A few weeks ago I attended a two-day national conference that invited some of the most prominent women in leadership, business and economic empowerment in both the private and public sector. The line up included the likes of Economic Advisor to the Republic of South Africa, Trudi Makhaya, World Champion and Human Rights Activist Caster Semenya and UCT’s incoming chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe. In bringing together these women under the theme of empowering an inclusive and empowered economy, the role of investing in women owned and led businesses quickly became an emphatic theme. And in this editorial, we’re going to explore not only the role of inclusion in Venture Capital (VC), but the consequences of innovation and discrimination that has lead to the future of alternative capital.
VENTURE CAPITALISTS ARE DEVALUING THE DATA
It is no secret that the more diverse your team is, the more likely that your business is to thrive, and moreover, when that diversity is lead by women. In a study conducted by Mass Challenge and the Boston Consulting Group entitled “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet”, over 350 startups were interviewed and assessed to determine which enterprises were not only more risk averse, but who yielded better financial returns. The results determined that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue (at that, more than two times as much per dollar invested) than those founded by men. To add to this, the study also provided insight of how much more VCs could’ve made (an additional $85 million over five years) had they invested more money equally into both women and men-founded startups. This is a global phenomena, not only unique to the United States. The growing equality parity in both entrepreneurship and venture capital translates to men being more than 92% of the Top 100 venture capital firms and as an impact investment correlation, female-founded businesses are only receiving 2% of total investments by these VCs. This underpins the essence of what we’ll unpack soon, of how the VC mind works, and later why individuals (both men and women) and organisations have to deal with the consequences of the VCs decisions to devalue and disregard the data.
But first, let’s bring the ball back to the continent for a moment, and frame not only the consistency of the return on investment statistics, but also the challenges that female entrepreneurs face in an attempt to acquire or raise capital.
According to the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest growing rate of women-owned and led businesses at 27%, with Uganda (34.8%) and Botswana (34.6%) leading the pack globally. As great and impressive as these statistics are, what compliments this ideal is that while on the surface more women are entering and playing the field, the staying power doesn’t read quite well. The continental region also lists it as the community that has the most women-owned startups shutting down due to little for opportunity for growth and lack of access to capital and resources.
In 2016, Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A) disclosed in their ‘VC4A Venture Finance in Africa' report, which captured the performance of early stage, high impact and growth enterprises from Africa at their crucial stage of early stage investor activity. Some of the data that is based on data collected from 1866 ventures from 41 African countries and 111 Africa-focused investors from 39 countries around the world unveiled included that only 9% of startups have women leaders, and that there is a direct correlation to the success rate of the venture based on the gender balance of the entity.
So why, as revealed in the African Development Bank’s inaugural Africa Investment Forum in 2018 hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa, do women entrepreneurs experience a significant funding gap of US$42 billion annually even though the numbers, time and time again support that they are better yielders of seeded capital?
A thought leadership piece in the World Bank blog shared by Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s former Vice President for the Africa Region and now Vice President for Infrastructure, may help us in shedding some perspective.
BETTING ON THE HORSE, NOT THE STATISTICS
In his opening remarks, “Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.” Diop affirms what the many studies conducted and reports released say about not only growing but visible rate of entrepreneurial activity by women on the continent. He then textures this foundational introduction with a much more granular approach in partially answering why this is the case of stumbling growth in women-owned ventures.
“What this fact conceals, however, is that on average women-owned firms have fewer employees, and lower revenues, profits, and productivity. In many cases, women’s businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.” he continues.
Is he incorrect in his statement? No. However, two ideas that I do want us all to be cognisant of which one he further explains in the article, is that the patriarchal systems which are still in place for African women across the border of the continent. Women do not, and lack the access to the collateral that is required to enable them to access the credit capital, like land and property, these policies and framework are things that need to change so that women can start or develop their businesses.
The other big elephant in the inclusion conversation of venture capital that is widening the investment gap, is that of not only who carries the capital, but why and how that capital distribution always ends up circulating amongst the same racial and gender recipients, call it intentional super inclusive circular and shared value economies of and that scale. In as much as VCs look at outliers and the business and investment cases of startups, it is no secret that they also bet on horses that mirror them. Men (whom we unpacked earlier comprise of 92% of the Top 100 VC firms) are much more likely to invest in men-owned businesses than female ones, and according to a study led by Babson College's Entrepreneurship chair Dr. Candida Brush, it found that startups lead and managed by all-male teams were “four times more likely to receive funding than companies with even one woman leader.”, even with the shocking discovery that gender diversity at the top improves a startup's performance.
