The Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) – the brainchild of Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), kicked off its inaugural Economic Activation Workshop with a bang on Tuesday.
Setting the stage for the three-day event, Dr Norah Clarke, Director: EDHE, said now that this workshop was being hosted online, any woman studying outside of South Africa’s public university sector was also welcomed, as was any woman eyeing a comfortable corporate job but needed to have a back-up plan. “This workshop is about positioning student women for economic activity through SWEEP. It is for women who are looking to make an income through entrepreneurship and who need to put plans in place to make a decent living for themselves. If you are such a woman, SWEEP is for you. We want to guide you through this process.”
In a poll conducted at the beginning of this online workshop, 93% of the participants expressed a wish to have a business venture; 14% wished for some flexibility while earning money, while 35% wanted to be their own boss. This feedback spurred an online conversation on what was necessary for a successful business. The attendees identified mentorship as an area of critical importance.
Leading the initial discussion that ensued, on mentorship, were members of the EDHE team. These were Ms Zana Boshoff, Project Manager; Ms Linda Lindani, a Digital Communication Consultant and the compère for this conference; Mr Sandile Shabalala, Senior Student Engagement Officer, and Stakeholder Manager, Mr Richardt Kok.
Sandile Shabalala stressed that mentorship does not just focus on core business aspects. “It also speaks to your personal character and growth. Through mentorship you will learn to balance your business, school, and social life. But you must be willing to change.” Other EDHE team members also made introductory inputs about mentorship before opening the floor to participants’ questions in this regard.
Question from Nozipho Khwela: What should one look for, in a mentor?
Zana Boshoff (left): like in any relationship, this should be someone you will get along with; someone with knowledge in your type of business who probably failed and started again; someone with practical business experience. It is a long-term relationship so this person must see value in investing their time in you. This must be a mutually beneficial relationship.
You must have a clear business strategy, goals, and objectives, as well as commitment in this relationship. The idea should be to develop or grow the business. I’ve seen instances where the entrepreneur wants the business going in one direction and the mentor or coach has a different idea of where it must go. This is where having a clear strategy will help.
Professor Eunice Seekoe: Not only must they be experienced – they must have succeeded in their own career life. The mentor must be able to communicate with you at your level and connect you to networks and empower you to succeed. Note that you might have different mentors focusing on different things…Most people who are successful in life will tell you that they were mentored; remember that President Nelson Mandela was mentored by Albert Luthuli.
Question from Alina Ntsiapane: What must I do if the mentor wants to take my business in a direction different from the one that I envisage for my business?
Zana Boshoff: Open-mindedness is critical. Your mentor might see things that you are not seeing. You should be open to advice and value your mentor’s opinion, knowing that they have been in this longer than you.
Question from Linda Lindani: How do I know when to sever the relationship?
Dr Norah Clarke: The moment the relationship does not benefit you anymore; when the relationship does not grow any further and offer anything new. You should be able to discuss this with the mentor and explore different ways to communicate with each other. Sometimes there is not enough chemistry – they might not be suited for this relationship.
Dr Carina van der Walt: Chemistry is key when picking a mentor. Open communication with your mentor will also determine whether the relationship continues or ends. Never be afraid to end the relationship, if you must, but continue to be flexible. Paternalism is smothering and will lead to non-growth and discouragement.
Professor Eunice Seekoe (right): The mentor is not your parent. The mentor and mentee must discuss terms of reference and the rules of engagement at the beginning of their relationship: What is it that this relationship is expected to achieve and how long is the relationship envisaged to last? This must include basics like meeting times.
The two parties must also agree on measures indicating whether the relationship is working or not.
Sandile Shabalala: You can also assess the value of the relationship by looking at what it is that you were struggling with, prior to the mentorship. To what extent has the mentor enabled you to navigate those challenges? How else did the mentor manage to build you?
Question from Kimsha Sewpal: How often should mentors be changed, if at all?
Professor Eunice Seekoe: This would have been spelt out and carefully agreed on in the terms of reference at the start of the relationship. Once the relationship objectives have been met, the relationship can naturally come to an end.
Participants also raised other pertinent questions on starting businesses.
Shruthi Thomas, for instance, wanted more tips on leadership and professionalism in the workplace. She also wondered how to eliminate gender inequality in the workplace. The speakers agreed that there were no set answers and that everything was work in progress.
