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Senegal: The bumpy road of a young female entrepreneur who started a beef jerky business

Each time Alimatou Zadya Diagne craved beef jerky, she was obliged to order it from Niger. She loves the snack. But since it wasn’t produced in her home country of Senegal, it was always expensive and difficult to find.

In 2017, Ms. Diagne solved the problem by establishing a business called Carvi Food. It’s the first company in Senegal to produce beef jerky. But her journey through entrepreneurship was not an easy one.

Ms. Diagne’s foray into business began in 2012 with a job in marketing. She was interested in starting her own business at the time but didn’t know where to start.

A few years later, Ms. Diagne combined her knowledge of marketing and her passion for writing to create Carvi Writer, a platform that uses marketing and audiovisual productions to support more than 3,000 African authors.

By the time she created Carvi Food, Ms. Diagne had already faced many challenges. Being a young woman complicates many aspects of entrepreneurship, including managing a team of male counterparts and getting access to markets and financing.

On top of this, Ms. Diagne explains, societal expectations of women, for example that they need to take care of their household responsibilities, make success more difficult to achieve.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Diagne’s company is now highly successful. Using a website and operating out of five stores, Carvi Food produces and sells four flavours of beef jerky.

These days, Ms. Diagne also coaches other women who want to create their own business. Over time, she has developed an ever-expanding network of female entrepreneurs who support each other on a regular basis.

Ms. Diagne advises the women she coaches “to have the courage to hold on no matter the difficulties,” and to listen to the stories of those who have struggled in entrepreneurship, but who have achieved their goals nonetheless.

According to Ms. Diagne, failure is unavoidable and an important part of the process.

Before setting up Carvi Food, Ms. Diagne tried her hand at rearing and selling chickens. Unfortunately, her partners abandoned her and she was left to pay back a micro-finance loan even though the business was no longer operating.

A few years later, she tried again to sell live chickens, buying the birds in the region of Thiès to sell in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal.

But there was no affordable way to get the chickens from Thiès to Dakar. And without the means to manage it, Ms. Diagne was unable to respond to consumer demand.

Ms. Diagne says she has become stronger in the face of these challenges, both as a person and an entrepreneur.

She says: “What I’ve learned is that there aren’t really any failures … there are just lessons to be learned. When I start over, I am able to apply this knowledge. When I start over, I know what to do.”

Despite the challenges of entrepreneurship, Ms. Diagne believes that every woman can —and should—be an entrepreneur.

She says that we are in an era where women’s entrepreneurship is something that needs to be encouraged. She says every community can benefit from the development that comes with the work of female entrepreneurs.

“All of us sometimes have hard times, but we hang in there and we keep moving forward.”