Women’s entrepreneurship and the women’s struggle

Businesswomen gathered at Confident Women In Business Expo at Menlo Park. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Businesswomen gathered at Confident Women In Business Expo at Menlo Park. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Sep 27, 2023


Dr Daphne Mashile-Nkosi

Except for the eccentric quarters, it is widely accepted that the success of society depends on the empowerment of the majority of its citizens — the women. However, women are, in most part, relegated to the margins of society and one of the reasons for this is their economic dependence on men. As one of the enablers for economic participation, women's entrepreneurship must be embedded in society’s agenda.

But how do we create it? Firstly, we should start by acknowledging that, like men, women are beings of agency. They are not hapless and helpless minions waiting for benevolence from without.

Women entrepreneurs exist in every nook and cranny of society as hawkers, peasant farmers, spaza shop owners, business managers, directors of companies, CEOs and other trailblazers in many sectors. They are the backbone and the heartbeat of our society — the true nation-builders who do not make it to the VIP guest list. With modest earnings, they bring up and educate children, feed families, and often share the little they make with extended families, friends and community without protesting scarcity.

This is one category of women, the practitioners. Another is women who have the potential to be successful entrepreneurs. They are, for the most part, potential or aspirant entrepreneurs. However, compared to their male counterparts, women entrepreneurs are few and far between.

There can therefore be no one-size-fits-all for supporting women entrepreneurs. Each category requires different types of support.

Depending on the size of their business, the length of their involvement, market share, levels of education, access to finance, social capital, and other factors, support for practitioners must be differentiated. Some will require access to finance and markets, specialised skills, networking and various forms of institutional support.

The second group of potential or aspirant entrepreneurs must be created. It requires motivation, mentorship, access to finance, skilling, incubation and other forms of foundational support in the process of becoming.

Secondly, regardless of their gender, all entrepreneurs should have certain characteristics, habits and practices for success. Those who don’t, work towards them. One of these traits is a go-getter spirit. The public and private sectors can support women entrepreneurs, but a go-getter spirit cannot be overemphasised enough.

It is said that Indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili – seek direction to the destination from those who have taken the journey before. We should therefore seriously think of the words of one who has weathered the storm, the Dean of Black Economic Empowerment, Dr. Sam Motsuenyane: "There must have been a misconception that the achievement of democracy would make it so much easier for people to get into business that they would not need to make any effort to initiate businesses.”

Motsuenyane worries that "People are labouring under a false belief that the government will do this and that for them, that things are going to be given rather than achieved and earned. We need to change that psyche, that expectation, because it won't happen. People must gear themselves to working harder to realise the benefits of the freedom we have."

To be a go-getter means that you do not wait for somebody; you get up and do it. Entrepreneurs also seek to expand their specific and general knowledge about their business area. This has been true for all time, but more so in today’s world, where information and knowledge are as vital a necessity for human existence as air, water and food for the sustenance of life itself.

Knowledge enables entrepreneurs to run businesses better. Knowledge enables you to master the environment in which you do business which, in turn, enables you to take informed and calculated risks.

Entrepreneurs are persistent people; they never give up. Always remember that each action or non-action determines your tomorrow and the day after. You reap what you sow: what you put in is what you get.

Thirdly, social processes are interconnected. Ours is a patriarchal world in which being a man places you several miles ahead of a woman. This is the reason women entrepreneurs are disproportionately fewer than men.

Our society does not value the pursuits of male and women entrepreneurs equally. The general belief is that women can’t do it. Women entrepreneurs face this problem with private banks inasmuch as they do with Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), who are supposed to be catalysts of empowerment and development more than the private sector.

Besides patriarchy, the staff of DFIs – who are largely male – come from the same academic institutions – as commercial bankers – where the development objective is considered something of an optional extra.

The creation and support of women entrepreneurs is a social, political, economic and moral necessity. Above all, it is part of the broader struggle for women's emancipation, which requires multiple programmes of action. Power to the woman entrepreneur!

*Dr. Mashile-Nkosi is executive chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese, a mining company in Johannesburg. This is an edited version of remarks she delivered on the occasion of the 2023 Central University of Technology annual Women Entrepreneurship Event.

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL