SA-India sisters call for more government support

Despite South Africa creating opportunities for women to start businesses, the country is low on an index of women entrepreneurs.

This emerged at the India-South African Business Summit in Sandton this week on developing business opportunities between the two countries. Women were asked whether enough was being done to support female entrepreneurs.

“It’s not easy being a female entrepreneur and I think government can do a whole lot more to support us,” Hilda Sibanyoni said at the summit. “For instance, I have recently gone into farming but I do not have information and skills to support my business.”

Busi Mabuza, the chairperson of South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), said there was an opportunity for women to launch more startups but access to information was a barrier. “This summit is most opportune as it tells women how much space is out there.

“The IDC has committed between R3.7-billion and R4.6-billion for women-owned enterprises over the next three years but I find that people do not know anything about it and we need to do more to change that.”


Data shows that women own fewer companies than men, despite commitments made by the Indian and South African governments to align policy and funding to create more female entrepreneurs.

South Africa ranked 44th and India 49th out of 54 countries surveyed in the 2017 Mastercard index of women entrepreneurs. The index tracks the progress of women entrepreneurs through indicators such as being able to borrow or save to fund their businesses.

New Zealand tops this survey, where business ownership by women is among the highest in the world.

The Dell women entrepreneur cities index measures a city’s ability to attract and support high-potential women entrepreneurs. Johannesburg and Delhi, ranked at 28 and 49 respectively, were the only cities from South Africa and India that were named as being open to women doing business.

The top 10 cities in the Dell study were New York, the Bay Area in California, London, Boston, Stockholm, Los Angeles, Singapore, Toronto, Seattle and Washington, DC. They are all known as emerging hubs of innovation and geographical diversity.

Latha Reddy, a former ambassador for India who herself is an entrepreneur, said women made up only 6.7% of the total number of businesses, despite India being perceived as an entrepreneurial country.

“Ninety-nine percent of entrepreneurs in venture capital are men. It could be that women think to start small and are very risk-averse,” she said.

Aditi Balbir, chief executive of V-resorts, an India-based holiday company, said fewer than 10 women in India were funded by venture capital last year. “If you look at their background, they are more or less in the venture capital industry or their husbands are in the venture capital space.”

In South Africa women are required to present collateral. “How could women be expected to have collateral … given where we come from, where historically as a black person you were not formally allowed to own land?” said Seapei Mafoyane, the chief executive of nonprofit enterprise development incubator Shanduka Black Umbrellas.

Mafoyane said counselling was sometimes needed for men who felt outperformed by their spouses.

Lucia Hlongwane of EY said women needed to be self-confident and have confidence in their ideas. “I say, before you come with a business idea, you need to come as a whole person and the right attitude and say I want this opportunity.”

She added that women often lacked good presentation skills, which put them at a disadvantage.

Melanie Hawken, the chief executive of Lionesses of Africa, a blog that celebrates women startup successes, said: “We need to see how we can move the needle forward [to] getting more women in Africa and India from survivalist entrepreneurship to opportunity entrepreneurs.”

Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust financial reporter at the M&G

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Thulebona Mhlanga
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