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Motivational Factors Affecting Informal Women Entrepreneurs

Associate Professor within the Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Academic Area at Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL), Professor Sanchen Henning in partnership with MBL student, Kariba Akoob, discuss the motivational factors that affect women entrepreneurs in rural areas of the North-West Province.





The emergence of a growing community of women entrepreneurs has been a significant economic and social development across the globe.  In South Africa, government has prioritised entrepreneurship and the advancement of small, medium and micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) as the catalyst to achieving economic growth and development.

According to a report by SEDA 80% of women entrepreneurs are involved in the informal sector compared to 65 per cent of their male counterparts.  Although this represents a significant percentage, there is limited literature available on female entrepreneurs in the informal sector in South Africa.

In rural settings, where there is a strongly pronounced patriarchal African society, a woman is not expected to make economic decisions such as starting a business and requesting resources and goods to make it work but to rather tend to home responsibilities.  Within this social structure, the achievement, motivation and self-assurance of female entrepreneurs can be negatively affected.

To understand the motivational factors that drive women entrepreneurs in rural settings, a study was conducted in 2017 aimed at women entrepreneurs in the Mahikeng area in the North-West province.  The study sought to understand what drives these women in starting up informal enterprises, the barriers they experience and their developmental business needs.

The North-West Province where Mahikeng is situated, recorded the largest annual decrease in the official unemployment rate amongst the nine provinces in South Africa, from 26.8% to 25.2% according to a Stats SA report. Despite this fact, the province has a labour force participation rate of 2.3%.  The majority of households are headed by women as men are mostly migrant labourers on mines. They live with fewer resources, fewer rights and fewer opportunities because of factors such as domestic violence, the lack of education and gender discrimination.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

Research has indicated that there is a significant intersection between being a woman, working in the informal sector and being poor.  A higher percentage of people in the informal sector relative to the formal sector are poor. Informal economic activities are unrecorded but are estimated at a value of 28% of South Africa’s total gross domestic product (GDP). That is R160 billion, which makes its value 2.5 times as large as the contribution of the entire agricultural sector, or 70% of the contribution of the mining sector to GDP.

The study on Mahikeng’s informal women entrepreneurs discovered that there were three key underlying motivational factors that drove them to becoming entrepreneurs.  These were destitute conditions, an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for their products.

Destitute conditions

A key driver cited by 83% of respondents for starting an informal business was to move away from ‘destitute conditions’.  Destitute conditions are associated with factors such as having an insufficient family income and the difficulties in finding a job.  These factors can be defined as ‘push’ factors and extrinsically motivated as women aspire to escape and move away from their unfortunate circumstances such as poverty and dependence on their male partners.

An entrepreneurial spirit

However, the need to transcend impoverished conditions and the need for self-determination were almost equally strong amongst the participants.

Self-determination can be linked to the entrepreneurial spirit which is described in terms of self-fulfilment, the need for independence and the need for a challenge.  These are ‘pull’ factors as women aspire towards certain ambitions, which are intrinsically motivated.  As high as 78% of the Mahikeng women entrepreneur respondents shared a passion for business and a high entrepreneurial flair.

The research pointed strongly to the fact that an entrepreneurial spirit mixed with the right amount of skills training could enhance the performance of informal female entrepreneurs. If fully developed, it could lead these women entrepreneurs to move out of survival mode into profit maximisation.

Passion for product

Mahikeng’s women entrepreneurs displayed a keen sense of confidence in their product, or the eagerness to develop a sideline interest into a profit-making venture.  This factor is also perceived as a ‘pull’ factor which is intrinsically motivated, and 43% of respondents listed this factor as the third most important reason for starting a business.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

Barriers to success

Women within the informal sector are less educated and have fewer marketable skills with most of the respondents not having a secondary qualification.  Although the South African government has established many pro-women support structures over the last two decades to provide a variety of support to emerging entrepreneurs, the need for gender-specific and informal sector–specific training and development still exists. In terms of their training and development needs, 91% of the women interviewed indicated that they had never been exposed to any training programmes by government or a private organisation.

