Giving Tanzania women entrepreneurs their place in the sun

Women entrepreneurs play a pivotal role in the private sector comprising microsmall and medium enterprises in TanzaniaWomen owned enterprises increased from 35%in early 1990s to 54.3% in 2012, according to estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The ILO Women Entrepreneurs Survey 2014 revealed that 85% of women interviewed in Tanzania financed their start-ups from their own savings, mainly due to high interest rates and collateral requirements. It also indicated that access to business development services (BDS) is crucial for women entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to start, effectively manage and grow their business.

Apart from limited access to finance and business development services, women also face challenges unique to their gender, which may influence the decisions they make when starting or growing their business. Research shows that women owned enterprises do not grow at the same rate compared to businesses owned by men; most of them remain small. In Tanzania, of the 1.716 million women-owned enterprises estimated in existence by the ILO, over 99% are micro enterprises with fewer than five employees and almost three-quarters have only one employee.

We turned to three successful women entrepreneurs in Dar-es-Salaam whose businesses have grown with GroFin’s finance and support, to share their insights on what it takes for women to start and grow their enterprises in Tanzania.

First up, Ms. Johari Amour Sadik is the founder, head designer and owner director of BintiAfrica, which specialises in the production of clothing and accessories made from African textiles, with sales outlets at ADA Estate Kinondoni and at Mbezi.

Next is Ms. Edditrice Temba, who runs Mambo Jambo Tours and Travels located at C & G Plaza, Mikocheni B along Mwai Kibaki Road.

Rounding up the powerhouse trio is Ms. Anna Habib Mponezya, who powers Bahari Bakery, a multi-presence café and bakery with its flagship outlet at Kunduchi Beach, Kichangani.

Excerpts from a joint interview:

1. Research shows that most women-led businesses stay small. In your view, what holds back women entrepreneurs from growing their businesses?

Johari:  In my experience, cultural background, social and political territory provide the primary grounds for challenges that hinder women entrepreneurs from growing their businesses.

In our society, girls and boys are perceived and treated differently, and as they assume their place as adults, men are necessarily regarded as superior to women.

While I consider this thinking primitive, it exerts a major influence on our society and is responsible for the social prejudice directed against women. In short, it has been ingrained in our minds that women are better suited for work within the home and men are better at risk-taking.

Against this social backdrop, it is very challenging for women entrepreneurs to: –

  • Be strong enough to defy social expectations
  • Find mentors, preferably other women entrepreneurs, who can support and guide them in the start-up stage
  • Have access to sufficient or appropriate funding
  • Create or establish a proper networking system
  • Earn respect in this male-dominated industry
  • Balance work and family life
  • Overcome a constantly lurking fear of failure

Edditrice: To my mind, the main reasons women entrepreneurs stay small are as follows:

  • Very limited access to finance
  • Lack of adequate initial seed capital to start on a strong footing.
  • Lack of acceptable collateral as required by banks
  • Social stereotypes which tend to view women as weak business leaders
  • Lack of business networking – most women business owners face a challenge in building meaningful business / social networks which could easily translate into better business prospects for them.
  • Lack of entrepreneurial skills – most women start a business based on a passion that they have but once the business is up and running, they tend to fall back into the mundane routine of managing the business. In the process, they forget to upgrade their entrepreneurial skills through continuous education and knowledge within their specific industries.

Anna: As a primary challenge faced by women entrepreneurs in the path of growing their business, many of them do not have access to credit to support their business, largely due to cultural norms. For instance, to obtain credit, one must produce collateral, while many such collaterals are in the names of their husbands, or partners.

Another impediment is male chauvinism, due to which businesses owned by women are considered second-class.

2. Can you tell us about any gender specific challenges you faced in starting your business?

Johari: I started this business when I was only 23 years old. Fashion has always been my passion since childhood, therefore I never saw myself doing anything else apart from what I am doing now.

I have been employed twice but the idea of putting my talent and creative thinking on hold just to make a living in a corporate world was so unsatisfying that I decided to walk away and never look back. Thus, I took a huge leap of faith.

On this journey, some of the toughest challenges I faced as a woman entrepreneur were;

  • Lack of experienced mentors: I never had an experienced mentor to guide me and give me perspective. My family and friends were my support system and my mother was my closest mentor. Since none of them were experienced entrepreneurs, everything amounted to learning by doing which was very challenging indeed.
  • Access to funding: Who in his/her right mind will be willing to fund a 20-something female entrepreneur with no business background or experience in the world of fashion and only passion for her line of work? Besides having no capital or assets to put as collateral, no recommendations or influential people to vouch for her work?
  • Avoiding culture vultures: Some even wanted to take advantage of my age and feminism on the pretext of supporting me.
  • Establishing a proper network: I had to constantly prove my worth by working twice as hard as everyone else, rising beyond expectations, being very determined and never losing sight of who I am, where I came from and where I wanted to be.
  • Balancing work and family: While constantly working, it is hard to always be available for your family and friends. However, it certainly helps to have a supportive and understanding family that always has your back and a few close friends who share the same goals as you.
  • Constantly fighting the fear of failure

Edditrice: As a woman entrepreneur, I faced these specific challenges:

  • We lacked adequate seed capital to start on a strong footing. We had to grow gradually from ground up with initial capital and grow slowly but steadily by reinvesting profits back into the business.
  • Being a married woman, it was a challenge to meet men for business meetings, at least at the very start of my innings in the business world. So, it is fair to say that I too experienced some social stereotypes first hand.
  • Suffering from a do-it-alone mentality of trying to multi-task and do everything on my own.
  • Facing staff management issues in terms of retaining staff in the initial stages of the business, because, well, you are a woman and they tend to take you less seriously.
  • Lack of confidence, a predicament I believe many women would relate to.
  • Understanding the market and creating a niche for myself based on my business strengths, by overcoming perception issues against women business owners and getting stakeholders to focus on my business instead.

