ExpertSpeak: Entrepreneurship could help overcome unemployment in Mauritius
Mrs Georgina Ragaven, Advisor in Women Entrepreneurship Development at the National Women Entrepreneur Council (NWEC), noted that entrepreneurship could be a way of overcoming unemployment as long as entrepreneurs are ready to look for innovative, eco friendly and sustainable ideas.
AfricaMoney spoke to Mrs Georgina Ragaven, Advisor in Women Entrepreneurship Development at the National Women Entrepreneur Council (NWEC) Mauritius, on how women can make their presence felt in the island economy. Our entrepreneurship expert noted that entrepreneurship could be a way of overcoming unemployment as long as entrepreneurs are ready to look for innovative, eco friendly and sustainable ideas. Finally, in context of the AfrAsia Tecoma Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Award being won by a female entrepreneur for the first time in the award’s history, our expert noted that it was a victory for women entrepreneurs indeed, but in the same breath, expressed regret that most awards come with turnover thresholds which most women entrepreneurs in the micro and small enterprise segment are unable to meet.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What is the National Women Entrepreneur Council (NWEC) doing to help promote female entrepreneurship, given that its mission is to become a standard reference point for driving entrepreneurship among women in Mauritius?
This year saw a new dimension to the National Women Entrepreneur Council in parallel to the services normally offered in order to promote economic empowerment of women and encourage the development and growth of women entrepreneurs, which include business counselling, marketing assistance and sensitisation campaigns, amongst others.
New projects were launched such as the Empowering women entrepreneurs programme (EWEP) on a pilot basis. Based on the success of this training and capacity building programme tailor made for women entrepreneurs, it will be replicated in 2014 to allow more of the NWEC members to benefit from this free course.
A number of new initiatives in skills training and social entrepreneurship are being implemented during 2014 such as innovative handicraft products and articles made from recycled items.
Women entrepreneurs registered with the NWEC will continue to receive the opportunities to access venues for craft markets in areas they normally would not have been able to reach.
Trade Fairs are organized on a regional basis to enable women entrepreneurs to meet potential buyers, contract orders as well as create opportunities for those facing marketing problems.
What are the Women Talk Business Forums all about?
The National Women Entrepreneur Council (NWEC) is organising Women Talk Business Forums across the island with a view to maximizing awareness campaigns for potential entrepreneurs and eventually increase the number of women owned businesses.
The main objectives of the forum are to, first up, create an innovative approach in the delivery of services by the Council; secondly, provide a platform for the sharing of experiences of existing women entrepreneurs and business owners; and finally, sensitise potential women entrepreneurs on existing facilities at institutional level.
The Forum consists of an interactive session from various institutions involved in the setting up of businesses such Registrar of Companies, DBM, Municipal Council/District Council, Albion Fisheries Research Centre & Mauritius Revenue Authority. During these forums the information re websites and the services offered to entrepreneurs re creating visibility along with a session on marketing is disseminated.
With Aisha Allee becoming the first woman entrepreneur in Mauritius to win the AfrAsia Tecoma Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014, is it expected that such inspirational stories shall act as a morale booster for others as well?
It’s great to see women taking the lead in so many ways and I whole heartedly congratulate Aisha on receiving this award.
However, it must be pointed out that many of the NWEC members are not in the league to compete in this type of award yet. We are looking at the micro/small women entrepreneur and most of them feel this is out of their reach. We at the NWEC want to encourage women entrepreneurs to be confident enough at least to try.
In some awards, the turnover of the enterprise is a deciding factor as to whether the entrepreneur can apply and our members do not usually make this type of income. Only a small percentage are in the small/medium arena and therefore eligible.
One of the objectives of the NWEC is to evaluate and assess the needs of women entrepreneurs. Could you please tell us what are the needs of women entrepreneurs in Mauritius which come up most often?
When asked what women entrepreneurs require most it is usually, finance, marketing, reaching new outlets and encouragement to become export ready.
According to Statistics Mauritius, the unemployed for the second quarter of 2014 comprised 44,500 individuals, counting 24,600 females among their ranks. According to you, what are the main reasons for female unemployment in Mauritius?
Instead of looking at this as unemployment, let us encourage these women to become entrepreneurs. Any woman who is currently not working, think of what she likes doing best and then makes it her business, thus turning a hobby into a money making venture.
The NWEC Award 2014 was successfully launched in March and the winners were declared in August 2014. Could you please tell us more about this award and what was the purpose behind it?
NWEC Award is an entrepreneurship development initiative aimed at encouraging and helping women entrepreneurs to fulfill their dreams by developing their ideas into sustainable endeavours.
The aim of this award is to first and foremost, provide potential women entrepreneurs with a golden opportunity to bring their business vision to life; second, support existing women entrepreneurs’ innovative ideas, and determination; and, finally, help women entrepreneurs upgrade quality of their products to efficiently contribute to the economic development of the country.
What remains to be done to support women entrepreneurs in Mauritius? Are there any critical obstacles that the NWEC faces in the path of helping women entrepreneurs start their business journey?
There has been a recent scheme launched whereby small entrepreneurs can apply for loans without collateral. It is such incentives which will encourage women to grow and develop their businesses, we have members who have come to us for advise because banks are refusing them loans for business expansion because their spouse has a loan, has had a loan and defaulted and this is not at all the responsibility of the women entrepreneurs.
Do you think that women entrepreneurs in Mauritius are well equipped to face the challenges of globalisation?
With the correct attitude, quality and diversity of products some will definitely not only face competitive, but survive its onslaught as well. The NWEC has recently signed a MOU and is now the FEMCOM chapter for Mauritius which will assist in opening the COMESA markets for the women entrepreneurs who are members and have the correct product or service.
Others require mentoring, support, guidance and preparation to become export ready such as the assistance provided by one of the organizations we collaborate with- Enterprise Mauritius
Finally, in your view, with the rapid changes on the market, what is the future of SMEs in Mauritius?
There is plenty of room for every type of enterprise. Entrepreneurship could be the way of overcoming unemployment. Entrepreneurs have to be ready to look for innovative, eco friendly and sustainable ideas.
In this regard, clustering could be one way of grouping entrepreneurs together to share their knowledge and expertise to ensure their survival.