Lack of business and financial skills was ranked as the biggest obstacle to a successful business followed by the lack of a business network, which is necessary in maintaining and expanding an informal enterprise.

It is important that both the public and the private sectors acknowledge the importance of the informal business sector in South Africa. With a labour force participation rate of 2.3% the rural villages in the Mahikeng district in North-West do not paint a picture of growth and prosperity.

Informal women entrepreneurs are firstly propelled by the need to survive; in other words, the women do business to escape poverty. As an extrinsic motivation, it pushes them towards creating security for their family and not towards profit maximisation. They are driven to entrepreneurship out of necessity or destitution. Their entrepreneurial activities are viewed as a safety net that provides employment and income-earning opportunities for those excluded from formal sector employment. Many women engaged in the informal sector would in its absence be unemployed and unable to access alternate forms of income.

Competence is a necessary skill and an enabler of a self-efficacy; that is, the belief that one are the master of one’s own destiny. Building on strengths is more effective than trying to improve weaknesses.  However, self-efficacy behaviour without the necessary support will take informal women entrepreneurs only so far.  Access to basic infrastructure, training, funding and business networks will enable self-efficacy behaviour of women entrepreneurs in the Mahikeng district to move themselves and their communities from poverty to prosperity.

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Entrepreneur Today

Inspiring A New Generation Of Learning – Education As A Basic Human Right

Access to education isn’t a privilege, it’s a basic human right – Mzwandile inspires a new generation of learners.





Raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents passed away at a young age, Mzwandile Harmans attended a poor school in Cala, the heart of the rural Eastern Cape.  It was his matric year; but with limited resources at Masikhuthale Public Secondary school, the pass rate was low and the learning environment less than ideal for conscientious learners.

Then one day a teacher came round to talk about Engen’s Maths and Science Schools (EMSS) programme, and everything changed for this talented young man who was determined to realise his full potential.

“We were given a chance to take a test to qualify for the EMSS Cala programme. The programme offered supplementary classes in maths, science and English, which ran every Saturday morning, but was 25 kilometres away,” remembers Mzwandile. “Fortunately, I took it seriously and I got in.”

Making the long round trip every weekend to attend the programme saw a steady improvement in Mzwandile’s  maths, chemistry, and physics marks, so much so that he was awarded a full Engen scholarship to study Chemical Engineering at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

Mzwandile later impressed with his tertiary studies and after two-years was offered a one-year internship at the Engen Refinery in Durban, which he passed with distinction. On graduating from CPUT, he landed a two-year employment contract with Engen, as part of the company’s graduate development programme.

Today, Mzwandile is permanently employed as an Environmental Technician at the Engen Refinery.  “I am so grateful to Engen for all of this,” says Mzwandile. “I never thought it could happen to me.”

Engen’s Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement, Unathi Magida says access to education is a fundamental human right.  “This resonates particularly with Engen as a company, as we believe in the value of education and know how important it is to ensure that young people have the opportunity to realise their full potential.”

Chwayita Mareka, Engen’s Head of Human Resources, says the company’s investment in young talent has focused on the Maths and Science Saturday Schools because they understand the bigger country agenda.

“As Engen, we try and play our part in helping to develop South African’s talent pool, as there is a scarcity of Science, Maths and Engineering skills. We offer bursaries for students to go to universities in these fields and we look after them, especially if they are from disadvantaged communities,” says Mareka.

“Later, they come into Engen as graduate trainees as part of our graduate development programme wherein we assign them a mentor that exposes them to the real business,” she adds.

Mzwandile’s journey is just one of many inspirational Engen stories that will be shared as part of a new TV series that aims to create a positive narrative around South Africa’s success stories.  The SA INC. TV series which launches on 7 April is a partnership between Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Brand South Africa and producers, Regency Global.

“At Engen, we strongly believe that a country which is educated is a country that will prosper. We are pleased to play a part in helping to develop South Africa talent, especially our young learners based in rural areas,” says Magida

To watch Mzwandile’s story please visit the website: and the following hashtags: #JourneyWithEngen #BusinessBelieves #SAINC #humanrightsday #awesomesouthafrica #sustainability #livesouthafrica #weheartsa.

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Entrepreneur Today

How SMEs Can Stand Out From The Crowd

A recently released SME Landscape Report: An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019, revealed that 40 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) find that the industry that they operate in is extremely competitive. It also states that considering the low growth environment, this is likely to continue further into the future.





To assist struggling entrepreneurs, Byron Jeacocks, Regional General Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), says that it is imperative for SME owners who find themselves in this predicament to determine and implement tactics to remain competitive in saturated industries. “A good example of how to do this, is Business Partners Limited’s client, Prashun Sharma, owner-manager of glass and aluminium company, Aluminium Doctor, who was faced with an overtraded industry teeming with informal operators when he started his business seven years ago.”

“This was because the glass and aluminium industry suffered a contraction following the Soccer World Cup construction boom in 2010, and as a result, many tradespeople were retrenched and subsequently started up their own informal glass and aluminium installation operations to make ends meet,” Jeacocks adds.

Explaining how he ensured a competitive edge in his business, Sharma, who was also retrenched from his senior management position at a large aluminium company, says that when he started his company he decided to make it formal, compliant and professional. “I wanted to incorporate my corporate and managerial experience to differentiate my business, and to elevate this, I enrolled in a business management degree.”

“My degree covered everything from strategic management, supply management, first-line management to directorship and it touched on everything from listing on the stock exchange down to conflict management and change management. This really prepared me for business and I believe it was a key ingredient to my business’s success,” he points out.

However, Sharma says that when starting their businesses in a saturated industry, entrepreneurs should not feel despondent if the process is slow at the beginning. “At first in my journey, there seemed to be no difference between Aluminium Doctor and the rest of the informal businesses in the industry, but I continued to lay a formal foundation, whilst consulting with my lawyer and accountant to make sure these foundations were sound. I also started to develop professionally made marketing material, a website, formal email addresses and a fixed phone line.”

Aluminium Doctor’s breakthrough came a year and a half into the business, when it won a substantial contract with the building of the Durban ice rink, says Sharma. “This is when I knew that it was time to formalise my business premises and I found a 1000 square metre factory in Brairdene, Durban.”

However, in order to purchase the building, I needed to obtain funding and I believed that it was clear from the financials that the company could afford to buy the building, but the banks were not sure whether our fast growth was sustainable. “I was then introduced to Business Partners Limited which considers finance applications based on the potential of the business, and also on the capabilities of the entrepreneur rather than just on the balance sheet and age of the business.”

Commenting on this, Jeacocks says that Sharma’s management style and his commitment to furthering himself as an entrepreneur by studying business management was also a contributing factor to the approval of his business’s property finance loan,” comments Jeacocks.

“Today, seven years since he started, Sharma’s careful attention to his business’s formal foundations is still paying off. Just in the last twelve months, in an extremely challenging economy, Aluminium Doctor grew by 35 percent, and the business now has a presence in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng where it will soon establish a permanent sales office in an expansion that is only possible for a formal, well run organisation,” Jeacocks concludes.

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Entrepreneur Today

Celebrating The Best Of The Best In Black Business

The 2019 Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Awards, held at Emperor’s Palace on Friday, 15 March 2019, celebrated the champions of transformation of the South African economy.





Established in 2002, the BBQ Awards 2019 honoured the best of the best in black business. South Africa’s top black business owners and rising stars arrived to the red carpet for a night full of glitz and glamour. Celebrity TV presenter, socialite, radio personality and Idols SA judge Somizi Mhlongo led the festivities as the evening’s programme director. He was joined on stage by A-list celebrities and prominent politicians.

