Can any woman be an entrepreneur?

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SOME experts take exception to the word “entrepreneur” being used to describe anyone from a vegetable vendor to Richard Branson. 

Fox and Rooyen identified some differences between a small business owner and an entrepreneur. 

While they both seek independence, the entrepreneur is also driven by the opportunity to create and innovate. 

An informal trader or small businesswoman remains directly involved in the business whereas the entrepreneur eventually sets up systems and employs professionals. 

Furthermore an entrepreneur takes calculated risks, deals with mistakes and failure and focuses on survival and a five- to 10-year growth plan. 

On the other hand the corner shop owner takes low risks, tries to avoid mistakes and is focused on survival.

So according to their analysis, the answer to my question would be a quick “no”. 

However, society has generally accepted that an entrepreneur is someone who is running a formal business, big or small, so I will go along with that for the sake of progress. 

So, in other words: does every woman have what it takes to start and manage a business? 

I think it’s important to explore this issue because entrepreneurship is being put forward as the key to the economic emancipation of women. 

The challenge I see is that there tends to be a greater focus on the eternal factors required to be a successful businesswoman, that is, finance, accounting, suppliers and markets as opposed to the internal characteristics that an entrepreneur should have. 

I suspect that the high failure rate of businesses is primarily due to the make-up of the individual and the external factors are secondary. 

While most training interventions focus on business skills, there is one unique programme (developed by McClelland at Harvard University) which the United Nations  (www.unctad.org) runs in 27 African, Asian and Latin American countries under the name EMPRETEC. 

It’s one that Lesotho, in its bid to develop entrepreneurs, can potentially derive benefits from. 

It is based on the premise that “everyone has an inner motivation to improve” and the training focuses on behaviour change.

Ten Personal Entrepreneurial Competencies (known as PECs) are taught and they are grouped under three clusters. 

First the achievement cluster has opportunity seeking and initiative; risk taking, demand for efficiency and quality; persistence and commitment to the work contract. 

So here for example, the entrepreneur has to be someone “who does things before being asked or forced to by events and also seizes unusual opportunities to start a new business”.  

The planning cluster focuses on information seeking, goal setting and systematic planning and monitoring. 

Here the entrepreneur “does personal research on how to provide a product or service” and also “keeps financial records and uses them to make business decisions.”  

The final cluster of power contains persuasion and networking and independence and self-confidence. 

An example here would be someone who “sticks with own judgment in the face of opposition or early lack of success.” 

This was one of the most experiential and challenging courses I have ever done.

In addition to the theory, on each day of the seven-day course we had to hand in short notes detailing three examples of how we had actually lived each of the PECS. 

To cap it all, in order to graduate as an Empreteco, the final assignment involved coming up with an experimental business idea and implementing it over the weekend. 

For those who were in business already, this had to be something totally unrelated.

One participant washed cars, another did a cake sale and I organised a small charity for a pregnant and mentally handicapped girl who was roaming in my neighbourhood at that time. 

The way entrepreneurship is being touted in motivational books and the media, almost sounds easy. 

And yet anyone who has given it a serious go knows it’s not.

It takes determination, right from the registration, licensing and tax clearance processes to developing a product/service and then finding a market for it. 

So it’s clear that in order for an entrepreneur to acquire the external inputs such as finance, orders and premises, they
actually have to develop and activate the behaviours outlined above.

So yes, theoretically any woman can be an entrepreneur provided they are willing and able to develop these PECS. 

afrikarizma@gmail.com

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