Will the please stand up?

There is a rare type of busi­ness­woman who, with­out much sup­port or con­nec­tions, cre­ates jobs and puts food on the ta­bles of many South Africans, writes Tess Su­la­man

CityPress - - Voices - Su­la­man is the CEO of email media pi­o­neer Rock­et­seed South Africa

Here we go again, August is upon us and as sure as the day is long, every rag­tag in town will be pub­lish­ing a fea­ture or re­view of South Africa’s women in lead­er­ship. This is usu­ally a col­lec­tion of women who have man­aged to climb the cor­po­rate lad­der and sit on the boards of the top 40 JSElisted com­pa­nies.

More of­ten than not, it is not new and un­fa­mil­iar faces that will ap­pear on these “fea­tures and sur­veys”. The usual sus­pects will be plas­tered on our TV screens and re­spected busi­ness pub­li­ca­tions, and in­ter­viewed end­lessly on var­i­ous ra­dio shows.

This is all good and well. Young women, just as men do, need good role mod­els that they can em­u­late. How­ever, just as so­ci­ety has been un­sat­is­fied with the spread and im­pact of the first and sec­ond waves of black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment (BEE), where the same male fig­ures ap­pear on dozens of boards of di­rec­tors, we should be equally un­happy with a creep­ing phe­nom­e­non where we seem to be fol­low­ing the same script with women.

There is some­thing want­ing about the eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion mod­els we have in­tro­duced. Most of them are based on the idea that some­one will buy a share of some­one else’s com­pany, they get a seat on the board of that com­pany, and, if they are lucky, they might even be ap­pointed the chair­per­son of the board. The com­pany in ques­tion will of course promptly tick its BEE score­card and get on with busi­ness as usual. Its job on trans­for­ma­tion is done.

While all this is hap­pen­ing and ev­ery­one is fall­ing over each other about which fe­male board mem­ber to woo to their com­pany, there has been a rare type of woman, do­ing things quite dif­fer­ently.

I re­fer here to the femi-preneurs. I de­cided to give them a spe­cial name be­cause they de­serve a spe­cial kind of award and recog­ni­tion. They swim against the tide, with lit­tle to no help from the es­tab­lish­ment and still make some­thing of sig­nif­i­cance. They did not get start-up cap­i­tal from mummy and daddy.

They do not know any­one at state-owned small and medi­um­sized en­ter­prise (SME) fund­ing in­sti­tu­tions. They don’t do it for the fame and they cer­tainly do not do it for the ego.

But they cre­ate jobs, em­ploy thou­sands of peo­ple and put food on the ta­bles of many fam­i­lies in South Africa. Re­search in the US in­di­cates that fe­male en­trepreneurs do not have it easy when can­vass­ing for fund­ing with ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. They get grilled twice as hard even though their ideas may be more bank­able than their male coun­ter­parts’.

Imag­ine what life must be like for femi-preneurs in so­ci­eties such as ours where pa­tri­archy is a ma­jor league sport? Yet femi-preneurs keep ris­ing! They are fe­male founders, own­ers and man­agers of SMEs.

These in my view are the true he­roes that our so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing our media, should be cel­e­brat­ing. They make bet­ter role mod­els be­cause they say to our young women, for­get the blesser, you can do it on your own and you will be bet­ter off in the long run.

While we are en­grossed with the #Gup­taLeaks orgy, I hope that we will take some time to re­flect on the con­tri­bu­tion to our so­ci­ety by these he­roes who may or may not have an MBA from a pres­ti­gious Ivy League col­lege, but their im­pact speaks vol­umes about their de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­ge­nu­ity.

WON­DER WOMEN Femi-preneurs are the true he­roes

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