Jeff Radebe, Minister of the Department of Energy, celebrated 25 years of South Africa’s democracy in his opening keynote address and emphasised the importance of transformation.

“Transformation is well recognised as a change management strategy, which aligns people, which aligns processes and technology initiatives, irrespective of the industry you come from, in order to survive and evolve in this business environment. Changing the structure of the South African economy will result in it being more inclusive, more sustainable… with opportunities for all, integrated value chains, and less barriers to entry. In South Africa, the transformation agenda is very critical in all our endeavours and all our decisions.”

Radebe congratulated the winners of the 15 transformation categories on this recognition of their inspiring dedication:

  • Platinum Award: Dr Nobuhle Judy Dlamini, founding chairman of Mbekani Group, is an entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. Her passion for creating and adding value to society and humanity provided her with the overall platinum award for the evening, as well as the Comair Outstanding Woman of the Year Award.
  • Hennessy XO Businessman of the Year Award: Sthembiso Elton Nkomo, CEO of Abalandi Risk Management, was recognised as a professionally qualified, dedicated, and respected professional in the forensic investigation and security services environment.
  • The Innovation Hub New and Innovative Business Award: AET Africa, a manufacturer and supplier of energy efficient and clean technology products, developed various products targeting the commercial and residential sectors.
  • Emperors Palace Community Builder of the Year Award: Emmanel Bonoko, Founder of EBonoko Holdings and a social entrepreneur. He founded EBonoko at the age of 21 with the aim of serving others and fostering leadership, youth empowerment, and entrepreneurship.
  • Dormehl Phalane Property Group Transformation Champion of the Year Award: ICT-Works, an organisation that provides innovative technology solutions. At its core it also enhances the lives of millions of people.
  • Best Employer of the Year Award: Maredi Technologies CC, an 100% black owned ICT infrastructure solutions provider for the private and public sector.
  • Trade & Investment KZN Young Business Achiever Award: Pravashen Naidoo, Founder and CEO of e-Waste Africa, established Africa’s first light bulb recycling business at the age of 30.
  • Bentley South Africa Public Sector Visionary Award: Dr Ayanda Vilakazi, CEO of Lama Marketing and Advertising (Pty) Ltd. He published numerous articles on how to improve services and operations in South Africa. As a seasoned Executive he has expertise in corporate governance, financial management and budgeting, enterprise risk management and strategic development.
  • BET New Entrepreneur Award: Ms Thobile Nyawo, Director of Nyawo Civil construction. The 19-year-old construction entrepreneur founded her company in 2015 with no start-up capital.
  • CSI Ubuntu Award: Vukani-Ubuntu Community Development Projects, a non-profit organisation that is the largest mineral-beneficiation organisation in the jewellery sector in South Africa and a network off grassroots development projects across the country.
  • NHBRC Iqhawe Mentorship Award: Musa Zulu, Creative Director of Valhalla Arts, as well as published author, international artist, celebrated motivational speaker, and prominent disability activist in South Africa.
  • NYDA Outstanding Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Muhammad Simjee, Founder and CEO of A2D24 with a passion for building gadgets and writing software.
  • Nedbank Group Individual Transformation in Leadership Award: Karen Rademeyer, Fundraiser and Communications Manager at Go for Gold, having worked in the non-profit sector for 17 years She is passionate about education: Go for Gold as a dynamic Education-to-Employment programme that recruits school students from some of South Africa’s poorest communities and transforms them into technically qualified graduates.
  • LTE Holdings Best Established Black Business Award: Thata uBeke Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd, which offers turnkey solutions by designing, developing, manufacturing and assembling electronic and electro mechanical components for a variety of applications including aerospace, telecommunications, mining, commercial, and military specifications.

The BBQ Awards continue to be South Africa’s most prestigious transformation awards. For more information on the 2019 BBQ Awards, visit or follow them on Facebook (@BBQAwards) and Twitter (@BBQ_Awards).

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