career has been guided by an investment philosophy anchored in the understanding that local entrepreneurs and small businesses in her country and region need to be nurtured if they are to be developed into solid local and regional players. “Supporting formal SMEs is what will grow the economy.”

Midway through her career Lalya has a clear goal. “One SME can create 150 jobs – what I want to do is create jobs.”