Women entrepreneurs bank on networking

“Do it, do not just keep it in your mind, but do it!”

Belle Afrique Beauty Spa founder Lee Chisale said as she shared about her business journey with hundreds of women entrepreneurs that came together at the Lionesses of Africa (LOA) Lean in Luncheon on Thursday.

The women entrepreneurs listen to a presentation during the luncheon

“Surround yourself with people who encourage you to move forward. That is what I do,” advised the cosmetologist, who apart from founding the beauty spa is also, co-founder of Belle Afrique Interior Designs.

Held in Blantyre, the Lionesses Lean in luncheon was the second of the kind in the county.

It was co-hosted by the Standard Bank and the Lionesses of Africa founder Melanie Hawken, after the first one that also drew women entrepreneurs from different walks of life in Lilongwe.

“Lionesses of Africa is one of the fastest growing networks for African women entrepreneurs with over 360 000 on the network in 49 countries. We are all about putting women entrepreneurs on the map. We showcase them because we know there is always a great story behind women entrepreneurs.

“The biggest challenge is for them to get out of the confines of their communities to sell. So, we want them to gain exposure so that opportunities can follow,” explained Hawken in an interview.

The LOA founder also cited access to markets as another challenge that women in business face.

“We want them to connect and support each other because opportunities come out of people knowing what exists,” she said.

The organisation has connected with local partners such as Standard Bank to provide resources and advisory services to the women entrepreneurs to help grow their businesses.

“We are bringing leading companies and brands on board to provide advice and information that woman entrepreneurs need to succeed. The idea is to help them take their businesses to the next level,” she said.

On her part, Standard Bank Head of Personal and Business Banking Margaret Kubwalo-Chaika said the objectives of Lionesses of Africa fits well with the Standard Bank Group values.

“We believe we can impact on the growth of women in business. There are many challenges women in business face such as high interest rates. One would have to be in a high profit margin business to make profits. In addition, women are unable to find contracts that would impact their businesses positively. The Lean In events will help them connect and give each other business,” she said.

Kubwalo-Chaika warned against the ‘bring her down’ syndrome that is common among women.

“Our biggest enemy as women is ourselves. We do not like to help each other. Lean In programmes are there to help women support each others’ businesses. The narrative that women cannot work together or that they do not support each other must end. With such support, we can achieve. It would create a snowball effect and everyone would benefit,” she said.

Hawken, who is coming from a successful career in publishing and communications, says her epiphany moment came on her 50th birthday when she decided to do something to impact others.

 “I woke up that day and looked at the life I have had. I set up an entrepreneurship, worked in different companies and made great money for them, but had not touched any lives. I wanted to take all the experience I had, to make a difference in other people’s lives. And I decided to publish a book on the amazing women entrepreneurs in Africa, Lionesses of Africa. I later decided on this movement which is now impacting thousands of women entrepreneurs across Africa,” she said. 

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