Women make up the majority of the population in South Africa, but we’re grossly under-represented when it comes to leadership roles and starting our own businesses.
Statistics released by the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs revealed that just 18,8% of small business owners in SA are women, compared to 46,4% in Ghana.
Farhana Parker, a social entrepreneur, believes that the only way to address this challenge is by making the process of starting a business as seamless and unbureaucratic as possible.
“Helping women start their own businesses or social enterprise contributes not only to their economic empowerment, but also to increasing their sense of self-worth, confidence and strengthening respect and status,” she says.
While she says there’s no “magic bullet” to fix this challenge, she says these five areas should be front and centre of any plan to correct the current imbalance.
1. Sharing good ideas and replicating models that work
“Learning how other women operate and how they have overcome difficulties can be helpful and inspiring for those who are in the process of starting a business. These stories need to be told and shared via the media and social media, as well as community groups and platforms,” says Parker.
2. Personal development can lead to entrepreneurial activity
Many women living in poor socio-economic conditions lose hope of ever gaining opportunities to better themselves. Simple programmes can bring about significant changes, however. “One such programme, The Social Makeover, took 20 women from the Cape Flats and helped them with confidence issues, self-esteem, as well as job skills training,” Parker says.
“For one particular individual, the programme helped her to give up drugs and a life of crime, and to get a good job, enabling her to look after her children, as well as other family members. Having others believe in her ability to realise her potential and change her circumstances, gave this young woman the courage to transform her life and improve her financial position.”
3. Scaling successful projects or workshops
Parker says it’s imperative to foster an environment that tackles the barriers of entry faced by female entrepreneurs, namely access to funding, technology, innovation and good governance.
“To foster such an ecosystem, multi-sectoral collaboration is essential. This can be done by creating community networks and holding workshops for entrepreneurs and innovators,” she says.
4. Network, mentor, communicate
Collaborating with other women, being part of networks and communicating more with others is vital to helping women gain the confidence to start their own businesses, Parker says.
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“Networking is about connecting to and with others in a mutually generous and helpful manner. Many women feel uncomfortable in a scenario that looks like they are selling themselves, or engaging in superficial conversation for selfish reasons, but networking can be a generative, collegial, reciprocal and generous part of our work,” leadership development expert Liz de Wet says.
5. More investment is needed for women-led social enterprises
According to the Global Impact Investing Network, a total of $4,9 billion has been invested in impact investing on social, environmental and developmental issues, so the money is, in fact, there.
“Becoming attractive to such investors and being able to meet the criteria of such investors should be on the agenda for local entrepreneurs, as well as organisations and groups helping them,” Parker says.