When members of the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) gathered online on 23 February 2022 to unpack the topic of resilience and sustainability, the core message was to be cognisant of the words they utter over themselves.
Dr Norah Clarke (left), Director: Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa (USAf); together with Dr Carina van der Walt, an Educational Psychologist and Cultural Transit Expert and her mentee, Ms Kholiswa Masiso, each shared aspects they deemed crucial for the student women’s success as they take their place in the economy through entrepreneurial activities.
Commencing the session, Dr Clarke reminded the student women in attendance that taking responsibility to equip themselves was crucial for their economic participation. She acknowledged that many people would opt for employment, as that is more comfortable, compared to entrepreneurship. However, the choice is not always given, and sometimes, certain people are cut out for business. Therefore, how people position themselves matters.
“How do you make sure that your economic future is sustainable, and how do you make sure that your business is sustainable?” she asked.
Resilience and sustainability for a resilient business
She emphasised that a resilient business starts with a resilient entrepreneur. Adopting the stance of resilience enables an entrepreneur to develop and grow an enterprise that withstands hardship and challenges.
“So, when we look at resilience in business, we have to start with the fact that you are the CEO of YOU.”
“How you practise being a CEO is thinking about yourself as a brand. What is your personal brand? How do you position yourself? How do you see yourself?”
Dr Clarke mentioned three factors that matter significantly in the pursuit of entrepreneurship, especially during periods of adversity. These elements, compounded with resilience, tie into entrepreneurial efficacy — one’s belief in the ability to be an entrepreneur.
Firstly, one needs to engage in business development training. It could be formal or informal, self-driven or presented elsewhere — to build belief in one’s entrepreneurial ability.
Secondly, one would need to seek out networking events, special lectures, and mentoring opportunities to learn by modelling oneself after others who have been resilient through challenging times.
Thirdly, one would need to be active in entrepreneurial pursuits, practising business acumen and seeking feedback from those who can be objective, critical and encouraging.
Resilience at an individual level
Dr Clarke then went to lengths to explain that there are three legs to resilience — endurance, ability to recover and growth — yet most people focus on the first two.
“Many people endure and recover, but only the resilient manage to grow, not despite the difficult times, but because ofthose difficult times,” she said, affirming that growth in resilience is where lies the strength of each person.
Offering a definition of a resilient woman, she said: “She accepts the realities facing her; she finds meaning in difficult times and can improvise, making do with whatever is at hand. Her eyes open to resources she might have that might not be that obvious,” Dr Clarke concluded.
Growing through uncertainty
Next after her was Ms Kholiswa Masiso (left), an education intern and mentee of Dr van der Walt’s, who narrated her journey of uncertainty, a pivot in life, that saw her mustering resilience in pursuit of financial sustainability. When she decided to go back to school, Ms Masiso had to forgo a managerial income and a car. It took a lot of strength, but the will to see her dream of becoming a teacher motivated her choices.
To generate an income, she started selling pancakes to backpackers in Jeffrey’s Bay, a moment she admits was not easy. In that situation, and through the doubts, Ms Masiso told herself that never again will she utter words, “I cannot.”
Thereafter, her study journey took off and now she is in her second year of a Bachelor of Education degree.
Creating a life script
Dr van der Walt stressed that sustainability was not about a personal stance alone but the context of each person’s surroundings. She reminded the attendees that they are not living in isolation, and that it was important to involve others in one way or another.
“I also have to define myself in the context and systems that are actually in my world. I must then look at my worldview, how I view social interaction, and how importantly I view others.”
She said each one of us has an imprint of an image or model that influences our outlook.
While expanding on the topic of developing a life script for sustenance, she advised the student women to reflect on the people that made an impact on their lives — what they did or said that eventually became a part of them. These could be positive or negative phrases.
“You can go back to that and say, in what way can I mine that information and make use of it as part of my life script to propel me forward and to help me to sustain my vision,” she said.
Regarding negative phrases spoken to individuals, especially when growing up, Dr van der Walt advised that it was fundamental to transform and reframe the words. “As you write it down, be careful how you phrase the action verb that you use — make it strong, positive and affirmative.”
She then gave the participants a chance to develop their lives’ scripts, which she assisted in shaping into strong, positive and affirmative statements. “In our sentences, our wording, look at verbs that we use, if it is in the past tense, make it in the present tense, and then project it into the future.”
- It is not easy, but we can always overcome it if we do not give up. Change it to, “It is not easy, but we can always overcome if we do persevere.”
- I have been connected. Change it to, “I am connected.”
- I always bounce back stronger. Change it to, “I bounce forward strongest.”
She concluded that even when a statement does not make sense, it changes the way we think and feel about ourselves.
The SWEEP webinar of 23 March was the second in a series that started with the SWEEP activation event of January. The plan is to continue with these empowerment exercises in the first half of 2022 to ease student women into starting enterprises, and to support and mentor them along this journey.
SWEEP is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme. It was inspired by widespread concern over the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship.
It aims to provide a safety net of transferable and practical skills and opportunities, backed by a foundation of academic stewardship. Overall, it is a platform for student women to access entrepreneurship opportunities for exposure, learning and mentorship, positioning them for economic participation while studying and after graduation.
SWEEP has been designed as a three-tier model that focuses on a) professional and leadership skills and opportunities; b) entrepreneurship and economic activation skills and opportunities; and c) resilience and sustainability skills and opportunities. This is a pioneering programme backed by volunteer professionals and women who are already firmly entrenched in business and the world of work.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.