Christina Mulaudzi wanted to know how she could protect her intellectual property when dealing with a mentor. In response, EDHE’s Richardt Kok suggested the starting point could be the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
Ms Ntsiki Mkhize (left), founder of MentHer, a global mentorship network supporting female social entrepreneurs, also presented at the SWEEP Economic Activation workshop on Day One, on the topic Purpose and Mentorship. She addressed the topic in the context of creating, visualising, goal setting and planning.
“I’m really big on setting goals, visualising and having a plan for what it is that you want to do.”
“Imagine if I gave you a blank cheque and said your life could look like absolutely anything you wanted it to look like. What would that look like if you removed family, friend’s views and society’s expectations?” She suggested participants spend time visualising what life would look like in 10/20/ years.
Ms Mkhize said: “I firmly believe that goals are set in the context of having a clear vision. “Regarding goal setting, humans are multi-dimensional and all the aspects of who you are as a person have to be factored in.” She spoke of different goals related to different aspects of life, such as relationships, finances, health, spirituality, education, and fun.
In her journal, she specifies that goals be set for the next 10 years narrowing it down to five years etc.
She said: “When you get to the end you know your five key goals for each area. If, like me, you have bold, audacious goals of where you want to be in the next five to 10 years, it can be overwhelming: how do I get there?” She quoted The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan: “For all of your goals, look for the shortest most attainable time.” For example, a 10-year goal needs to be broken down until it becomes a quarterly or monthly, weekly, daily goal.
She said carefully defined goals were necessary when running a business, ensuring that adequate bundles of time are devoted to doing business and on business (administration). Using herself as an example, she told of how to target goals on a daily basis: “If your goal is to save R50 a day, cut out your daily almond cappuccino, that costs R40! If your goal is to get more customers – speak to 10 people every day so you’ve reached your target by month end.”
Ms Mkhize recommends a “purpose statement” to navigate a business journey. “If you’re a social entrepreneur like me, you have to have a sustainable goal. You have to ask: Why am I doing this? Why do I want to create this? Within yourself you have to ask: Why was I created? Why do I exist? If you’re not sure where to start, find the sweet spot by making a list of everything you’re good at: skills you’ve gathered over a lifetime.”
Then, she says, make a list of what you love to do. Ask what the world needs – in my community, in my gender, in my country, around the world. Then ask: What are customers willing to pay for? What are corporates willing to transact for, or government – anyone who has money. “Somewhere in the middle is your sweet spot: something that you are good at doing, that you love to do, that the world needs, that someone is willing to pay for.”
A key part of her mentorship programme is to hang on to why you started when business gets challenging, something that requires a clear vision.
She believes that everyone needs a purpose statement as well as a personal mission statement. “For me, I believe that my purpose is to bio-connect and empower women and youth across the African continent to create sustainable businesses. When I partner with anyone, I ask does this align with what I want to do, or with the change I want to enact.
“In order to get stuff done you need to be mindful that your words create your world. What you say after the words I AM are the most powerful statements you can declare because you are saying who you are.”
Ms Mkhize quoted John Crosby who described mentorship as “a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction”. “You need someone who can take a helicopter view of where you are and help you navigate the journey you are on,” she said.
And this is how she differentiated between a mentor, coach and sponsor.
Mentor: (a free service) This could be a colleague, a friend, a lecturer, the CEO of a company. A mentor is someone who has walked your journey a couple of steps ahead of you, there to help you navigate your end goal.
Coach: (a paid service) A coach is someone who helps attain goals in specific areas.
Sponsor: (free) Someone who backs your ability and can mention your name in a room or open doors for you.
SWEEP, launched in October 2021, is aimed at equipping student women at South Africa’s public universities for entrepreneurial activity. It is addressing a concern over the current under-representation of student women in entrepreneurship while seeking to empower participants in the context of gender-based violence. EDHE, for its part, is an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training being implemented in partnership with Universities South Africa (USAf).
Although this workshop was initially planned to be a face-to-face event for only the registered 46 SWEEP members, the 4th wave of CoVID-19 thwarted that plan in favour of online delivery. This saw up to 150 individuals who were linked in via Zoom, benefitting from the Monday proceedings. According to Dr Norah Clarke, every speaker at this event is doing so pro bono. “They believe in the student women of this country and at our universities and want to support them to succeed.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa