During the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to the newly passed policy, which sets aside 40 percent of public procurement for women-owned businesses. This important development has the potential to meaningfully increase the number of women-owned businesses in South Africa, open their access to markets, while stimulating economic activity. Added to this, as the country starts looking to the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector to help rebuild the country’s economy, women in business may see an opportunity to grow like never before.
This is according to Janeesha Perumal, Area Manager at Business Partners Limited – one of Africa’s leading financiers for formal SMEs – who says that, in light of International Women’s Day on Monday, 8 March, stakeholders across all sectors should take the time to consider the benefits of supporting female-owned businesses enter into their markets.
“There is so much potential for women to improve the industries that they operate in by establishing their own businesses, as increasing the number of female leaders in any given industry inevitably leads to more diverse ideas and solutions. Aside from that, statistics also show us that female entrepreneurs often pose a lower risk of defaulting on loans.”
Perumal notes that there has indeed been an encouraging trend in this area. “In all my years of working in the entrepreneurship space, I have seen the number of women-owned businesses increase. We’ve also seen substantially more women get into industries that had almost no female players before – such as construction, mining, and manufacturing.”
With that said, she adds that there are a number of challenges that are still more commonly present for female entrepreneurs. “For example, many women have to balance domestic and business responsibilities, more so than is usually the case with their male counterparts. In conjunction with that, the issue of gender inequality in terms of culture, still gets ingrained into women, which makes them less likely to start their own companies or build the required partnerships and networks for much-needed social capital required in business. Overcoming this barrier is one of the reasons why women need more support in the initial phase of becoming entrepreneurs.”
In order to address these and other gaps that many business owners face, Business Partners Ltd offers a technical assistance programme, which is coupled with business finance, to help business owners expand their capabilities. “Businesses increase their chances of success and growth when acquiring the services of mentors, receiving financing assistance with skills development courses for themselves and their employees, and having access to experts to engage them on turnaround strategies. While we make this programme available to both male and women-owned businesses, it can be particularly pivotal in supporting aspiring women business owners to overcome the aforementioned challenges.”
Perumal says that those who invest in women will see it pay off in the longer term, as these entrepreneurs start to grow and demonstrate their capabilities in business. “We’ve seen how women often have a better relationship with their employees and understand their career goals. In doing that, we see them help their employees achieve better efficiency in their jobs, which leads to increased productivity in the business. Women have also been shown to establish better long-term business relationships with customers and suppliers. These are only two of the unique features that women bring to their sectors, and these attributes have major potential to boost local industries.”
Bearing this in mind, Perumal does have a few choice words to share with women who aim to build their own SMEs. “My advice is to believe in yourself and face your challenges head on. The President’s commitment to include more women in the public procurement process, is one of the best opportunities that female entrepreneurs have had in years – so now is the time to start building your business up and make the most of this chance, as South Africa starts to experience the green shoots of recovery,” she concludes.