The Network for Entrepreneurial Women (NEW) focused on what we, as Malawian entrepreneurial women, are doing to start and grow our business during Lilongwe’s first Startup Huddle at mHub.
Women, as diverse as they were, came to mHub seeking to learn and engage in matters relating to entrepreneurship. But before this can happen – and for NEW to help Lilongwe’s women succeed – we posed a question at the beginning of the Huddle: What are we doing?
Business, as defined by many and particularly according to global entrepreneur, Richard Branson, is things or matters that concern us. As women, there are many fields that concern us, matters we are interested in, and things we seek to grow. Women seek to do business. But it is also of no surprise that women struggle to clinch opportunities and create businesses of repute, but mostly, scalable enterprises particularly in comparison to their male counterparts.
Startup Huddle and NEW were introduced as initiatives that seek to enhance growth of women entrepreneurs. They were established with the intention to create an impartial forum for women who are seeking to discover solutions for societal challenges that concern them, and advice for harnessing business opportunities. It seeks to foster partnerships and relationships among Lilongwe women, so that women can help their peers become established entrepreneurs. Teachers in the NEW environment inevitably become learners and vice versa.
But before NEW and Startup Huddle can successfully achieve this, we needed to come back to the question of “What are we doing?”
A short round of introductions was then held where everyone introduced themselves and said what their business provided or what their ambitions were. The group proved itself to be diverse. From bank managers and fashion boutique owners, to childcare professionals and insurance brokers, and to designers and students – there were a variety of professions present. And to answer the question, for these women their jobs are what they were doing. Their businesses are what they were doing. Their growth is what concerned them.
After the, the stage was handed over to Mwiriha Kapondamgaga. She is the founder of a social enterprise that promotes locally made interior and garden décor. The plight of the artisans who design such commodities concerned Mwiriha as their products needed a high value market in order for them to be successful and profitable. She thus took the opportunity upon herself to help them sell their products and earn a profit as a social entrepreneur. This product range plays a profound role as it helps showcase Malawian culture and helps people reclaim who they are through Malawian tradition and décor. She also has ambitions to open a Malawian coffee house soon.
Mwiriha's advice for running a business can be viewed as sharp and realistic. Running a business, as she said, is not easy. It's no juggling business and if it is, you're certain to drop something attempting to juggle it. It requires attention and thought. One cannot work full time and own a business too, she said. Sacrifice must come in order to cultivate and shape what business you are trying to develop. If something concerns you, it requires your full energy and thought. Nobody is born an entrepreneur but entrepreneurs, like plants, are cultivated.
Before Mwiriha ended her session, we were asked as a group, what challenges do Malawian women face that hinder or block their success? Various challenges were mentioned such as lack of originality, envy or inability to help a fellow women, fear of failure, fear of loans, lack of support from Malawian society, lack of knowledge in marketing and most importantly, the psychology of gender stereotyping.
The psychology of gender stereotypes was perhaps the most profound challenge discussed, as this is an idea engendered in the homes of the women entrepreneurs. Women debated the limits that are imposed on them in their jokes, the roles society expects them to play and the doubts that arise regarding whether owning a business is a good decision.
Fannie Gondwe spoke on the development of agribusiness for women. Telling her story, Fannie helped other women understand the sacrifice and effort starting a business requires. Fannie worked for sixteen years in finance and administration. In 2014, she stopped working and took up business in farming. She borrowed a loan from the bank to start her company. She knows failure as initially her seed company failed to succeed, but this failure did not break her – rather it fuelled her passion.
Fannie then chose to diversify her farming, and now farms groundnuts, soya, sweet potatoes and other products. With planning, focus and participation in her business, she was able to grow her enterprise and she is able to show for her hard work and determination. Fannie advised that in order for women to succeed in the business world, they need to equip themselves with better financial skills. This was to be governed by being disciplined, keep a record book even if your financial ability is minimal, and know your country's legislation in regards to finances.
Rachel Sibande, founder of mHub, and the host, paid a warm thank you to the women who attended. Rachel advised that people need to write down what new things they learn and to use these events to showcase their aptitude. She further addressed that NEW will be hosting more Startup Huddles on topics such as registering a business, social entrepreneurship, financial management, public speaking, business plans, business clinics and mentorship – as these were the matters that arose during deliberations by the women entrepreneurs.
The evening ended off with great snacks and cake, along with a fun networking session.
The next event will happen next month at Sept. 2 at mHub.
By Tamara Mushani, writing intern at mHub and student at the University of Cape Town