09 August 2023

As we celebrate the role of women in society this Women’s Month, Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation focuses on inspirational women in its small business incubation partner entity, Black Umbrellas.

Earlier this year, Zandile Gqoboza, the Foundation’s Research and Stakeholder Relations Officer, researched the Black Umbrellas programme and interviewed its women beneficiaries for a report on women entrepreneurs and the impact of the programme., She looked at the impact figures through a gendered lens and profiled three successful entrepreneurs that are part of the programme.

Gqoboza found women entrepreneurs in South Africa demonstrate incredible resilience and determination as they strive to create a better future for themselves, their families and communities.

Research from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM 2007) reveals that women in developing economies, including South Africa, are more likely to start their own businesses compared to high-income countries. Furthermore, the 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) ranks South Africa 37th globally in terms of the percentage of women entrepreneurs, highlighting the country’s promising entrepreneurial landscape. However, most women entrepreneurs in developing economies are “locked into” the informal sector, running survivalist micro-businesses.

The GEM research also showed that the returns on investment in women are much higher than for men. Women are more likely to share their gains in education, health and resources with members of their families and their communities at large. The 2019 GEM report found that 30.2% of women entrepreneurs surveyed expected to hire six or more employees in the next five years compared to just 18.7% for male entrepreneurs.

However, women entrepreneurs still encounter significant structural barriers that hinder their growth and potential despite the role they may play in the economy. These obstacles include limited access to education, training, and finance, as well as gender discrimination and negative attitudes towards women in entrepreneurship.

The COVID-19 pandemic too presented unprecedented challenges to businesses worldwide, and women-led enterprises were not spared. Women entrepreneurs, especially those in sectors hit hardest by lockdowns and restrictions, faced disproportionate impacts. Many struggled to access public support, exacerbating existing gender gaps in entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, women entrepreneurs demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability to sustain their businesses. South Africa is recorded as one of only 12 economies where women’s entrepreneurial activity rates increased during the pandemic. This achievement can be attributed to female entrepreneur’s strong will and determination to survive and the South African government’s and private sector’s initiatives to support small businesses during the pandemic.

The research showed that a sizeable portion of Black Umbrellas’ beneficiaries are women entrepreneurs. Of the 528 beneficiaries, 209 are women, which is almost 40%. Of these, 25% are in the services and activities sector. Sixty seven percent have a high school certificate as their highest qualification, while 52% had a bachelor’s degree and 16% a post-graduate qualification.

Black Umbrellas has been an important catalyst for women entrepreneurs in South Africa. The knowledge and support provided have been instrumental in empowering women to overcome challenges and to thrive. It offers valuable training, mentoring support, and business coaching.

Sarina Malatji is a qualified analytical chemist who ventured into entrepreneurship by establishing MS Quality Cleaning Services. Facing challenges securing capital for a guesthouse, she embraced the opportunity presented by the demand for cleaning services for mining and power projects in Lephalale. In 2011, she co-founded GMSQ Holdings and MA Holdings, expanding into service activities, construction, agriculture and hospitality.

Joining the Black Umbrellas programme in 2018 and graduating in 2022, she received crucial external analysis and monthly management accounts, enhancing financial management. COVID-19 severely impacted her hospitality business, leading to extended closures and revenue losses. This prompted her to reevaluate her business strategy, outsourcing non-core operations, and fostering inclusivity. At Black Umbrellas’ 2021 National Enterprise Development Awards (NEDAs), Malatji earned recognition for creating permanent jobs during the pandemic.

As a women entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, Malatji has faced challenges, including biased treatment. For instance, when she attempted to negotiate a quotation on a product and could not reach an agreement, her male partner was able to.

Abigail Serakoana, a qualified medical technologist, founded Greendot Energy in 2011. Based in Pretoria, the wholesale petroleum company procures and trades in petrol, diesel and lubricants.

Inspired by the success of other Black Umbrellas businesses, Serakoana joined the programme in January 2020 and graduated in September 2022. Black Umbrella’s one-on-one mentorship bolstered her confidence and networking abilities.

As a women entrepreneur, Serakoana faces the challenge of balancing professional responsibilities with her role as a wife and mother. Additionally, operating in a male-dominated industry exposes her to gender-related challenges. Despite this, her long-term goal is to establish an energy retail store or petrol station. Serakoana’s vision is to diversify into various segments of the energy value chain, including natural gas, cylinder gas and hydroelectricity.

In recognition of its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greendot Energy won the best COVID-19 Bounce Back category at the NEDAs in 2021.

Landela Mashalaba, a quantity surveyor, co-founded The Mashss, a skincare business that incorporates a traditional South African herb called imphepho (Helichrysum petiolare) as a core ingredient. The herb, known for its medicinal properties and cultural significance, is used in body scrubs, lotion, shower gel, lip balm and hand sanitiser.

The Mashss started off as an online mobile food restaurant that served gourmet Xhosa food, such as pork belly and amagwinya. However, the business was not generating enough revenue to sustain the newly married couple. Mashalaba and her husband then decided to find employment, and the food establishment was officially halted. However, in 2020 Mashalaba and her partner decided to expand their business idea and venture into the skin care industry.

One of the major challenges faced by Mashalaba and her partner was the financial aspect of starting a business from scratch. Using personal income to finance the business has limited their turnaround and impact. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in obtaining a laboratory, hindering their progress.

Joining Black Umbrellas in 2020, The Mashss is currently in the Business Readiness programme stage, gaining valuable insights and knowledge, enhancing its competitiveness in the market. Mashalaba believes the knowledge and networks acquired will propel her business to greater heights. The Mashss aims to support the community, provide employment, and expand nationwide.

Mashalaba believes it is imperative to ‘’believe in your concept’’.

The stories of Sarina Malatji, Abigail Serakoana and Landela Mashalaba exemplify the resilience of women entrepreneurs in the face of adversities and inspires the contribution of women entrepreneurs to South Africa’s economic growth and prosperity and an inclusive and thriving South Africa.