Being a Woman and an Entrepreneur in Malawi

By Mayamiko Chiwaya, Student Driven Solutions graduate, age 16

Starting a business in Malawi is not an easy thing. Most people think that once you come up with a business idea you can implement it right away, which is not always true. To start a business requires hard work and dedication. In this edition, I will share with you the challenges women and girls encounter while striving to start small businesses in Malawi.

According to my investigations, the first challenge that women and girls in Malawi often meet is lack of recognition. Women and girls are not recognized as people who can develop Malawi as a country through business. It’s for this reason that they often fail to start small businesses because they are not given the chance. For example, in most banks in Malawi, women are given smaller loans than men.

Pamela Banda, age 18, a successful young lady operating a shop selling fashion items once experienced this challenge when getting a loan from the bank, but still managed to get a small loan from her mother’s bank to launch her business. She shares her story:

“At first people underestimated me because of my age. People thought that at my age I couldn’t run a business because most of the time, people my age have not completed secondary school in Malawi. Apart from being underestimated, I also met different discouragements. I received negative comments from people. They said business was for uneducated people. They said educated people work in offices and other institutions while uneducated people have to do business since they do not have the capability to work. As for me, I did not believe it because nowadays in Malawi things have changed and the economy is not normal so one needs to work and do at least a small business in order to live a decent life.”

Pamela started her business because she saw that her parents had a big responsibility in taking care of all the children. They weren’t able to help everyone so she decided to start the business to support herself. She makes profits and is able to support herself through college. Her parents pay school fees and the business supports her with pocket money. She was even able to buy a laptop using the profits!

Agness Ngozo, age 30, operates a butchery business and said she also encountered the same problems that Pamela described:

“I faced a lot of discouragement from different people, including my own husband. They said to own a butchery was a masculine business not feminine so I had to stand firm to the idea and now I own several butcheries.”

Agness started her business because she didn’t want to be a housewife with nothing to contribute. She hated always asking her husband for money and it caused them to fight. She got a loan to start her business two years ago and has managed to expand the business to new areas. She says, “I have many customers and people love to buy from me because I sell quality meat.” She is able to take care of her family and pay her children’s school fees.

It seems the discouragements most women face when they want to start a business come from their husbands and friends. Mostly people do this out of jealousy since they think they can’t do it themselves.

When I asked Pamela how she managed to overcome her challenges, she said:

“I put God first in everything. I know that I may have the knowledge, a good attitude and a hardworking spirit to do business but if I don’t put God first God will not reward me. Apart from putting God first, I also have confidence in me. I believed in myself and I believed I could do it no matter what. I also challenged the people who discouraged me from starting a business. The more I challenged them, the more I took control and their discouragements over me diminished.

“I would like to encourage my fellow girls who are fighting hard to start businesses that they should have self-confidence because confidence makes us win before we have started. I also had some goals, which guided my decisions and actions so whatever I was doing was in line with my goals. If I had not set goals, I could have been easily moved by what people were saying.

“Lastly I learned through my past experiences, which helped me make better decisions. I know that the good decisions I’ve made in my life have come from learning from errors, mistakes and pains. If I had not failed, I could not have learned and I could not have become a person who makes good decisions today. It was through all of this that I managed to overcome the challenges I faced during the start of my business.”

At such a young age, Pamela did not allow age to be the barrier for her to start a business as she knew that age doesn’t matter, but what matters is how you age.

 

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About the Author, Mayamiko Chiwaya:
I am 16 years old. My ambition is to become a successful entrepreneur in Malawi. I am passionate about writing, designing, and baking. I like to play football and read novels. My favorite quote is, “Age doesn’t matter but how you age matters.” I was raised in a family of two by a single mum who is a nurse. I am a graduate of Student Driven Solutions and am now running a business.

Student Driven Solutions has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support their work: “Please consider making a donation as little as $1 and as big as infinity! All donations help support girls like Mayamiko start businesses to jumpstart their future.”

 

Women as Leaders

Women haven’t always been best suited for the leading roles. A thousand years ago, leadership depended on other skills than what is required today. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her famous speech We should all be feminists, “[…] human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. The physically stronger person was more likely to lead. And men in general are physically stronger; of course, there are many exceptions.” That isn’t the case any more. Women are just as capable of being leaders as men. Yet, men are dominating as leaders in almost every sector. With less than one week to Women Deliver in Copenhagen, it’s time to reflect on why women are still underrepresented among higher positions, and how we can change that.

Over 50 percent of the population are women. Still, it’s not news that parliaments all over the world are dominated by men. Worldwide, 22 percent of the parliamentarians are women. In 37 countries, this number is below 10 percent.Parliaments in Micronesia, Yemen, Qatar, Tonga, Palau and Vanuatu only include men. Only two parliaments in the world have more women than men. However, being a Swede, I often hear people arguing that the situation is better within Europe. This is not necessarily true. Rwanda is currently the country with the most female representatives at  63.8 percent. Although the Nordic Countries are getting closer to the 50/50 line, Europe with the Nordic countries excluded, has 24.4 percent women in parliaments. Looking at the business sector, the numbers are even worse. Only 4 percent of the S&P 500 Companies CEO’s are women. Notable is that most of the female leaders are represented within the social sector, so in order to achieve equality, we cannot only look at the numbers. Women and men need to have the same possibilities of reaching higher positions within all areas.

However, there is good news too. We are on the right track. The number of female parliamentarians has doubled in the last 20 years, and we might even see a female president of the United States. Women are acknowledged as being capable of developing the same leadership skills as men, and now the situation is being discussed more than ever. Political reforms and law changes also contribute to more possibilities for women. There are also wonderful organisations and conferences focusing on the issue, like Women Deliver. This year the conference features many amazingly inspirational people, both women and men. One of the incredible female leaders who will be attending the conference is Gro Harlem Bruntland – former Prime Minister of Norway. She was in this position for 1o years, and was the youngest person and the first woman to be elected. Referred to as the “mother of the nation”, it’s clear that she is very important to Norway. Bruntland is currently a member of “The Elders” and a member of the United Nations Foundation Board. She has become a symbol for women with power and is a true role model for people all over the world.

The conference features a broad variation of people. Another interesting woman attending the conference is Moya Dodd. Dodd has been listed twice as one of the top 100 Women of Influence by the Australian Financial Review. Aside from being a part of the AFC Legal Committees with an Honours Degree in Law, she has made herself a name within the world of football, a man-dominated area. After being vice-captain of the Australian team, she made her way into the FIFA Executive Committee. She is now working on reforms to include more women within FIFA and make Women’s football more acknowledged. Dodd is an excellent example of a strong leader who breaks norms and is making a change for society; we definitely need more people like her. Want more inspiration? Read more about the amazing leaders attending the conference here.

I strongly encourage everyone to reflect on women as leaders, and why there are so few of them. We already know women are amazing leaders, so let’s take a stand for gender equality. Let’s look at peoples’ competences, skills and personalities, and less at their gender. In this way, we will give the right people influence, and see more people like Gro Harlem Bruntland and Moya Dodd. I guarantee you that we’ll create a better world for everyone once we give everyone an equal opportunity.

Girls’ Globe will be present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016. 

Cover photo credit: Gary Kashka, Flickr Creative Commons