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South African women fall behind in owning business

While South Africa has made significant progress in creating equal access for women to financial services and tertiary education, the number of women business owners are still constrained.

While South Africa has made significant progress in creating equal access for women to financial services and tertiary education, the number of women business owners are constrained due to the lack of perceived business opportunities, funding, and motivation, according to findings from the inaugural Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE).

South Africa ranks 21st (64.4) on the Index, which tracks female entrepreneurs’ ability to capitalise on opportunities granted through various supporting conditions within their local environments. The index uses three components made up of 12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators to look at how 54 economies, representing 78.6 percent of the world’s female labour force, differ in terms of the level of Women’s Advancement Outcomes, Knowledge Assets & Financial Access, and Supporting Entrepreneurial Factors.

Despite a healthy MIWE score, women account for only 19.1 percent of business owners in South Africa (rank 44), indicating that women’s progress in entrepreneurship has been disappointingly low compared to its global counterparts. Uganda (34.8 percent) and Botswana (34.6 percent) rank first and second in the world for Women Business Owners, with other developing countries such as Russia, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam also in the top 10. New Zealand (third) and Australia (fifth) are the developed countries with highest rates of female business owners.

“South Africa’s resourceful women are one of its biggest assets, yet it is evident that South African women’s full potential and value as entrepreneurs and business owners are yet to be unleashed,” says Mark Elliott, Division President, Mastercard South Africa. “We must accelerate our efforts to dismantle the structural obstacles and biases that impede female entrepreneurship so that women can play an enlarged role in South Africa’s economic growth story.”

Looking at the Indices’ three components, South Africa has an average Women’s Advancement Outcome score of 52.7 (rank 27), indicating that women’s progress and degree of marginalization economically and professionally as business leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs and labour force participants is on par with its global counterparts.

Gender inequality towards women remains in the workplace, particularly in the areas of leadership, with three women business leaders for every 10 business leaders. This is mirrored by a low labour force participation rate, with only 46.3 percent of women compared to 60.6 percent for men in South Africa’s workforce, and a low rate of women’s entrepreneurial activity, with only seven percent of working age women in the labour force engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activities compared to 11.6 percent for men.

Mastercard’s research shows that women in South Africa excel in the Knowledge Assets & Financial Access Component (81.9, rank 3), which gauges women’s progress and degree of marginalisation as financial customers and academically in terms of tertiary education enrollment. Not only are they as well-educated as their male counterparts in tertiary education, they have good access to financial services, and Small Medium Enterprise (SME) support.

Despite this, women’s progress and growth in the business world has been severely undermined by a low perception of business opportunities, and poor self-confidence, which are further compounded by a high level of business discontinuance, effectively feeding the already high fear of failure.

“We observe that indicators such as SME support and financial inclusion are important in supporting women’s entrepreneurship in South Africa, but are not necessarily the drivers of women’s advancement as business owners.  An accelerated and concerted focus on improving business skills, funding and business opportunities while reducing deterrents such as crime will be key in pushing South African women’s progress in the business world,” says Elliott.

The Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions Component benchmarks how supportive entrepreneurial conditions are as enablers or constraints of women business ownership. Here, South Africa ranks 31st with a score of 62.7. While South Africa performs well for quality of governance and moderately for ease of doing business, it scores slightly lower for cultural perceptions of women entrepreneurs.

“While South Africa has made some solid progress in creating supportive conditions for women entrepreneurs, more must be done to ensure women fully harness these opportunities. It’s vital that the public and private sector work together with development organizations to support South African women in fulfilling their potential as business owners and innovators. When that happens, the whole of society will benefit,” says Elliott.

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Time for smart energy

South Africa is experiencing an energy crisis that requires the public and private sectors, along with households to work together. Fundamental to this is embracing innovative technology that provides more efficient ways of managing the country’s energy.

Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, sub-Saharan Africa, said: “With the number of connected devices expected to top more than 75 billion worldwide by 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be considered an important tool in reaching this goal. Already, connected devices can be used to deliver smart energy that sees a more optimal use of resources.”

This approach relies on a smart grid of connected sensors pointing to areas where energy is wasted. In turn, the supply to these points can be allocated to higher priority areas resulting in a better use of resources.

Aiding this drive towards connected devices is government pushing towards the establishment of smart cities. These cities require a technological infrastructure built around various sensors connected to the internet to not only generate data, but control things as diverse as traffic lights, street lamps, and other electrical devices.

