Support Services for Women Entrepreneurs

Patriarchy, like racism, is systemic and takes the form of micro-aggressions, language used, and ways in which women are treated, just to name a few. Yet, in a country like South Africa, women make up an estimated 51% of the population. It is a simple yet painful reality that the world has been structured for the benefit of men. There is no two which ways about it.

While there has been an attempt in various quarters to ensure that women in the business sector have equitable access to resources, capital and other support services, it still pales in comparison to the general support services to entrepreneurship, which is also lacking. There are organisations, both locally and internationally, that do, however, have women-focused support. Below is a snapshot of some of these, in no particular order.

Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWA)
A non-profit started about 40 years ago, the BWA operates with the following mandate: “to empower and inspire women by promoting opportunities to support, connect and grow their businesses and careers.” Its key focus areas are networking, mentorship, development and advocacy. The BWA has branches in key cities
around the country with a head office in Johannesburg.

Some of the benefits to being a member, as listed on their site include:

  • Preferential procurement – referral within membership base
  • Exposure to new clients
  • Become a mentor, or be mentored
  • Access to research and lobbying businesswomen’s issues.

To sign up, you need to contact one of their offices.

Afrika Leadership Development Institute (LeadAfrika)
Established as non-profit in 2002, LeadAfrika is based and operates in South Africa as well as in a couple of neighbouring countries. In addition to a number of broader programmes in leadership, community and youth development, women empowerment is a key stated area. Women empowerment programmes include:

  • Women As Architects And Owners Of Their Own Future, which involves “drawing up an implementable Marginalized Communities Action Plan (MCAP) for four localities in South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe”, energising local economic development and sustainable livelihoods, and capacity building.
  • iGama la Makhosikazi (My Name is Woman), which focuses on women living on farms, supporting them with information, networking opportunities, and access to SME funding, amongst other things.
  • Women in Leadership (with SABS and the National Intelligence Agency), which is focused on empowerment of women within organisations taking into consideration equity, transformation, etc.

Women Empowerment Fund (WEF)
The National Empowerment Fund vision is “to become the leading provider of innovative transformations solutions for an economically inclusive South Africa” and provides funding to Black women-owned businesses for start-up, expansion and equity acquisitions in a variety of sectors under WEF. Its criteria for funding includes,
amongst others:

  • Minimum of 51% black female ownership.
  • Operational involvement at the managerial and board levels by black women.
  • Commercial viability of the business case being presented.
  • Creation of jobs.
  • Geographic location of the business is also important with the focus on rural or economically depressed areas encouraged.

Women’s Development Business (WDB)
Established in 1991 with the vision “to put development resources directly into the hands of South Africa’s ‘unbankable’ women so that they could start their own income-generating activities”, WDB has a number of initiatives and collaborations to support women, including:

  • Providing micro-loans to women;
  • WDB Growth Fund, a Section 12J Fund, “to address the needs of growth-stage businesses while providing investors with Enterprise & Supplier Development points recognition and tax benefits” with a focus on women and youth;
  • Supplier Development programme, run by Seed Engine, which states that it is on “a mission to do our bit to fix our country by creating economic inclusion! We do this through education, growing talent and scaling businesses”: (
  • AccelerateHER programme, which WDB sponsors with a monetary prize for. It is a 90-day accelerator programme which looks at specific issues that women face in contributing to the development of women-owned businesses. Shell is also involved in this programme.

Government Investment Incentives
The Government houses the different incentive schemes provided across departments in one space, namely Government Investment Incentives:

The majority fall under the auspices of the Department of Trade and Industry, and there are two women-focused schemes, namely:

  • Bavumile, which targets women in creative industries and clothing and textiles, providing business and co-operative training and assistance.
  • Isivande Women’s Fund (IWF), which provides funding to majority women owned and/or managed business in the form of loans.
    Africa Trust Group. With their headquarters in Cape Town, the Africa Trust Group provide early stage funding, entrepreneur development and acceleration and business research and advisory with particular focus on women entrepreneurs in Africa. They are the local partner for Enygma Ventures and serve as fund managers for Enygma Ventures Fund and The Empress Fund, both of which invest in and provide funding for women-owned businesses in the SADC region.

 While there are multiple organisations and institutions, in the private and public sectors, that purport to provide support services for women entrepreneurs and businesses, the information is not readily available which is a cause for concern. The glass ceiling for women is low, the challenges they face are numerous, and more needs to be done to ensure a more equitable environment. The future of the country, the economy, the continent and the world depends on this. 

By Kojo Baffoe