By Jessie Taylor
While women entrepreneurs play a vital role in the South African economy, they still face numerous barriers. Partnerships which provide women the skills they need to succeed as entrepreneurs increase their economic opportunities and have far-reaching implications for job creation and economic activity.
According to the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, women account for less than 20% of business owners in South Africa. Despite a slight increase in female entrepreneurship since 2019, the index showed that South Africa is making slow progress in increasing these numbers. The ratio of male to female entrepreneurial activity was estimated at 1.14 (10.9 men for 9.6 women) in 2019.
If this ratio is increased, the country stands to reap significant gains, especially with estimates that women-owned businesses established since 2018 could generate as much as R175- billion a year and create close to one million jobs.
The country has made some noticeable gains in encouraging entrepreneurship among women, and this will be accelerated in public and private partnerships to dismantle the obstacles women entrepreneurs face.
Here are three programmes working to empower young women entrepreneurs:
This programme by International Trade Centre, in partnership with the Department of Small Business Development and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), aims to empower women-owned enterprises to increase their international competitiveness and connect to national, regional and global markets through the SheTradesZA Hub.
The SheTrades Initiative was established by the International Trade Centre to address the barriers women face in accessing economic opportunities. SheTrades works to connect millions of women entrepreneurs to markets while promoting their full participation in international trade.
Through the SheTradesZA platform, women-owned businesses and corporations will benefit from a wide range of opportunities to expand their businesses and advance women’s economic empowerment. The programmes offered by the platform include free e-learning and capacity building, as well as improved access to investment for women-owned enterprises and promote business opportunities. Women also receive support to attend national, regional and international trade fairs.
Businesses that quality must be at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by women and at least 50% owned by a South African citizen. The women who participate in the SheTradesZA Programme must be active participant of their business on a day-to-day basis
The SheTradesZA hub supports strengthening the business skills and competitiveness of at least 10 000 South African women entrepreneurs over a four-year period. The Hub’s primary objective is to connect at least 50 000 women-owned businesses to markets.
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) gives enterprising women the knowledge, networks, and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses. The programme is run in partnership with the US Diplomatic Mission to South Africa and Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF).
AWIEF is a women’s economic empowerment organisation that supports women entrepreneurs in Africa to grow their businesses and fulfil their potential. Its mission is to foster women’s economic inclusion, advancement and empowerment through entrepreneurship support and development.
Through AWE, participants learn core business skills and are linked with experienced mentors. AWE is an initiative of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and supports the US National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality.
By giving women the tools and confidence they need, the AWE programme is generating income and creating jobs in women-led businesses, driving local prosperity in more than 80 countries worldwide.
More than 100 participants in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria are selected annually to participate in the training, mentoring and support programme. During the programme, women business owners will be supported in developing and refining their business plans.
The programme is presented via an online training platform for women’s entrepreneurship developed and gives women access to virtual business management training and mentorship sessions. They are also able to access Networking and peer-learning opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs.
Those who complete the programme will also be invited to join an alumni network, which provides access to a robust network of support, including follow-on business opportunities, potential seed funding, and a vast network of like-minded and highly regarded entrepreneurs.
The training is designed for women between the ages of 21 and 35, who have a feasible business idea or have been in business for no more than two years. The entrepreneur will need to be able to participate in weekly group sessions and must be able to commit at least five hours weekly to the training.
GirlCode is a non-profit organisation aimed at empowering women through technology. The organisation is built on the belief that the more women get involved with technology, design, development and leadership, the more successful and diverse companies and their products will be in the future.
One of GirlCode’s programmes is the GirlCoder club – a nationwide network of free, volunteer-led, weekend coding clubs designed for primary and high school girls interested in pursuing STEM-related careers. The club also gives girls access to career days, during which they are exposed to tech companies, and mentors.
GirlCode goes to primary and high schools, to educate and train young, disadvantaged South Africans, to educate them on the importance of learning to code. The organisation offers support to any women or girls looking to become developers or programmes, and encourages skills development in logical thinking, creativity and interdisciplinary understanding, among others.
GirlCode also hosts an annual hackathon, which champions female entrepreneurship, supports innovative ideas and drives gender diversity in the start-up and technology industry. The hackathon is the biggest female-only hackathon, and the winners are given opportunities to engage with global tech players.
The organisation also runs a Digital Literacy Programme, which teaches unemployed township women the basics of the MS Office suite, especially Excel, so that they can apply for jobs in fields such as data capturing or secretarial work