The greatest investment of all

AT age 28 and enrolled as a third-year student for a degree at Women’s University in Africa, Ms Tinashe Madamombe already has her own businesses, a cleaning services company called the Zim Debutantes and designing enterprise Azariah Apparel. It was after seeing challenges young women face in starting up their own businesses that Ms Madamombe founded the Zimbabwe Young Women in Business platform. And to some extent she has realised her dreams. Business Reporter Enacy Mapakame spoke with Ms Madamombe on various issues ranging from ZYWB’s role in shaping entrepreneurship in women, and challenges and opportunities available in Zimbabwe for young women.

Q: What inspired you to consider an initiative such as ZYWB?
A: The idea of Zimbabwe Young Women in Business came about in 2013 just as my best friend and I were registering our first company. The difficulties we went through in trying to establish the business led us to explore how easier it would be if there was a business information centre for young women and a network where entrepreneurs can share experiences and business information.

The idea grew as we began to see the need for entrepreneurial training among young women our age. And this led to the birth of ZYWB.

Q: What are ZYWB’s objectives? Why young women in particular?
A: ZYWB was launched in July 2013 with a Young Women in Business Expo and Conference. The organisation focuses on women in particular because we believe women remain the marginalised group in society and hence require a deliberate assistance effort and focus.

The main objectives of ZYWB include encouraging economic empowerment amongst young women under the age of 35, promoting and increasing the knowledge of business amongst young women. We also want to empower young women with marketing skills and networking knowledge that will help them in their business, as well as enhance young women participation in the economic development of the country.

ZYWB also seeks to promote and facilitate projects in creating donor confidence through project formulation, implementation and monitoring for young women in business, or those that are looking at starting their own businesses.

Q: Are you satisfied with the progress you have made so far? How big is your membership?
A: Although the progress is slow and not as fast as anticipated, we are happy so far. We have not reached the number of women that we would have hoped we could but the few that we have are making a great impact in their own right.

One of the objectives of the organisation is to efficiently gather, disseminate and communicate information on business opportunities available for younger women, marketing skills and networking with other entrepreneurs. This is one of the areas we have achieved. To date, we have directly reached 250 young women we have worked with in various projects.

Q: How big is your membership? What age group do you target?
A: Our target age group is women who are 35 years and under. Most of our membership is virtual, with some living in the Diaspora.

Q: What are the benefits of being a member of your organisation?
A: Some of the benefits of being a member are networking opportunities, mentorship, advertising spaces, entrepreneurial training, and members can also receive legal advice. The organisation helps to grow women at different stages of business (pre-start up, start up, and development). For those in pre-startup, they get assistance in finding their passion and hence which business is ideal for them to start, information and training on starting a business and basic entrepreneurial skills. Through our different partners, those at start up may have funding opportunities after the training that would have been offered. Through the sharing of experiences through networking, those already in business can better develop and grow their businesses.

Q: How much investment have you put towards the programmes you have done so far?
A: What we have put in mostly is time for these programmes. This initiative is self-funded by myself and a team of young women who sit on the board. We have invested personal funds and time for something we are passionate about — which is the empowerment of young women.

Q: How much are you looking at for, say, the next two years for young women’s programmes?
A: Our greatest challenge in reaching numbers at the moment is funding. Our budget for the next two years is approximately sitting at US$15 000.

Q: Do you have mechanisms to gauge the success rate of your programmes? If so what are the statistics?
A: Mechanisms are in place to gauge the success rate of our programmes through follow ups on attendees. We have an 80 percent success rate with the majority of young women who attend our programmes starting something of their own.

Q: Generally how are your programmes received?
A: The projects are well received though sometimes poorly attended because of young women’s multiple roles, they are sometimes unable to effectively attend trainings and sometimes due to the cost of training (for those programmes not offered for free) others are not able to afford.

Q: What is your perception of women’s participation in the mainstream economy? What needs to be done to address the inequalities in business between men and women?
A: I believe women face a lot of challenges in business. They are hit especially as they try to compete in the once male-dominated business areas. Generally, the reasons why there are a few Zimbabwean women in business is due to poor access to financing, limited opportunities to develop useful networks, lack of mentors and role models for women, cultural stereotypes, lack of entrepreneurship skills and limited business ideas.

A quota system in the mainstream economy should be implemented in order to address the inequalities between men and women. Gender equity should also be exercised in areas were women have previously been marginalised in business and the economy.

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