Statistics indicate women-owned micro enterprises in South Africa currently experience higher barriers to success relative to those owned by men. This trend is unsurprising given the country’s predominantly patriarchal culture and history of exclusion of women in the work place. Thankfully, more effort is being directed towards correcting this injustice by both the government and civil society. Among key interventions is the growing number of business incubation hubs.
These hubs differentiate themselves by levels of support, entry requirements and industry focus. At their core, they aim to help early stage businesses thrive amid the incessant challenges new business face.
One recent entrant is the newly founded 1Accord, located in the East of Johannesburg, an industrial perimeter that has been hollowed out by the closure of manufacturing plants in the country. Founded by Mduduzi Dladla, an upwardly mobile businessman, the hub prioritises women enterprise support through a special program called the ‘Women Entrepreneurship Accelerated Program (WEAP)’. WEAP is aimed exclusively at women entrepreneurs at various stages of their business journey.
Though he had all the traits of a street-savvy black youth, Mduduzi Dladla or Mdu, 26, as he is affectionately known, carries himself with a level of seriousness that’s rare among his peers. He sees himself as the new face of South African business: ambitious and well educated with a developmental approach to business. With his passion and drive, he’s on the way to being a business leader in South Africa.
An accountant by profession, his first taste of entrepreneurship came while working full-time. For two years, he juggled his job and the start-up. When he did decide to go entrepreneurial route full-time, it was not without challenges, ranging from lack of finance to competitors. It was with this in mind that he developed 1Accord Innovation hub to provide business support, skills transfer, and linkages between small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and corporations.
Mduduzi decided to dedicate a full program to women because, 21 years into South Africa’s democracy, the odds are still stacked against female entrepreneurs, especially in the mainstream sectors of the economy. “Women entrepreneurs have dominated the ‘softer’ sectors like catering, events managements, the beauty industry and the informal economy in this country,” he said. “Due to this fact, there is a growing need for structured programmes to get more women into previously male-dominated industries.” In his opinion, such a programme must provide support encompassing access to finance, markets, supply chains of large buyers of established businesses and the government, and assistance with developing business systems. “For women to learn and grow – especially those at the early stages of business – they need to learn from established women-led enterprises,” Mduduzi said. “This is key because women have a better appreciation of the subtle and not so subtle challenges women face in trying to establish their businesses.”
WEAP provides support in the following areas:
- General information and business educational programs
- Financial assistance through access to finance granting institutions
- Mentoring and coaching programmes, and
- Support for networking structures.
The program has been especially designed to help women entrepreneurs take charge of their journey and empower themselves. Participants are provided with expertise to enable them achieve both business and personal success. They are exposed to tools that will help become effective communicators and networkers. They also have the opportunity to upgrade their by learning finance and sales as it applies to small business.
Participants also have access to a network of successful women entrepreneurs. This network provides support, guidance and links to the mainstream of the economy. Women in the program take part in business, strategic and financial workshops that accelerate their preparedness to run successful businesses. The ultimate goal is to ensure that participants leave the programme as confident, competent and motivated business women.
The emphasis on ‘self-awareness as the basis for sustainable business success’ sets WEAP apart from other support initiatives. The intention is to empower women to overcome their internal inhibitions and rise to the challenge of entrepreneurship without mimicking their male counterparts, or losing what makes them successful in the many other complex roles they fulfil in society.
Launching WEAP during the African Union’s Year of the Woman was vital. With the right support and access to opportunities, women have demonstrated their resolve and ability to run successful enterprises that add value to their communities and shareholders. And in the entrepreneurship landscape for women, 1Accord is a welcome addition.