African Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development’ is a book about entrepreneurship issues in Africa, written by a group of academics. A holistic academic approach, it is as practical as it is creative and probing; a refreshing departure from the traditional ‘ivory tower’ approach.
Chapter 11, written by Dr. Maria Nchimbi and M.M. Chijoriga dwells on the salient but often unspoken issue of women and entrepreneurship. They begin with the premise that women may have equal potential as men in wealth creation and development.
Africa’s women entrepreneurs are hardly a homogeneous group. Some own their own businesses independently of their families and have full control over the income generated. Others work with associates; their husbands or family members. Still others run businesses owned and controlled jointly with the husband or another party. Yet others have little or no say in terms of decision making and the use of income generated.
Women may also join groups whereby members share resources and contribute towards common expenses as each runs her own business. Another arrangement has members undertaking joint activities and taking turns in accomplishing roles and sharing proceeds. Alternatively, members manage their own businesses but take loans jointly and distribute them; or take turns servicing the loan.
In order to gain a proper perspective and effectively develop women’s entrepreneurship; one should address the key issue which is the role played by women, as well as the concept of gender. This will in turn shape women’s motivation for starting and running businesses, their choice of business activities and perception of entrepreneurial success. Experiences encountered by men in contrast to women vary from one society to another. In Africa, gender roles differ with women typically considered as homemakers with less decision-making powers; and limited or no access to resources. The situation is changing in some places, but more needs to be done.
One of the reasons that motivate women to engage in business is the pressure arising from the need to fulfill basic family requirements amid harsh economic conditions. Rising inflation and the recent economic recession have resulted in the loss of purchasing power among salary earners. Women, who carry the lion’s share of responsibility, feel this most. They therefore tend not to consider their livelihoods Kebongoas a business but as a means of making ends meet (necessity enterprises). Naturally this negatively affects the business’ growth prospects.
The choice of business activities in which women engage is influenced by their domestic roles; abilities (level of education, entrepreneurial aptitude and technical skills); limited start-up capital; limited access to working capital and limited capacity to absorb the consequences of failure. They are also more likely to choose activities that blend in with their domestic roles; work close to home and opt for livelihoods that fit in with their natural ability to socialize. These activities must also have an already tested and large market.
The predominance of women in sectors such as tailoring, beauty and hair treatment, catering and the hospitality industry in general can be attributed to these factors.
These factors denote the fact that the approach to developing women entrepreneurs must be multidimensional. As Albert Einstein said, the formulation of a problem is often more difficult than its solution.
We need more of the abovementioned actions to effectively increase women’s participation in business and spur an economic upsurge. One thing is certain; improved gender relations will result in improved business.
The author teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College. He is also a Director at Serian Ltd., a consulting firm that provides skills and business advisory services.