Graham said: “These smart cities enable lighting to be automatically switched off when not needed. Sensors on the connected devices will detect when people are on the street and turn it off or on accordingly. What might seem like a novelty, can make a massive difference in reducing energy waste.”

According to Kate Stubbs, director of business development and marketing at Interwaste, IoT is just part of how technology can be used to create a more efficient environment.

“South Africa produces an average 108 million tonnes of waste annually,” said Stubbs. “Of this, only 10 percent is recycled. There is significant potential to use this waste and convert it to energy. This is more than just the traditional way of viewing recycling. Instead, it is using technology to extract value out of waste through initiatives like refuse and waste-derived fuel.”

The first South African Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant was launched in 2016 and not only aims to reduce landfill, but also the country’s carbon footprint. As the name suggests, the plant converts general, industrial, and municipal waste into an alternative fuel that is used in the cement industry.

Stubbs said: “Spin-off benefits of this plant includes the creation of additional employment opportunities and a reduction of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. Waste management entails so much more than what many people think. But the key remains a combination of technology innovation and a willingness to use the resources generated by this.”

Graham agrees about the need to readily accept the innovation technology brings as the country is teetering on a significant energy disaster.

He said: “New technologies are critical in helping the countries and their cities of the future promote sustainable energy use. For example, Nairobi has introduced smart street lamps that use LED lighting saving money and resources on energy costs. These lamp poles also have Wi-Fi embedded in them that sees air quality probe sensors submitted vital data for city planners on where there are pollution hotspots.”

Stubbs feels these are good examples of how energy management approaches in the connected world need to be non-linear.

“The traditional ways of adopting technology, recycling, and managing energy must be seen as relics of the past,” she said. “Instead, we must all work together and readily embrace modern solutions or risk our country entering a new dark ages.”

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Girls4Tech aims to cut gender gap in AI and security

Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are two of the hottest technology fields today, with job opportunities continuing to grow across both. However, worldwide, women make up less than 15 percent of the professionals in these high-tech jobs[1], and only one in 20 girls opts for a career based in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)[2].

To help narrow the gender gap, Mastercard has been cultivating young technology enthusiasts as part of its signature education platform, Girls4Tech. Currently in its fifth year, this hands-on, inquiry-based STEM programme has reached more than 400,000 girls (ages 8-12) in 25 countries, more than doubling its established 2017 goal. Girls4Tech was first launched in the South Africa in 2017, and has seen numerous Mastercard employees acting as mentors to local students ever since. As Mastercard marks the fifth anniversary of the programme, the company builds on a successful track record of impact with an even more ambitious commitment to reach 1 million girls by 2025.

Mastercard created Girls4Tech in April 2014 to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers through a fun, engaging curriculum built around global science and mathematics’ standards. The programme incorporates Mastercard’s deep expertise in payments technology and innovation, and includes topics such as encryption, fraud detection, data analysis and digital convergence.

“Driving inclusion, equal opportunity, and women’s empowerment are key priorities at Mastercard. Investing in a more inclusive future is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Women are the driving force behind global economic growth, and their contributions will continue to elevate communities and society as a whole,” says Beatrice Cornacchia, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Middle East and Africa at Mastercard. “Through our Girls4Tech programme, we’re extending our commitment to the next generation of women leaders and developing a strong pipeline of talent by encouraging girls to embrace the subjects that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.”

New Curriculum Unveiled

As technology skills continue to evolve, the Girls4Tech programme is launching a new curriculum to give girls deeper exposure to the growing fields of cybersecurity and AI.

Furthermore, to continue the engagement with girls who have already participated in the programme, Mastercard is launching Girls4Tech 2.0. Designed for older students, ages 13-16, the new programme aims to keep girls excited about STEM throughout the critical high school years and also emphasises important 21st century skills – such as collaboration, creativity and communication – as they work in teams to apply their technical knowledge to solve real-world challenges.

Impact Highlights from the First Five Years

  • To date, Girls4Tech has reached over 400,000 girls, with events in 25 countries and six continents.
  • The programme has engaged more than 3,800 employee mentors worldwide.
  • Mastercard has created partnerships with Scholastic, Be Better China, Singapore Committee for UN Women, Major League Baseball, R&A, and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to further scale the programme and offer STEM skills in unique ways to girls ages 8-12.
  • The programme has achieved global reach with the curriculum translated into 12 languages.

To learn more about the programme, please visit the Girls4Tech webpage.

[1] 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study:  Women in Cybersecurity

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Women in STEM 2017 Update; World Economic Forum, Gender Parity and Human Capital Report 2017

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