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Growing The Pool Of Women-Owned Businesses

Organisations and programmes empowering women to become successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are critical to transforming the status quo, writes Taschica Pillay.

Gender parity is only likely to be achieved in 217 years. That’s according to the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which highlights the need for companies to increase the speed at which they empower the women in their organisations.

Many organisations have taken up this challenge. For example, Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (WOESA), which is empowering South African women economically through training opportunities in this traditionally male-dominated industry.

Asyia Sheik

WOESA CEO Khumo Ntlha says that women were exposed to nuclear plants last year at the workshops they held. “In the past 18 months, we looked at the roll-out of a solar geyser installation programme where we partnered with the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) and trained women to be installers,” she says. “We work with women who are highly entrepreneurial – dentists, chartered accountants, lawyers and women who want to do something different.”

WOESA, in partnership with the United Nations Women in SA, runs workshops annually on renewable energy and provides information on what’s happening in the renewable energy space.

Five Million Women Entrepreneurs By 2020

Global soft drink giant Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative aims to empower five million women entrepreneurs globally by 2020. “The 5by20 programme has been running in South Africa since 2010, with Coca-Cola helping women who run spaza shops with business skills training such as financial management, inventory management, marketing, client relations and service, and how to understand markets,” says Asyia Sheik, head of public affairs, communications and sustainability at Coca-Cola Africa’s South African franchise.

The 5by20 initiative offers women access to business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors. By December 2016, the programme had reached more than 60 000 women in South Africa, whose average business sales increased by 44 per cent and average personal income increased by 23 per cent from July 2014 to July 2015.

Beyond Lifestyle Businesses

“Globally, the number of women operating their own businesses is increasing, but there are few women-owned businesses that grow beyond being ‘lifestyle’ businesses,” says Femtech director Dr Jill Sawers. “Entrepreneurship in developing countries often results from economic necessity rather than the exploitation of new market opportunities. Women-owned businesses tend to generate lower levels of income, make less use of technology including information and communications technology (ICT) and are more often found in the service industries and/or the informal sector,” says Sawers, pointing to the findings of a 2014 World Bank global study.

Femtech runs training programmes in South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, and Mozambique. Its core business is the provision of experiential training programmes for women entrepreneurs who wish to grow their businesses substantially. Programmes cater to small focus groups of women, allowing for individual attention through training and mentoring.

There is no particular technology focus or product specialisation during the training, but selection onto the programme is determined by the potential to grow existing businesses, use technology (including ICT) innovatively to improve product and service offerings and follow new strategic directions in businesses through the adoption of more inventive thinking and approaches.

Support For The Journey

Mazars, an international, integrated and independent organisation specialising in audit, accountancy, tax, legal and advisory services, recognises the need for diversity and has several programmes and initiatives that have been implemented in phases. One of their programmes – the Women@Mazars Manager Initiative – communicates growth strategy to women and introduces them to concepts of professional support. This has been targeted at managers across the company’s different service lines, directors and partners.

Mazars recently launched the Big Sisters Club where little Mazars Sisters are paired with Big Sisters for mentorship and relationship building. To show support to women entrepreneurs, Mazars sponsored the African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum 2017 and provided support to the forum’s accelerated programme where women received training on several important elements of their business.

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