By Mala Suriah, CMO of Fundi
Women: investing in themselves and others to break cycles of poverty and disempowerment
As South Africa reflects on the collective cost of Covid-19 in terms of joblessness and unemployment, public and private sector contributors continue looking for solutions to the many socio-economic challenges our country is facing. Where should we be investing to drive sustained future growth? And how can this investment ensure broad positive impact within the demographic groups that need it most? Unsurprisingly (for some!), women are already showing the way. Quietly driving their own education, mothers, wives and daughters across the country are no longer waiting for others to define their futures and destinies. They’re choosing to invest in these themselves…
While education has always been a means of self-empowerment, its value and importance in self-determination – in the context of women – has once again been highlighted in South Africa’s latest unemployment data. With the most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey showing that 36.8% of women are unemployed, as compared to 32.4% of men, our local labour market remains skewed towards hiring men. “Not only must women often overcome additional challenges that hinder them from accessing employment but, once employed, many find it difficult to climb the corporate ladder and move into decision-making positions – if they’re able to participate in a sector viably at all,” explains Mala Suriah, the CMO of Fundi. “As such, investing in their own education is the only means of self-actualisation in the formal job market for most women.”
This makes Fundi’s latest data extremely positive reading, especially given our current socio-economic context. “Women now comprise 64% of the over 25 000 active fund clients on Fundi’s books. In addition, 60% of these women are financing more than one loan, meaning that they are supporting themselves as well as a dependent. This speaks volumes both in terms of hopes they hold for their own futures, and those of their family members and dependents.”
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The age of these lady investors is equally encouraging: most are 45 years old with an average salary of R32K per month. “With 44% of these women committed to self-study (either short courses or more formal diplomas and degrees), they seem clear about the ‘formal’ requirements for career progression. Re-investing in loans when a course has been completed is additionally a very positive trend, especially when one considers that only 13% of local executive directors (including CEOs and CFOs) are women according to the latest 2021 findings by PWC.”
Suriah notes that given the barriers to entry to meaningful employment for women, they must be encouraged to study and supported when they do. “Because our formal job market is shrinking, for many South African women, self-actualisation will involve starting their own companies – which we’re already starting to see. While this might initially happen out of necessity and in an informal way, more and more ladies are looking for business opportunities in sectors that matter to them so that they can get directly involved in finding solutions for themselves and their children. As such, I believe we can expect to see an increasing number of women stepping into spaces of food, water and energy, among others.”
And, while this journey is already starting for many, Suriah cautions that it is a challenging one: “Learning success is about far more than funding alone. It’s about having everything you need – from equipment to extra lessons. This has been our key learning as Fundi over the past two decades. It’s possibly even more important for women, especially single moms. They need holistic support; something we’re aiming to make possible through our ‘all things education’ approach. To this end, we’re going to keep prioritising women as customers, whilst encouraging our own lady staff complement to continue investing in their careers.
“That being said, I like to believe that other organisations will continue extending similar hands of support to the women whose lives they touch. For South Africa to succeed, we need to actively continue investing in our own – and our collective – future. It would therefore seem that we need to better follow the example of our women,” she concludes.
*For more, check out our bumper 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.
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