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By its very nature, entrepreneurship is a disruptive force in business, introducing new ideas and ways of thinking to the table which can bring benefits to society at large and drive the economy forward.
Traditionally, employment in all its forms has been seen as a male-dominated sphere, with women in both the Global North and South facing major barriers to entry due to the restrictions placed on them by patriarchal structures. They are often faced with the double burden of having to fulfil childcare and domestic duties, in addition to pursuing their own careers. In some cases, women are not allowed to take on certain jobs. In these instances, self-employment is often a necessity– allowing women to balance home-based responsibilities with economic progression.
However, this also creates new opportunities, and female entrepreneurship can be a particularly disruptive force. It gives women a crucial opportunity for financial and personal independence, breaking down gender stereotypes and encouraging female autonomy, while bringing prosperity to society at large.
Women make particularly good entrepreneurs, too. A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that female entrepreneurs are often more nurturing, and creative in business, allowing them to innovate in different and better ways. It’s been shown that they are more likely to overhaul unfair or unjust systems as part of their work for the benefit of all
The success of self-employed women often creates an aspirational drive within their communities, kickstarting a domino effect which sees others feeling inspired to start their own business.
Women in business in the Global South
According to the UN University, female entrepreneurship tends to be more prevalent in developing countries than in developed countries. In these economies, the barriers to entry for women joining the workforce are often much higher than in the rich world. Entrepreneurship is a way to circumvent these barriers; creating an alternative form of employment to salaried jobs in the formal labour market - and unemployment.
Concern works in places like Malawi to help create an environment where women feel empowered to be creative and start their own enterprises. Analysis by Concern has found a lack of status, recognition and voice is a key factor in keeping Malawian women in poverty and that women-headed households in particular face ‘extreme poverty’.
As such, it is through challenging cultural traditions that hold men as the ‘proper’ head of the household and society that the environment for female success is created, which in turn can create a more equitable and prosperous community.
Randa Swaid, an entrepreneur from Sierra Leone, has been driven by this communitarian value throughout her career and vows to put “passion before profit”. Spurred on by her interest in interior design, she initially opened a furniture store in Freetown, before venturing into hospitality and opening hotels in the city, believing that women have an edge when delivering value and customer service.
She credits her success to hard work and sharp business acumen, but her accomplishments haven’t come easily. “As a woman, it is hard to be taken seriously in a male-dominated business world,” she says, adding that often she didn’t get the credit she deserved. Being a mother added further complications; after the country’s disastrous civil war, she had twins, and constantly worried about their health and education alongside her business aspirations.
The expectation that female entrepreneurs continue to be the primary carer for the family can be difficult, but Randa is keen to stress the positives. Since launching her businesses, she’s opened an education charity, and built over 10 schools across the country.
Women leaders are more proactive when it comes to giving back to their communities.
For aspiring women entrepreneurs, success is intrinsically tied up to breaking free from patriarchal conventions. Challenging these norms is crucial in promoting female autonomy, and should be coupled with access to training and skill development.
While women are making major strides in educational attainment, they often don’t have access to the resources or opportunities needed to develop the combination of technical skills, literacy and work experience needed to support a productive business. Closing the gender gap between these skill sets is something Concern works towards, as the autonomy self-employment provides for women is fundamental to a fairer society.
Concern has helped to implement the well-established Graduation programme to support economic development in poor areas. In Malawi, this has meant identifying women as a group that should be championed. The scheme helps individuals create new enterprises or develop existing ones through asset transfer, mitigating the costs involved in running a business. This is combined with access to microfinance, and in particular, savings programmes, to ensure the long-term success of entrepreneurships. Mentoring is also provided, as is the opportunity to learn market-specific skills. The process allows individuals to ‘graduate’ and implement lasting, positive change for themselves and their community.
Akunsitu, a Programmes Director with Concern, has seen the impact of the Graduation programme while working in Malawi. “It is not only the Graduation beneficiaries who get targeted activities. When we mentor a household, we have to make [sure] that the household has an enabling environment where they feel part of it of the community.” She says the transformation of women on the programme is “amazing”, sharing the stories of families who have gone from skipping meals for “2 to 3 days” to running profitable businesses alongside managing a household.
Artist Faith Atieno from the Kibera refugee camp in Kenya noticed her creativity at a young age - and decided to utilise it. “After school, there were no art classes in Kibera, so I had to acquire different skills.” She couldn’t forget her artistic roots, however, and started Art360 - an organisation that “uses art for change”.
It provides a space for youth and kids to be creative. I learn a lot from the participants, and they learn a lot from me. It’s very powerful.
She uses public space to create murals and uses the medium to communicate with the public - whether through abstract work or direct messaging about societal issues like Covid. Speaking about her business, Faith says that “it is for any woman, any girl, in any compromised community.”
Interested in the future of female entrepreneurship? It’s something that Concern is committed to focussing on, and we’ll be talking more about it in the future. Women living in poverty can often benefit from the holistic support of others in order to begin their own business. Entrepreneurship can often give women autonomy - and help communities as a whole, too. The holistic nature of Concern’s support means that through the Graduation Model - which focuses on the health, livelihood and training of women - we can inspire a new generation of budding entrepreneurs.
Join the Women of Concern community for the opportunity to hear from women at the forefront of creating change, on the frontlines and in some of the world’s poorest places.
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