Fostering Women’s entrepreneurship in South Africa

A recent report by Sage Foundation recognizing the contribution that Fostering Female Entrepreneurship in South Africa can make to the country’s economic progress, and the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the country, comes at poignant timing. On August 9, South Africa celebrated its National Women’s Day, in commemoration of the day in 1956 when 20,000 women marched to the Union buildings in Pretoria to demand women’s rights. Over six decades since this historic march, women of the country still have a long way to establish equality, financial freedom and empowerment.

While entrepreneurship is an aspiration for many women, the numbers do not match up to the enthusiasm displayed by women who did not own a business. For every female entrepreneur in South Africa, there are 1.6 male counterparts, and this number is on the decline year-on-year. The obstacles and dilemmas enlisted in the report have come from interviews with women entrepreneurs of South Africa, but could very well be from any corner of the globe. These are issues every Women Entrepreneur faces at some point of the journey, and must overcome, with the right support of the state, family and friends.

Reasons that challenge women entrepreneurship in South Africa:

Lack of role models: From a very early age, girls lack entrepreneur role models. As a result, corporate jobs are “perceived” as a safer option by women who do not own businesses. Not only inspirational success stories, but young minds also need to be encouraged to think out of the box and be fearless enough to try innovative and clutter-braking business models.

Flexibility: Many women quit their office jobs to start their own businesses in search of flexibility. But once they started up on their own, they realized that catering to clients as well as managing the responsibilities of the home and family takes a toll on them. This becomes a challenge and many choose to shut shop and get back to their office jobs at a desk. Juggling a family and business role is something most women entrepreneurs face, and it requires breaking traditional stereotypes about the “women’s role” in a household.

Risk perception: While 43% of women entrepreneur respondents who owned businesses said they were not afraid to take risks, a large 37% of women who did not own businesses thought it was “too risky” to be in business. Many parents also encourage young South African girls to take the “safer” option of getting a job rather than starting their own businesses.

Capital and funding: A major challenge to women entrepreneurs on South Africa, the report states that 84% of women start their businesses with their own savings; and a staggering one- third of women who return to the workforce say the key reason was funding.

Sticking with it: Many women entrepreneurs have a romanticized perception of running a business and underestimate the effort it takes to make it work. This leads to most women shutting shop on their businesses within two years of starting out. Investing time in gaining market knowledge, understanding the business and being resilient about your dream are all ingredients to successful women entrepreneurship.

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