According to the World Bank, Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs. In SA, however, women-owned businesses earn nearly 40% less than those owned by men, although more than half the population is female.

A recent Business Day Women Economic Empowerment Digital Dialogue, in partnership with Accenture, SEDA and IDC and moderated by Nastassia Arendse, put the spotlight on how corporate SA can provide the support needed to drive women-owned SMEs towards sustainability.

Women’s responsibilities and a lack of support at home are often major obstacles to running a business, said Lucretia Khumalo, divisional executive: client support and growth at the IDC. There is no question that the pandemic impacted some women-owned businesses harder than others. Many tourism businesses, for example are owned by women, and these are still suffering, along with the businesses supporting them.

The IDC focuses on more than just funding and also assists with business plans, legislation, funding preparation and post-investment support. Additional support is provided to women- and youth-owned businesses, especially in the removal of barriers.

Legal and societal issues also affect a woman’s ability to grow her business: some marital contracts require a husband’s permission and red tape insists on compliance requirements that some women do not know how to address, added Ntokozo Majola, executive manager: nterprise development division at SEDA.  Another obstacle, she added, is women’s access to markets. Men are more proactive, they lobby and they use their networks to access tenders.

But building an effective network is often difficult for women with family responsibilities, pointed out Zandile Njamela Mampone, supplier inclusion and diversity lead at Accenture SA. Many women exit at executive level to start their own business and face a huge gender gap. Another challenge is how to bring informal-sector businesses into the formal sector.

Businesswomen today have been raised by resilient women, many of whom were themselves entrepreneurs. Their contribution to the economy should be acknowledged and formalised, she said.

The one good thing to have come from the Covid-19 pandemic, said Majola, was that it shone a spotlight on businesses in the informal sector. The Department of Small Business Development had already been in talks with other countries like Brazil to share lessons and information on the formalization of this sector so that it can be accounted for in the GDP.  The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this process and the support to Township and Rural-based Enterprises, which is dominated by women.  Support to this sector remains one of the key focus areas of the Department, offering both financial and non-financial support through Seda and Sefa.

Adding that women deserve a seat at the table and need to be able to contribute to solutions from a female perspective, she said women need to show that they are offering value, engage with other women and support others by procuring from them. For their part, corporates need to treat every business individually and provide customised support.

SEDA and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) are working to improve the quality of their services, said Majola. She urged women entrepreneurs not to give up on failed applications but to analyse what went wrong in their applications and apply again. Seda’s Mentorship and Coaching programme gives women an opportunity to work on their businesses and to network & establish market opportunities among themselves.  The programme works in a group format and runs over a period of ten (10) months.  The duration of the programme is such that there should be significant improvements on the businesses compared to when it started.  This is measured in terms of new jobs created, increase in turnover and new markets established.

An IDC team is always available for feedback if a funding application is rejected, added Khumalo.

Know which ESD programme to align with, whether it’s the same business, a future competitor or a future market, stressed Mampone. For her, the key question is, “What problem are you solving with what you are offering?”

To watch the full discussion, click here.

Image source: pexels-rodnae-productions-7490850