Written by Claire Thomas (IMHER student research assistant)
Edited by Dhwani Kharel (IMHER student research assistant)

Summary: The Southern Africa Innovation Support Group (SAIS) recently published a study titled “Breaking Barriers,” which examines the current state of technology and entrepreneurship in several South and East African countries. Although this study, to some extent, focuses on tech-companies in that region, it also has broader application to other types of entrepreneurs and other places around the world. 

Link: The 2019 Breaking Barriers report can be found here.   

Relevance to MH entrepreneurs:  Although the report highlights technological entrepreneurship, it is relevant to many different types of entrepreneurs, including those doing for-profit menstrual hygiene work and potentially some NGOs (especially those involved in facilitating social enterprise work).  Indeed, one of the entrepreneurs they profile is an MH entrepreneur: Hyasintha Ntuyeko, who produces Glory Pads and works on menstrual education issues in Tanzania.

What is SAIS? The Southern Africa Innovation Support Group (SAIS) is a regional initiative that supports the growth of new businesses by fostering innovation and promoting collaboration between states within the Southern African Development Community.

Region: This study focuses on Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. That said, many of the findings are likely to be relevant to female entrepreneurs in other regions within and beyond Africa.

Networking Resources

A number of networking resources are listed in the report, many of which are business hubs aimed at female entrepreneurs.  Such centers can offer not only a work space for those who are members, but also networking opportunities, educational programs, and social support for the challenges faced in sustaining a business.

  • Malawi: The Network for Women Entrepreneurs facilitated by mHub
  • Botswana: NestHubs 
  • Namibia: Good Women Good Business (GWGB) Startup Fund
  • South Africa:  88 Business Collective
  • Tanzania: Tanzania Women’s Chamber of Commerce (TWCC)
  • Zambia: WECREATE 
  • Zimbabwe: Girls 2.0 
Advice from Female Entrepreneurs

The report identifies a recent increase in professional networks, mentorship opportunities, and specific funding for women in the SADC region. At the same time, the authors acknowledge many difficulties that female entrepreneurs face in their respective organizations. To minimize some of these challenges, the report provides suggestions such as:

  1. Facilitate discussions in your workplace about flexibility.  Both managers and employees should discuss ways to provide women with childcare support. When childcare support isn’t provided, mothers are dissuaded from joining the workforce.
  2. Balance online engagement with offline engagement.  Established entrepreneurs have spoken about the positive impact technological platforms have had on their ability to grow their businesses and gain valuable consultation. Networking online and searching for training session online have provided an increasing array of valuable learning opportunities. Even so, entrepreneurs also emphasize the importance of attending seminars and conferences when possible due to the value of face-to-face connections.
  3. Foster peer support across entrepreneurs.  Networking with people engaged in different types of businesses can be extremely beneficial, so find ways to listen to, and learn from, entrepreneurs across sectors.  Provide advice and reciprocal support if you can.
  4. Find ways to support other entrepreneurs in your community.  As part of this, consider advocating for entrepreneurial-friendly policies and try to buy local products when possible. 
Progress for Female Entrepreneurs Helps Create Progress for Girls and Women
  • Female entrepreneurs sense greater barriers to their progress. According to the SAIS survey results, about two-thirds of female respondents felt that women face disproportionally more challenges than do men in the technology and entrepreneurial fields. 
  • Most female entrepreneurs focus on improving social problems. At the same time, SAIS reports that three-quarters of female entrepreneurs in the region are working to address social challenges (comparable numbers are not available for men; however, it seems unlikely to be nearly that high.)

With greater challenges facing women in business in most of the world, opportunities to share solidary, support, and knowledge with other female entrepreneurs can help individual entrepreneurs be more effective. 

Moreover, as each individual entrepreneur becomes more effective, larger and stronger networks of successful female entrepreneurs can be formed over time. That allows yet more social good to be produced for society overall – and for girls and women in particular – with an increasing number of powerful female mentors available to help lead the way forward.

Helping to reduce some of the challenges faced by female leaders and social-good innovators is a big part of what motivated the creation of IMHER as an information resource within the MHM space.  As such, we applaud SAIS for investing in better understanding gender differences for entrepreneurship experiences within under-studied cultural contexts.