More investment needed for women entrepreneurs


Jeanette Marais | CEO | Momentum Investments | mail me | 

About seven years ago, the United Nations introduced the concept of gender-aware economics and transformative financing. The idea is that funds and other investment vehicles become aware of what they are investing in, taking the time to consider different assets and businesses with a focus on financing women entrepreneurs.

In a country with a 35% unemployment rate, financing women entrepreneurs has never been more relevant.

The South African Women Entrepreneurs Job Creators Survey shows that women actively gravitate towards industries that work to solve job creation. In fact, employment creation is one of their key motivating factors with 90 percent of South Africa’s female entrepreneurs saying it was either ‘very important’ (74 percent) or an ‘important’ (16 percent) consideration when they started their business. And women were not just talking about it, their plans were concrete.

Less supportive entrepreneurial conditions

Mastercard’s Index of Women Entrepreneurs tells us that South Africa is one of only 12 economies where women entrepreneur numbers are growing.

However, while South Africa moved up one place from 2020 to rank thirty-seventh in 2021, with a score of 54.9, women’s advancement remains hampered by less supportive entrepreneurial conditions compared with other global economies such as the US.

South Africa ranks thirty-seventh in the Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions component of the Index, which benchmarks how supportive entrepreneurial conditions are as enablers or constraints of women business ownership. This just highlights the huge potential for further growth, both for employment numbers and the economy if funders start looking at investments through a gender-friendly lens. And the contribution would not be insignificant.

Although women comprise only 19,4% of business owners, women-owned businesses established between 2018 and 2022 were expected to generate as much as R175 billion a year and create 972,000 jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic would obviously have had a massive impact on these projections but the potential for growth is unmistakeable.

Equipped to take on the challenges of entrepreneurship

Women are nothing, if not creative and their ability to multitask, balancing the responsibilities of the home and the workplace mean that they are superbly equipped to take on the challenges of entrepreneurship and job creation.

As a female leader myself, I experienced many challenges while trying to break the glass ceiling and there have been many moments where I have had to draw on my inner strength and my personal support network to persevere.

All of which means that as a woman at the top, I am extremely passionate when it comes to the topic of encouraging investment in women entrepreneurs. Increasing funding opportunities for women-owned businesses would be a win-win for South Africa as a whole, particularly so when you consider that so many households are headed by females.

There are several key actions that businesses and funders alike can take to make finance more accessible for women entrepreneurs.

Buying products from women-owned businesses

Larger companies can review their procurement policies and prioritise women-owned businesses as suppliers.

This shouldn’t be limited to sourcing business from women-owned businesses already on your books, but can include doing the research to find out what women-led businesses offer the services or goods you are looking for.

Putting pressure on financial institutions

If there are more voices holding financial institutions accountable and asking the relevant questions, they will take more cognisance of the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs.

While this approach needs to be led from the top, it should ideally cascade through all the different levels right down to the consultant who is the first point of access for a potential women entrepreneur seeking funding.

Leading by example

Talking about encouraging women entrepreneurs and gender equality is easy; leading by example is the strongest statement.

We have worked hard over the last few years to ensure that there is gender pay parity in our organisation, no doubt this takes strong will and determination from our leaders – both men and women.

Work still needs to be done in terms of having more women in leadership roles. For this reason, there are programmes in place to create the necessary pipelines. In the last financial year, we developed 68 women leaders through leadership programmes and invested over R20 million in the development and training of 4,721 women employees.

These numbers show the company is serious about nurturing, advancing, and retaining female leadership. Our Retention Strategy and Talent Management focus on retaining and developing women and our flagship Senior Black talent initiative (MMPowered) consist of 48% women representation.

Mindful targeting

Products and services developed for women entrepreneurs should offer them clear benefits over other products available in the market. Nuanced details can give rise to products that have been developed to help women entrepreneurs showcase their strengths.

The recent unemployment statistics have shown that women remain the most vulnerable group in as far as economic activity is concerned. Our focus on youth employment and entrepreneurship is intentional about gender parity and making economic activity opportunities accessible to women.

While a minimum of 50% female participation is targeted on our youth employment partners, the foundation has embarked on Women in Farming programme that is 100% women focused. This programme is designed to provide capacity building and business skills to 60 KZN based, Black female owned enterprises in agriculture. This is a three-year journey that will help grow these women owned business and provide platforms that will encourage economic participation and access to market for these female entrepreneurs.

Improving financial literacy

As a financial leader, this is a topic particularly close to my heart. Improving financial literacy and empowering more women to lead from the front, will only hasten the growth of the entrepreneurial mindset.

From knowing the difference between saving and investing, to being able to build a business plan to working out a company’s financials, the path to business success surely lies in improving financial literacy from the bottom up.

We offer financial literacy through the Metro KickStarz programme, which has 61% female participation and explores entrepreneurship as a career path.

A push for tertiary education access

South African business schools report that the percentage of women MBA students has increased radically in the past five years, in some cases by as much as 10%.

However, many maintain that their representation has remained fairly stable, hovering around the 25-30% mark. Schools that offer both full-time and part-time MBAs report a slightly higher percentage of women on the full-time programme.

The long and short of it is that there are countless opportunities to empower women entrepreneurs, and access to finance is one of the most crucial of those.



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