The recent three-day Economic Activation workshop of the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) climaxed when EDHE leaders introduced SWEEP University Chapters intended for all the 26 public universities in South Africa, starting with the pilot chapter to be located at Nelson Mandela University.
SWEEP, a brainchild of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme, hosted the first in a series of planned workshops from 25 to 27 January 2022, aimed at empowering student women and offering them a safety net of transferrable and practical skills that will inspire them to start their own enterprises while studying. Participants were drawn from the signed-up SWEEP members and more, from South Africa’s public universities.
At the workshop, Ms Karen Snyman (left), Student Entrepreneurship Specialist at Nelson Mandela University and Deputy Chairperson of the national EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship, gave an overview of what the university chapters will look like. Alongside her was Ms Mashoto Mphahlele (right), CEO and founder of Mash Organics and Amani Accessories. Ms Mphahlele is a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies graduate from the University of Limpopo, who won the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021 award in Category 4, representing Existing Business – General. Mash Organics makes 100% organic skin and hair care products.
Ms Mphahlele relayed a set of questions from the workshop attendees who were keen to learn more about SWEEP. In this interactive session, Ms Snyman answered each of them comprehensively.
MM: What is the University Chapter all about?
KS: The University Chapter is a very exciting tentacle to the SWEEP big national platform. As you know, there has lately been a surge in female entrepreneurship, especially among students. This has resulted in a need to network and share with and learn from each other. Hence, the birth of SWEEP. Now, the SWEEP University Chapter will be an extension of this national programme, bringing it to your doorstep and closer to you, the student entrepreneur.
As it has been highlighted, student women entrepreneurs face even more unique challenges as they attempt to build businesses alongside managing academic careers. At the same time, students have social lives and juggle those and maintaining family relations. It can be mentally draining. As they say, it is a lonely journey.
Thus, a platform to meet other student women who understand you – both professionally and personally, can make a difference to your business success. It is common knowledge that women tend to gravitate towards more collaborative environments. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable in a male-led, highly competitive and, at times, even testosterone-driven space.
So, again, University Chapters are an extension to SWEEP, the umbrella to which the campus-based chapters will affiliate.
MM: What is the purpose of this University Chapter?
KS: SWEEP itself will focus on three tiers: building a leadership and professionalism platform, building entrepreneurial skills and opportunities for women, as well as sustainability and resilience. The University Chapters are creating a sisterhood to develop an awareness of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial activity to stimulate economic participation amongst student women. It also creates a platform to connect with other women through peer networking, networking with professionals and even networking with your own university’s alumni women in business.
MM: How will female studentpreneurs benefit when they join the University Chapter?
KS: The benefits are endless. I mean, belonging to a co-curricular activity outside the classroom can only be beneficial because that is where real growth happens.
The SWEEP University Chapter will give you access to the necessary support, connect you with like-minded individuals, grow you through mentoring, networking, coaching, and training. It will also give you access to other women entrepreneurs and women in business.
It will be a safe space for women to receive advice from peers, experts, etc. And, ultimately, it will look good on your CV.
Besides that, it will provide a supportive environment where honesty is encouraged and accepted. It will be a place for student women to nurture themselves. In addition, we foresee it improving student women’s mental health as it is one of the issues we face. We are overwhelmed by the challenge to balance our lives, careers and family issues and we cannot cope. The SWEEP University Chapter will offer you the space to be yourself and help you improve your confidence and self-esteem, and an opportunity for dialogue. It will not only identify issues but provide solutions.
Typically, when women come together, they readily share. They celebrate even small victories in both their personal and professional lives.
MM: How does one become a member?
KS: Firstly, you need to be a registered student at a specific university.
Although SWEEP will ultimately be in all 26 public universities, we are taking baby steps to get there. We have drafted a constitution for the University Chapters. Then, our next phase towards rolling out SWEEP to University Chapters will be to recruit an executive committee, among student entrepreneurs. A call will go out to recruit them and to allocate them those leadership roles. Afterwards, we will give them some basic training on how to run a University Chapter.
In terms of reporting, the University Chapters will submit short monthly reports. These will give insights into the necessary support that each Chapter needs. Everything will be within the guidelines and core values of SWEEP.
MM: We, at the University of Limpopo, had Enactus. We were required to pay R50 each as a once-off affiliation fee. Will there be a joining fee?
KS: Each university will determine its own membership fee, but of course, the national body will rule if it is a reasonable amount. We do not want to catch out students charging ridiculous amounts. I mean, R50 a year to get entrepreneurial support and access to a mentor is a fair amount. At NMU, for example, the money will be administered by a staff member and only utilised for organisational needs.
MM: Does one need to be a full-time student at a university to be part of the structure?
KS: As mentioned earlier, just a registered student, not necessarily a full-time or part-time student at a specific university. But what I want to add is that the long-term goal is then, once you leave the university, you become part of the alumni network. Through that alumni network, you then have an opportunity to give back to SWEEP. This means you can either become a mentor or give your input, share skills and knowledge with the SWEEP University Chapters.
MM: What advice can you give to someone sceptical about joining the University Chapter?
KS: I would say just do it. Take the step, make the move, join. I mean, you will miss out on meeting amazing people like myself and Mashoto – miss out on just meeting, making incredible connections with people. So, just leap.
For more information on SWEEP initiatives and to register, visit https://edhe.co.za/sweep/.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.