On a cold, rainy Cape Town winter’s morning 200 women who are small business owners arrived at the Pepper Club Hotel to attend a Boost Your Business workshop hosted by Facebook and UN Women. Some of the attendees were already using Facebook for business and were there to learn more. But others were there because they needed help to get started.
The workshop was a joint initiative of Facebook in support of UN Women. By hosting the workshop, Facebook supports UN Women’s work in advancing gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. High-profile speakers at the event included Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women executive director and UN under-secretary-general; public enterprises minister Lynne Brown; Prof Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services; Elizabeth Thabethe, the deputy minister of small business development and Ebele Okobi, Facebook head of public policy for Africa.
“We see SMEs as the backbone of the economy and growing female-owned businesses as critical to South Africa’s growth and development. As a platform that democratises marketing, Facebook can help them grow. It’s a platform that gives women an opportunity to connect to a global community, and to share inspirational and aspirational stories,” said Facebook’s head of public policy in Africa, Ebele Okobi.
Ebele referred to the dress she was wearing at the event as an example of women and global business connections. “See this dress I’m wearing today? I’ve received a lot of compliments about it. I saw this dress on Facebook. It was made by a woman in my home country, Nigeria, and sewed by women in Tanzania. But I bought it from London.”
In South Africa, 7% of the adult population is engaged in entrepreneurship, while 2.7% already own/manage an established business. For every 10 adult males engaged in entrepreneurship there are 8 women. Women represent approximately 56% of the survivalist company category, 38% of micro-enterprises with no employees, and 15% of micro-enterprises with 1-4 employees.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, the former deputy president of South Africa, said investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. “The majority of women in Africa are in unpaid care work and living in perpetual poverty. Technology is critical to liberate the creativity of those women and as an enabler to help bridge the gender divide,” she said.
“We believe that technology can be a game changer for women and girls – in particular for women-owned SMEs. Our EmpowerWomen.org online platform gives women entrepreneurs in over 190 countries access to business success stories, resources and tools directly from their mobile devices. This way, technology becomes an accelerator for women to start and grow prosperous companies that can transform our society and create equal opportunities for all,” she added.
South Africa’s deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services, Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, believes ICT presents huge opportunities to women. “If a woman has internet access and can connect online, she can grow her business, opening up markets. And she can do all that from rural communities, not only in the big cities,” said Mkhize.
A personal connection
As women, we are naturals at social marketing. We love connecting, sharing stories, news and views of what’s available to buy and where to shop to find the best deals. Personally, I’ve always been grateful to Facebook. Early in 2010, armed with zero financial resources, but a solid 20 years of brand-building experience to back me up, I set out to establish my new business with nothing but a blog and a Facebook page. I was able to do this easily at the time, at absolutely no financial cost, as the Facebook landscape was not nearly as crowded as it is now, and my posts were seen and widely shared.
However in recent years, as Facebook made changes to its algorithms and the marketplace became noisy and crowded, myself and many other page owners and admins have experienced less and less engagement on our pages.
Now Facebook gives us the option of using what they call ‘Boosted Posts’ – paid and targeted advertising that reaches more of the people who already like the page, as well as new audience segments based on contextual information (location, age, gender and interests).
I chatted to page owners at the workshop, who are using Boosted Posts and they reported great success in extending awareness and reach of their pages.
The good news is that Facebook advertising is affordable and effectively reaches the desired target audience – more so than other forms of costlier advertising that is often a lot more hit and miss. And with all the guides and tutorials they offer, Facebook makes it easy for page admins and small business owners to do it themselves, without the added cost of having to hire advertising and marketing practitioners.
The workshop introduced women to the tools, tips and techniques to help them grow their businesses through the platform.
I spoke to a number of women after the workshop, to get their feedback. While they all agreed that the workshop had been inspiring and enlightening, many of them still needed practical help with setting up their Facebook pages and getting to grips with how it works.
After a chat with Anna Faith, the manager at UN Women, who then passed on this feedback to Facebook – it was agreed that a Getting Started with Facebook Pages Guide would be available to download from the EmpowerWomen.org website and that the link would be emailed to all attendees of the workshop.
Facebook can be an effective tool to empower women through the opportunities it offers to connect and network, to share stories, to build communities and to engage directly with them. And judging from the feedback at the workshop, South Africa’s women SME owners are eager to pursue those opportunities.
A second Boost Your Business workshop is taking place in Johannesburg on Friday, 5 June.
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