Effective Support for Women Entrepreneurs Goes Beyond Skills Training
Bernadette Sambo is an entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three in Maputo province, Mozambique. The challenge of balancing these roles is only made more difficult by restrictive gender-based social and familial expectations.
“It had been very difficult to work and negotiate with my husband,” she recalls. “He alone got to decide many things related to the business.”
The shop owner’s observation, while specific to her own home, could well have come from any of the many women entrepreneurs around the globe who face not only the inherent challenges of running a business, but the added burden of navigating difficult household dynamics.
For Bernadette, the inequalities at home meant that the majority of household responsibilities fell to her, despite her busy schedule running her shop—she often had to close the shop early to return home and care for her children. As a result, her business’ sales suffered: with limited and inconsistent hours, the shop could not generate enough revenue to cover Bernadette’s loans.
When women’s businesses succeed, the benefits to their families and communities are substantial. However, obstacles like those faced by Bernadette are pervasive for women entrepreneurs, often preventing them from reaching their full economic and personal potential. Many women entrepreneurs lack access to the training and resources they need to help them develop their business skills.
However, with support tailored to meet these challenges, governments, development organizations, and the private sector can all help foster real improvements in women’s confidence, professional skills, and ability to apply those skills in their businesses.
A recent case study on the Business Women Connect (BWC) program, a partnership between the ExxonMobil Foundation and TechnoServe, demonstrates how. The program has worked with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs in Mozambique to drive the growth and resilience of women-owned businesses through a unique, holistic approach, creating change within the business and the household and within the entrepreneurs themselves.
Building Skills and Decision-Making for Business
The Business Women Connect program features a curriculum created to meet the unique needs of women entrepreneurs. The four-month program includes training modules on topics such as gender equality, financial literacy and management, savings, business investment, customer service, stock and supplier management, agency banking, and merchandising. The program also provides bi-weekly mentoring sessions and advisory on improving communication within households.
Bernadette, for example, was able to use her newfound knowledge and confidence to convince her husband that he could no longer make decisions for her on how to run her business.
“Now,” she says, “my husband is my business partner and we agree on decisions.”
To maintain efficacy and reduce risk in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program had to adapt curriculum delivery in several key ways, such as offering instruction sessions through WhatsApp, rather than in person; distributing handbooks to support the virtual training; and awarding internet credit to the most active participants. Entrepreneur feedback was vital in determining these adjustments, and by making these changes, BWC was able to graduate 257 women in 2020 and help 90% of participants’ businesses remain open despite the pandemic’s devastating impact on the Mozambican economy.
Forging Supportive Household Dynamics
Like Bernadette, BWC participants frequently cited dynamics in their households as an obstacle to running their businesses. They shared that their husbands did not generally help them with household chores or childcare, that they did not feel supported by their husbands or families in regards to their businesses, and that only their husbands were responsible for the household expenses.
To address these challenges, the BWC program included discussions of the benefits of equitable division of labor between spouses, the difference between gender and sex, and women’s leadership in the community. Participants engaged in workshops examining gender roles and responsibilities and took part in constructive conversations around gender equality and the value of recognizing men’s and women’s individual contributions.
BWC program participants were asked to complete an exercise called the Ladder of Power and Freedom. This exercise used a scale of 1-5 to have participants rank their ability and confidence in making various kinds of decisions with 5 being the ideal. Initially, the women ranked their ability to make family decisions at an average of only 2.7. After completing the training, the entrepreneurs ranked their decision-making abilities within their families at a 4.50 out of 5.
Bernadette was able to create a better plan for managing household responsibilities with her husband. After doing so, she now says of her husband: “He also supports me with the children, which means I can work longer hours during the day, thus getting to know my customers’ preferences and pursuing new business opportunities.”
While the external changes discussed above are certainly important, perhaps the most significant change was an internal one: a new sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy among the entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurs ranked their ability to make personal decisions prior to the training at only 2.33 out of 5 on the ladder of power and freedom. After the training, that number jumped to 4.50, with 90% of the women now strongly agreeing with the claim that they can always manage to solve difficult problems. These changes both stem from and result in greater feelings of control in many areas of their lives, creating a positive, self-sustaining cycle for the entrepreneurs.
By the end of the program, many of the women expressed that they now felt equipped with the right tools to address problems in their businesses. They felt more empowered to make both personal and business decisions, even without input from their husbands. Finally, the women felt much more confident, with the majority agreeing that they felt able to meet their goals and solve difficult problems if they tried hard enough.
For Bernadette, putting what she has learned into practice has already begun to pay off. She has been better able to manage her store, paying off her outstanding loans in just two months and even purchasing a new fridge which allows her to sell fresh meat. “I’m already planning to open a second grocery store later this year in Intaka,” she said.
Other women entrepreneurs have seen positive results from the program, as well. Participants’ businesses have enjoyed an average revenue increase of 57%, an average increase of 35% in the value of their savings, and greatly improved resilience.
This shows how a holistic approach can work to ensure women have the ability to fully participate in, and benefit from, entrepreneurship opportunities.