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
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