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Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs: Fostering Resilience and Growth in Mzansi

As Women’s Month shines a spotlight on the pivotal role of women in society, the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation directs its attention to the remarkable women within its small business incubation partner, Black Umbrellas. This initiative showcases the invaluable contributions of women entrepreneurs, highlighting their resilience, determination, and impact on Mzansi’s economic landscape.

Zandile Gqoboza, the Foundation’s Research and Stakeholder Relations Officer, conducted an insightful study earlier this year. She delved into the Black Umbrellas program, interviewing women beneficiaries to craft a report on women entrepreneurs and the program’s influence. Gqoboza’s research illuminated the tenacity of South African women entrepreneurs as they strive to forge brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Statistics from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM 2007) revealed that women in developing economies, including South Africa, are more inclined to initiate their businesses compared to high-income nations. Encouragingly, the 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) ranked South Africa 37th globally in terms of the percentage of women entrepreneurs, affirming the nation’s promising entrepreneurial landscape. However, many women entrepreneurs in developing economies remain confined to the informal sector, operating survivalist micro-businesses.

GEM research underscored the significantly higher returns on investment achieved by women entrepreneurs. Their willingness to share gains in education, health, and resources with their families and communities further underscores their impactful role.

Despite their undeniable contribution, women entrepreneurs continue to confront substantial structural barriers that impede their growth. Challenges encompass limited access to education, training, finance, as well as gender discrimination and unfavorable attitudes towards women in entrepreneurship. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these difficulties, particularly for women-led enterprises operating in sectors hit hardest by lockdowns and restrictions.

Nonetheless, women entrepreneurs exhibited remarkable adaptability and resilience during the pandemic. In fact, South Africa stands out as one of only 12 economies globally where women’s entrepreneurial activity rates increased amidst the crisis. This achievement can be attributed to the indomitable spirit of female entrepreneurs and the joint efforts of the South African government and private sector in supporting small businesses.

Black Umbrellas has emerged as a vital catalyst for women entrepreneurs in South Africa. By providing essential training, mentoring, and business coaching, the program has empowered women to surmount challenges and thrive. Sarina Malatji, Abigail Serakoana, and Landela Mashalaba are poignant examples of this resilience in action.

Sarina Malatji’s journey from analytical chemist to entrepreneur showcases her adaptability and drive. Despite facing challenges, she diversified her business and actively responded to the impacts of COVID-19. Abigail Serakoana’s success story as a qualified medical technologist turned energy entrepreneur demonstrates the importance of mentorship in bolstering confidence. Landela Mashalaba’s transition from food business to skincare, incorporating traditional South African herbs, exemplifies the transformative power of innovation.

These narratives embody the strength of women entrepreneurs in overcoming adversity, contributing to South Africa’s economic prosperity, and fostering inclusivity. Through initiatives like Black Umbrellas, women entrepreneurs are shaping a more equitable and thriving economic landscape for Mzansi.

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