Anna: Dealing with regulatory bodies in Tanzania is hard if you are a woman. You are considered an outsider, making it comparatively hard to get permits.

3. What were the steps you took to overcome these challenges?

Johari: To get past these challenges:

  • I accepted the fact that this journey will be more than tough and no one would ever have compassion on me because I chose this path for myself. Moreover, society expected me to fail as a young, inexperienced woman, thus failure was not an option.
  • I surrounded myself with well-minded and focused people who constantly motivated me, advised me, pointed out my mistakes and grounded me.
  • I constantly set goals for myself, learnt from my mistakes, sought and listened to advice, listened to criticism and learnt from my peers.
  • I got involved in events and workshops, learnt the practices of the fashion industry and how it is evolving worldwide, thus continuously educating myself on latest trends and developments.
  • I created a proper networking base.
  • I constantly tried to perform beyond expectations with hard work and perseverance.
  • I stayed truthful to who I am, what I want and what my goals are.
  • I learnt to be aggressive and competitive.

Edditrice: I followed these steps to overcome my challenges:

  • Underwent training in business skills and people management skills.
  • Started attending more business networking events and exhibitions.
  • Involved my husband more in the business, rather than relegating him to the role of a silent partner.
  • Gained more confidence as a business owner as I realised that some of the earlier challenges were caused in fact by a general lack of confidence in myself.
  • Increased personal and business networks within and outside the industry.
  • As I gained more experience in the business, I also developed a better understanding of the market and the needs of my customers.

Anna: Persistence and perseverance were my arsenal in successfully overcoming my challenges.

4. Who has supported you on the difficult path of entrepreneurship?

Johari: I would not have been able to walk this path were it not for:

  • First and foremost, my family, which has constantly had by back by believing in me.
  • My closest friends – those who shared the same mindset and goals as me.
  • My team, which has played a significant role in every success the business has had and continues to have.

Edditrice: The following have been pillars of my support system:

  • GroFin, whose finance and support is a big boost. I can now clearly see my vision and dream of Mambo Jambo Tours and Travel becoming a respectable mid-sized corporate entity come to fruition.
  • My husband and partner, who complements my efforts and endeavours.
  • A few mentors within the tourism industry, whose insights and business advice have come to my rescue at the time I most needed them. I have also benefited in terms of having developed some very useful business relationships along the way.

Anna: I must appreciate the support of my husband, Habib Mponezya, in overcoming the hurdles that I faced on the challenging path of entrepreneurship. He supported me not only morally, but also financially where he could. My friends also motivated me with their ideas and suggestions.

5. What is the advice you would offer to other women entrepreneurs?

Johari: My advice to other women entrepreneurs is to never be afraid of failure. Massive failure leads to massive success. At the very least, you can never succeed in business without failing at some point. Take risks, be open to learning lessons and take criticism well. Work with others, educate yourself through books, social media or any other tool, but mostly, open yourself up to learn from your peers.  Believe in yourself, because what a man can do, a woman can do just as well.

Edditrice: I would like to offer the following tips to other women entrepreneurs:

  • You can achieve anything you set your mind to. Challenges eventually make you stronger and wiser as you overcome them and navigate your way to becoming an entrepreneur who commands respect.
  • Maintain your strong values and uphold quality standards. Remember, as a business owner, you are the brand ambassador of the company.
  • Build on relationships and business connections. No one succeeds alone. Relationships are a great means to win and retain customers for your business too. After all, business research shows that people like doing business with their friends.

Anna: Trust yourself. You can achieve anything so long as you persevere and take steps in the right direction. Also, once you have secured capital through credit, do not divert it to non-business expenditures.

So, can other Joharis, Edditrices and Annas expect to find their place in the sun anytime soon?

The future looks exciting indeed for women entrepreneurs in the region. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2016/17 Women’s Report finds that Sub-Saharan Africa leads the way in female entrepreneurship globally, with nearly 26% of the female adult population engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in the region. Even more heartening is that almost 62% African women entrepreneurs said they started a business because they are taking advantage of opportunity, rather than out of necessity.

However, Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest discontinuance rate – at 8.4%. As many as 56% of women entrepreneurs in the region cite either unprofitability or lack of finance as a reason for closing their business. At GroFin, we provide women entrepreneurs with pre-finance business support to make their businesses investment-ready, as well as widen access to finance for those eligible to receive our funding and post-finance business support.

With investments in 113 businesses owned by women and a third of the jobs sustained by our investees held by women, GroFin holds women empowerment central to its investment philosophy. If you are a woman entrepreneur looking for a combination of finance and support to take your business to the next level, we invite you to check if you qualify by filling our pre-assessment questionnaire here.