With young women at heart

ACCORDING to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency 2014 Labour Force Survey, approximately 21,2 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed compared to their male counterparts at 11,7 percent. But thanks to the International Youth Foundation, youths – especially young women – have hope for improving their employability and entrepreneurship skills. The IYF has trained over 8 600 young people since its inception in Zimbabwe four years ago, helping many to start small businesses. The IYF targets to empower over 20 000 youths, particularly young women, to contribute towards economic growth by 2017. The Sunday Mail Business Reporter Enacy Mapakame met IYF country director Mrs Pamela Chiromo and discussed the organisation’s role in alleviating youth and women unemployment, among other issues. Below is an extract of the interview.

Q: Can you give us a brief background about your career path?
A: I started my career 25 years ago. I lived in Zambia for 10 years, where I worked for the Lonrho Group as their chief accountant and later established a financial services group where I was the general manager.
I came back to Zimbabwe and worked for Furniture Paradise where I was a finance director before becoming its group CEO. It had 32 branches and was into manufacturing, retail and microfinance. Later, I worked as a senior manager for an organisation which was concerned with smallholder farmers, especially women.
I joined TechnoServe as programme director for Agro Initiative Zimbabwe targeting SMEs to help them increase productivity, enhance value chains and generally improve the economy. We also worked with large corporate. It was a big project aimed at growing businesses. The programmes reached over 60 000 smallholder farmers. After TechnoServe I then joined the IYF.

Q: How does one become a better leader? In the many years you have been in leadership positions, have you ever encountered resistance based on your gender?
A: One of the most important things is to get your education right and understand what your role is as a leader. So, I always have that confidence that I can make it in life despite being a woman. I think it is important to be able to respect others as a leader and be able to lead by example. I do not believe you lead by commanding people. My father taught me confidence. He told me I could be anything I want to be in life and being a woman is not a barrier.

Q: What is the IYF and what does your job entail?
A: IYF started in 1990 and came to Zimbabwe in 2012. The organisation is in 74 countries and 17 million people have been reached through this programme. The foundation is in 17 African countries where over two million people have benefited. I joined the IYF this year and my job entails managing the organisation here in Zimbabwe and make sure we achieve the goals we have set. We believe women have been disadvantaged for many reasons and it is still happening today when parents weigh the option of whether to send the boy or girl to school. It is always the boy who is given first preference.
We also realised once young women are not educated and do not have their own jobs there is a tendency for them to get into early marriages and lose the opportunity to be economically empowered.

Q: What percentage of your funding goes towards women’s projects?
A: We have noticed that if women are given access to finance, they always commit to paying back and start a business to develop not only themselves but the entire family and community, which is good. Chances of their children going to school are very high as well.
At the IYF, we are targeting that 60 percent of our beneficiaries be women. We are working with various women organisations. We do capacity building, gender projects; we help them come up with gender policy, financial literacy training and entrepreneurship skills.
We make sure our facilities are conducive for women, for instance, if they have children, our partners have started to provide child minders or a centre where the children can be taken care of while the mothers are in training. Additionally, we are mindful of the time schedules ideal for them; that is, we ask them to come for training at a time we know will not clash with other duties at home. We also look at cases where women cannot leave their work stations but need to enhance their skills and grow their business, so we go to them for training on-site.

Q: How do you ensure your organisation and its activities are aligned with its core values and objectives?
A: We have signed a contract with partners and our funders expect us to have a mandate and we have our own vision aligned to theirs, which is youth economic empowerment. We also partner with the Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprise Development. What is important is not to just train but to also follow up on them and see how much their lives have transformed after the programme.

Q: How can one get involved with the IYF Zimbabwe projects?
A: Our programmes target graduates from tertiary institutions. It also caters for school drop outs without any form of training. All you have to do is apply through one of our 10 partner organisations. These then assess if one is leaning towards employability or entrepreneurship then train you accordingly.
We do vocational training where people get training for various skills that the market requires, be it in catering or agriculture. You also get financial literacy and link you to some micro-finance institutions where you can get access to finance. If it is for the employability side, they will train you to enhance your skills so that chances of getting employment are high, such as interview skills, CV writing, respect and attitude at the workplace.
The partner organisation will put you into an internship programme.

Q: What constitute a good women or youth labour market and how has the IYF been building this in Zimbabwe?
A: A good youth ideal for employment is one who understands what they are doing, what is required of them. What we want to achieve is produce healthy and productive young leaders who can take the economy forward in the future.

Q: With high unemployment among youth and women in Zimbabwe, what measures can be taken to address this problem? How can Zimbabwe move to a longer term model with lower levels of youth and women unemployment?
A: There are measures that can be taken to address unemployment. Among them is to grow entrepreneurship skills in the youth and that will help alleviate the unemployment problems. There are some sectors that have been identified in the economy where young people can come up with quick-win ideas for business growth. Unfortunately, without stimulating industry or more investment into the country, it will be difficult to create many jobs. But if our young people are able to generate good ideas and turn them into viable sustainable businesses where they can employ even two or three to 10 other young people, I think we can address the unemployment problem.

Q: What is your assessment of the role of women in the mainstream economy and what would you say to aspiring young business women, who probably lack the requisite information?
A: There are not enough women in leadership who are economically empowered. The role of women has mainly been to look after the family which is good, but we need more in leadership positions. We need to see more women out there even at grass root levels who are empowered, who can make decisions with their husbands in the home.
I believe as a woman, as long as you are hard working, you can make it in life. You can be anything and never go wrong no matter what. We have seen that the women are very industrious and taking up entrepreneurship projects after getting training. We have a 78 percent success rate. As a woman, as long as you are hard working, you can make it in life. You can be anything and can never go wrong no matter what.

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