Botswana Womens’ Coworking Space A First for Sub-Saharan Africa
Botswana Womens’ Coworking Space: The first coworking space for women has been opened in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, by The Institute of Entrepreneurial Development (IED). Bonang Sealetsa, IED Managing Director, says that the new space is almost certainly the first in Sub-Saharan Africa, maybe in all of Africa.
Though Botswana has a higher percentage of women entrepreneurs (36.4%) than the USA (35.1%), according to Mastercard’s Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019. This is a bit deceptive, since in only four Botswana sectors do women owners outnumber men in Botswana. Naturally enough they are hairdressing & personal services (85% women owners), accommodation (79%), textile manufacturing & repair (53%) and food & beverage (51%).
Bonang Sealetsa says, “Present business training and other enterprise development services for women in Botswana tend to be approached from a welfare perspective.” He sees there to be a gap in the provision of both support, resources and facilities for female founders in Botswana.
However, if the US is anything to go by, over the past five years, the annual growth rate in the number of women-owned firms has been more than double that of all businesses (2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report from American Express). The number of women-owned businesses increased in the same period by 21%, while all businesses increased only 9%, and total employment by women-owned businesses rose 8%, while for all businesses the increase was 1.8%.
With the opening of the new Botswana Womens’ Coworking Space, he plans to change this attitude. It will not be about aid for the disadvantaged, but opening up brand new opportunities, especially in sectors that have been dominated by male entrepreneurs.
The IED prioritizes the development of women entrepreneurs fits the country’s declared National Policy on Gender and Development aims to serve as a springboard for implementing the gender equality goal in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other goals to improve the dignity and status of women throughout Botswana.
It is interesting to note that a men’s sector under the ministry responsible for gender will engage men as critical partners in promoting gender equality. Botswana continues to recognize gender equality as central to socio-economic, political and cultural development through its National Vision 2036. To strengthen its Women Economic Empowerment Program, in 2018, Botswana committed additional resources by increasing its budget from $2.5 million to 5.5 million.
Culture Holds Back Women Entrepreneurs
The dominant culture in sub-Saharan countries is still one that expects women to hold a traditional role confined to home making and child rearing. Cultural factors still impede the progress of women in business, especially in Africa. This is why the IED makes a special focus of all of its startup services on women.
“Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals,” according to Makhtar Diop writing in a World Bank blog.
The United States has one of the liveliest coworking communities and may serve as useful examples to opportunities in developing countries. The Venture Founders Coworking Directory USA lists dozens of women-centered collaborative workspaces across the country dedicated to female founders. Each offers its own mix of facilities devoted to the special needs of women entrepreneurs, including events, education, collaboration, day care/childcare, mother’s rooms and female mentoring, plus of course services like printing, coffee shops.
Will Keyser of Venture Founders has been working as a mentor with the Institute for Entrepreneurial Development since its foundation five years ago.