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Times of Change: What Defines a Woman Entrepreneur in Mozambican Society?

Across Mozambique’s current economic landscape, women are redefining the very nature of what it takes to establish a business from a female perspective. Presently, innate entrepreneurs, the kind that have well-formulated strategies to build sustainable, profit-driven businesses, differ from small business owners in Mozambique. This intricacy, plagued by current gender discrimination, plays a fundamental role in shaping the definition of a ‘Mozambican women entrepreneur’.

Sara Daúde Fakir, founder of Ideialab, currently provides a training program in partnership with FEMTCH for women entrepreneurs in Mozambique. In an attempt to develop a general understanding of the ‘Mozambican entrepreneur profile’, Fakir notes three driving forces that motivate women to initially create a business. The first category comprises women who do not earn sufficient income to support their families and, as a result of limited work opportunities, are forced to start their own ventures. With an inherent inability to take risks and grow their businesses exponentially, this profile can be attributed to a person driven primarily by necessity. The second profile involves women business owners who are driven merely by the notion of running a ‘lifestyle business’, as opposed to growing a business organically. This group is essentially not entrepreneurial as their motivation lies in running a business as a means of paying the bills. The third cohort relates to women who strive for excellence with the aim of growing their venture organically, without being afraid of taking risks. This last category represents the innate ‘entrepreneur’.

Nonetheless, like elsewhere across Sub-Saharan Africa, the entrepreneurship spirit in Mozambique has grown significantly over the past ten years. Has it grown as quickly as it ought to? Not quite, and this is largely owing to a prevailing negative social perception that self-employment does not guarantee financial security. Such risky ventures are further prohibitive to the Mozambican woman entrepreneur in the form of existing socio-cultural barriers, including lack of education or training, domestic family responsibilities and expectations, and general societal discrimination against women.

These challenges are explored in research conducted by the United Nations on female entrepreneurship in developing countries, in which the report elaborates on the range of cultural barriers preventing women from opening businesses in relation to men. Interestingly, the report highlights that women typically hold fewer years of experience compared to men across different sectors, which adds to the conundrum facing aspiring female business owners.

Another successful Mozambican entrepreneur, Dr. Claudia Baúle, who specializes in providing biotechnology solutions to agricultural areas and serves as Coordinator of the National Biotechnology Programme under Mozambique’s Ministry of Science and Technology, shared her point of view recently. Although she herself has not experienced discrimination in the formal process of starting her business, her opinion is that gender discrimination is still prevalent when it comes to negotiating and financing initiatives. Given this discrimination, most Mozambican women opt for smaller scale growth initiatives as opposed to high growth ventures pursued by men. The rationale behind this mentality, Dr. Baúle explains, is that smaller initiatives reduce the financial burden that women entrepreneurs are exposed to.

This type of mentality should not be allowed to perpetuate as Mozambican entrepreneurs, male or female, face the same challenges and risks associated with obtaining capital and securing long-term funding. With this said, factors such as education, exposure and empowerment play a key role in helping women rethink their preconceived notions about their entrepreneurial options. Hence, only after these factors have been considered, will the system be forced to follow suit and meet their demands.

On the upside however, the Mozambican business environment certainly has experienced an immense evolution over the past decade, particularly in the areas of government policies and programs promoting female entrepreneurship and gender equality. This is largely due, in part, to the growing realization that the effective involvement of women in the country’s entrepreneurship scene can go a long way in contributing to the development of the Mozambican economy. Furthermore, the outcome that we are observing is an increase in the participation of women throughout the decision-making process within the business sector. This trend, I believe, will be catapulted exponentially over the next five years.

By Victor Nhatitima, Country Manager, Mozambique