Iselle Akwoue shares Tips on how women-owned businesses can move up the ladder of success to transform Africa's economy through private entreprise.
I was sitting in the meeting room of one of my clients. We were going through a laborious invitation to tender process, perfecting the edges of each single documents included in a commercial offer that was to be submitted to a major manufacturing corporation. The review was carried with the help of a video-projector connected to my computer, so the team could follow. At some point, I mispelled the word “Connection”, typing it in French “Connexion”. One of the commercials in the room cringed “Wow! How could you mispell that, YOU! I am so disappointed, well you should know better!” I shoulder-brushed off his remark, noticing the walls thought he was overdoing it.
Further on in the session, as we were carefully including express referencing to our T&Cs, in order to avoid a possible Battle of the form at negotiation stage - the Battle referring to the situation in which one party makes an offer and the offeree responds with its own form of contract, the discrepancy between the forms possibly preventing the offeree's response from operating as an acceptance-, I encountered again such resistance, at each advice I gave. This term was not appropriate. This other term was ‘childish’. That other method would prove ‘sluggish’. As a consultant is not mean to impose his own view, but rather to present all options and advise on possible recourses for best outcome, I patiently took it all, for three hours and a half straight.
We took a break, and I looked at my computer screen: we were not making a hint of progress. I was the only woman sitting in the middle of eight men, engineers, technicians, commercials. And the comments were just not constructive. Something had been happening, that I hadn’t realized early enough: Another kind of battle was happening, in the room, preventing us from moving with confidence towards the true deal that was the tender.
To them, I was this outsider from the company, appointed by the CEO to manage this key meeting, while they thought they had all the expertise needed to prepare in-house.
As we went back to work, I calmly said: “As long as you keep seeing Me as your competition, rather than the other four experienced tenderers who are preparing to bid for the same contract, we will run in circles. Then, taking into account the contract value, if you lose this deal, I might lose you as a client. But you might also lose your job. Now what do we do, gents?"
45 mn later, the session was wrapped-up, tender pack printed, packed and ready to go. Mic drop.
More often than not, we are made to feel as if we do not belong. “They told me I was too ambitious, too much to handle”, said Zandya, an IT consultant who had to face her husband’s reluctance at her blooming company sky-rocketing its profit curve. You can never be too much when you are riding on the road of wealth-creation, unless you are perceived as a threat to those who see in your progression the reflection of their own lethargy, rather than a common reason to celebrate.
Womenpreneurs in Africa are facing different challenges, and this topic is the subject of many surveys and improvement initiatives including those by the African Development Bank. Although the entrepreneurial frenzy is catching up with many amateurs looking for a raison d’être in the public eye, I have seen over my Consultancy's most recent trainings, workshops and conferences, a growing number of competent women daring to thrive for meaningful and long-lasting contribution to the socio-economic realm.
We are assets to the nations, raising generations, and now grabbing by the lapel the opportunity to open businesses that will create jobs while providing added-value to the society. With the highest worldwide share of female workforce (52% in Zimbabwe and Malawi, 50.8% in Gambia 50.8%, 50.6% in Liberia and 50.5% in Tanzania as per Pew Research Center survey), we are compelled to conquer!
What must we do?
1. FOCUS ON COMPETENCY
Rosemary Egbo, CEO of Giantrose Consultancy and co-owner of y-peer.net, wrote in “4 Challenges Faced by Female Entrepreneurs in Africa”: ‘In this part of the world, if you are not strong-willed enough, you are likely to catch the “male dominance” fever. Many aspiring female entrepreneurs have chickened out because of the bullies. It takes courage to pull off a business when you’ve already been told you would fail simply because of your gender.’
The best way to cement your confidence is anchored in your capacity to build on your competencies: the more you work on your skills, train yourself in your field of expertise, learn from those who failed and won, the more Focused you are on consistently increasing your proficiency, the better prepared you will be to run to the battlefield. When did you last go for a higher level of qualification? When did you last call for an audit of your business? What were the learning lessons?
The progress of your company's productivity, depends on your capacity to translate your competency into profit.
2. ONE STEP AT A TIME!
3. WORK FOR SUSTAINABILITY
As a contract analyst advocate, I must say it again and again: the time has come to go up on the relationship spectrum between you and your stakeholders. Enter into commercial strategy: In what order do you face challenges and risks such as contract award strategy selection, cost and savings or supplier delivery? Having a business that runs on a day-to-day mode is not a promising pattern for a long-lasting business.
Evaluate your customers input, your suppliers value, study and prepare your service or product offer in such a way that they automatically open a door for negotiation or some kind of partnership other than the arm-length transactional one, which is defintely more effort-costly.
What are your customers priorities? How much time do you spend analysing them?
Oduwa Agboneni is challenging business stereotypes, as the founder of Nigeria’s Neni’s Autocare, specialist in vehicle and fleet repair, maintenance and inspections. With over 30 emloyees today, over 80% of which being male, she openly contradicts the lack-of-financing complain by stating regularly that ‘the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur isn’t funding but coming up with a sustainable idea’.
If your business is answering the current and growing needs of your environment with a capacity to scale and grow, if you manage your portfolio with in mind the desire to walk in partnership mode with your interfaces, your business will be passed on for decades. Managing your contracts is a sustainability step that will help expand your business, and strengthen your scalable advantage.
4. NETWORK WITH YOUR PROFESSION
There is much to be learnt from other businesses of your profession. Lionesses of Africa, founded by south African Melanie Hawken, is coming up strong by linking entrepreneurs of the continent to ‘celebrate success, exchange stories, connect and network, learn from like-minded women, and inspire and mentor the next generation of women-led startups in Africa’. The workshop sessions is an operating platform to exchange on topics such as breaking into new global markets, creating a supportive business environment or finding solutions on barriers to entry.
One of the latest women we can learn from, thanks to Lionesses of Africa, is Joelle Eyeson, whose business is based on constructions made of rammed earth, in Ghana. She shared her experiences on how she didn’t let outside expectations stop her ideas on what a woman could do, and attacked Ghana’s 15 millions housing deficit by providing a solution with Hive Earth. Investing heavily on Research and development contributed to Hive Earth becoming a well-known specialist in Eco-Friendly construction. A male-dominated industry, in which she is fastly becoming a leader.
On another hand, the products that have gone over frontiers towards export such as argan oil or shea butter, are the pure product of joint-entrepreneurship: associations, cooperatives, their members saw beyond the ‘They will steal my idea’ syndrome to produce economic growth.
Sociologist Abdou Salam Fall, details the argan oil success with numbers accounting 12,5% of women-formed coopératives in Morocco to date, against 2,14% in 1995. The kingdom of Morrocco now holds 7000 cooperatives entailing over 360 600 members.
5. BE BOLD!
Be bold. Unashamedly Bold!
Go out of your way to excel and Finish what you start. You are not a project dreamer, but a finisher.
Bethlehem Alemu says of her footwear range, Sole Rebels, Africa's fastest growing footwear range: "Prosperity creation is the sole route to the elimination of poverty. And to create sustained prosperity, you have to create something truly world class."
Jessica Nguema, from brand OTINGUEMA, says 'You should not focus on the fear of failing, only your eyes can fear. Focus on your vision'.
Our aspirations are necessary to provide business solutions.
Dare to do what is right for you, rather than giving in to your surroundings' never-changing expectations.
'To do what is Right may not be profitable, nor expedient, but it will satisfy your soul' says Maya Angelou.
We are valid.
By the power of our resilience, we will bend the most recalcitrant to make a positive impact on people’s life.
We are UNAPOLOGETIC about that!