By Jason Mellow, Head of MiWay Business Insurance
Despite the fact that women have arguably borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, it’s their ability to roll with the punches that we should be applauding.
It’s easy to see the past 18 months in terms of the challenges they have created, especially for women, but in this Women’s Month, we should rather be focusing on how women have responded to the challenges, putting themselves out into the marketplace as entrepreneurs in order to support their families and achieve their own ambitions, but also in the field of social entrepreneurship, seeking to make their communities stronger.
Research shows that female entrepreneurship globally has strengthened in response to the pandemic. Since 2018, female entrepreneurship has increased by 11%, while 59% of female entrepreneurs say they have become more confident in their business dealings since the pandemic began. The same trend is apparent when it comes to professionals, 63% of whom report a greater professional boldness in the past 18 months.
Perhaps one reason for these positive trends is the fact that women tend to be more represented in lower paid, frontline jobs in sectors such as healthcare and hospitality. These jobs are often seen as more expendable, and are frequently not suited for the work-from-home model dictated by the pandemic. One can only speculate, but it seems as though necessity really is the mother of invention, and that even if they are dealt a bad hand, women find a way to forge ahead.
One example of female entrepreneurship that sticks with me is the account by GG Alcock, the author of Kasinomics, in a talk. He tells the story of the woman who set up a stall selling meals outside a factory with a subsidised canteen – and yet, because her food was so good, she attracted many customers. Businesses of this sort are innately fragile but they are also easy to adapt, and can generate a substantial income if they are properly run.
It’s this kind of practical, never-say-die attitude that seems to typify women’s resilience in the face of adversity. Thus, while the macroeconomic picture for women does not look good, with female employment particularly hard hit by the virus’s impact on business, that’s not the whole story because it does not take into account the enormous resilience that women have shown over the centuries. Women’s economic activity is often community-based, an organic product of the circumstances in which they are trying to raise their families.
Just like the woman with the food stall I referenced above.
Another cause for celebration is women’s willingness to invest in their communities, to look at profit in a more constructive way than just the bottom line. An example of such a female social entrepreneur is Vicky Chili, whose brainchild, eKasi Bioscope, shows movies with an African theme followed by a discussion. The project began at King Shaka High School in Umlazi, and was a response to the large number of social issues presented by learners, among them low self-esteem and abuse.
“The idea was to show films that highlight social issues and afterwards have conversations about our feelings and possible solutions,” she says. “The platform I created is not only for watching movies but also to offer guidance and support to young people in my community. The stigma surrounding social issues is a pandemic on its own, and at times we need support to really facilitate these conversations. I am passionate about community work and I believe that success comes from bringing others along.”
Owing to the pandemic, indoor showings had to be put on hold. The solution has been to move to outdoor, drive-in style screenings. However, the equipment for this is very expensive, and eKasi Bioscope relies on funding to continue with the drive-in format.
Another small-scale, community-based and highly practical intervention is The Seed Fund, conceived by Arianne Hayes-Hills, a pastor in Durban North. Her church’s long-standing involvement in the poor community of Malacca Road Informal Settlement led her to create an integrated approach that would help the whole community break out of poverty.
“The people of Malacca were born into poverty but this is not their destiny,” she is quoted as saying. The Seed Fund aims to go beyond handouts to provide help that would change lives. The conclusion was that a focus on children was the best way, so a homework centre and Early Childhood Centre were conceived. Two community members were identified to run the centre, and given the necessary training. Alongside this project, an empowerment project for the local women was put in place, which provides training in sewing and crocheting. [i]
These types of projects go beyond making profits and create a huge multiplier effect because women tend to invest in education for their children and, as we have seen, in their communities. Such projects that might not show up in the economic “numbers” but they play a long-term role in building a community’s ability to adapt to challenging circumstances and ultimately to prosper.
That’s the true meaning of resilience, and it is women who are leading the way in creating it.