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.
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.