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Women-owned SMMEs push for change

FOR South Africa’s women entrepreneurs, the quest for empowerment is not restricted to one day or month each year – it’s ongoing.

Women make up less than 20% of business owners in South Africa; and 59% of women-owned businesses operate in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants and retail.

These statistics come from the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, which analyses how women in business are progressing across 58 global economies. The index also shows that female small business owners in South Africa are increasingly staking their claim: they are as well educated as their male counterparts and have almost the same access to financial services. Cultural perceptions of women entrepreneurs are improving fast.

But with gender inequalities and other challenges – not least the COVID-19 pandemic – persisting, more than lip service is needed to ensure women reach their potential in helping to drive the country’s economy

Never stop asking tough questions’

Things are slowly changing, but the wine industry is still male-dominated, says Koni Maliehe, owner and founder of Western Cape-based Koni Wines.

Being faced with both gender and race barriers tends to push women entrepreneurs to embrace creativity to drive business success. “We need to be assertive. We can still be compassionate while driving hard results.”

Maliehe, who had already been selling her wines online before the pandemic, switched her focus and increased her social media presence when COVID-19 and the resultant levels of lockdown hit the wine industry hard.

“What I’ve learnt over the past 17 months of the pandemic is to focus on what I can control, and give it my best attention while continually finding winning ways to improve the business.”

She has learnt to be resilient in the face of adversity – two years before the virus changed everything, she found herself in a “dark place” when funding was not forthcoming and she needed her inner strength and some luck to pull through. That difficult time also showed her that interpersonal and networking skills are vital to run a successful business.

“Results inspire and motivate me. Each milestone, each step towards reaching the goal is fulfilling.”

She believes mentorship for young women wanting to enter business is vital. “As I grow in business, transferring my knowledge to the upcoming generation of younger women is crucial. I will continue to volunteer my time and collaborate with other women – together, we can do more and reach more women.”

Her tips for young women entrepreneurs? Be open to learning, be able to embrace failure and “never stop asking tough questions”.

* The small business featured here is supported by insurer Hollard’s Big Ads for Small Business initiative that aims to help small, medium and micro-enterprises thrive, to their own benefit and that of their communities and the broader economy.

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