If VCs are such risk takers, why not take the biggest risk of them all, women?
THE INNOVATION CONSEQUENCES OF EXCLUSION OF ACCESS TO CAPITAL
It’s happening, too slowly but surely. This gender investment gap has actualised innovative solutions and some, even going back to the basics of group economics to ensure that more entities owned by women are funded and grow to the scale of potential that they truly deserve. Let’s unpack some of these solutions:
· Using metrics like partnerships, capital investments, total number of companies invested in and the social and financial return on investment, Billion Dollar Fund for Women (TBDF) is committed to ensuring that its holding venture companies to investing in more women-founded companies. Implementing a self-funded, non-profit model, TBDF is a global consortium of venture funds that have committed to date (November 2018) $650 million to tackle the gender investment gap by pledging to increase their investments capital pools to women-owned companies, globally. The lobbyist approach has garnered some success stories like Rethink Impact, with continued increased investment in businesses founded by women.
· Group economics is an ancient economic practice that’s now positioned itself as one of the most pivotal ways in which to raise capital, for pre-seed and early stage investment businesses. Entities like The People’s Fund, UpriseAfrica, iFundWomen and Portfolia are some of the companies who are doing exciting things in the space of impact investing and creating not only diversity of opportunities for minorities, but also enabling entrepreneurs to tap into capital that they wouldn’t have otherwise, had the access to.
· The rise of the gender gap also gave rise to women-owned venture capital firms and venture networks who are intentional about investing in women owned businesses. Africa has provided great case studies and momentum to this with venture companies like Dazzle Angels, and Rising Tide Africa which is a group of women angel investors that are harnessing their power, network, passion and capital to positively impact and invest in an empowered and inclusive growing economy, and society.
· Startups and organisations have now had to become technology adjacent in understanding their customers, business model and particularly financial services company, HOW they deploy capital. In his book Tech Adjacent, serial technology entrepreneur and thought leader, Mushambi Mutuma engages on doing business in the future and the importance of constantly evolving with the exponential technology and innovation that’s also growing quite exponentially in business. “What would make you absolete in a day? What technology are you terrified your competitors will figure out? How would we run this company with 10 percent of our current staff? How would you monetise if consumers expected you products/services to be free?”. These questions are some of what, I believe, have influenced how capital and credit is becoming more inclusive for women to be able to bypass the archaic banking structures and enable them to get their food in the door. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project has contributed to the rise of female-owned businesses in Ethiopia by providing women with an alternative to collateral. This is in the form of a 45 minute psychometric test that provides a reliable indication of whether an entrepreneur and whether you will be able to repay a loan without any collateral required. At present, the repayment rate is at 99.4%. Another example of how being technology and future adjacent has served the venture capital and investment ecosystem is through the constant data science application and introduction of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to aid with decision making, and also democratising who can become an investor. The funds in magnitude still lie with the wealthy to invest in “lesser risk averse male-owned entities”, but the opportunities to value the data and tap into the industry with impact investing and seeding the billion dollar potential of the global economy is fair game.
With all the data on the table supporting why inclusion, and particularly why investing in women owned businesses is important for the current and future of the economy, and AfDP’s President Akinwumi Adesina’s call for increased support to for women to be active stakeholders in the economy, why are we constantly accelerating towards the opposite direction when it’s time to seed the capital? The answer may not be as complex as we may make it to turn out, however we can applaud the innovative strides being taken to drive inclusivity and capital returns on these investments. The future of venture capital and investments is democratized, technology and data science adjacent and inclusive of breaking down archaic, exclusive and oppressive systems to ensure that we build inclusive futures and shared growth economies.
One of my earlier experiences of self-promotion was through a mentor (now turned sponsor) of mine who did It on my behalf, and it eventually led me to working with a multi-billion dollar global intelligence and media firm in their first innovation labs in an emerging market and being the first hire. A proud moment (and notice, this is also a showcase of my badassery) that will definitely stay with me for a lifetime. As I began navigating the world of work, never mind that of corporate, I noticed that both young and old professionals (especially women) have a hard task of talking about how badass they were and taking credit in the projects that they were involved in, something that bothered me much, because I definitely saw a part of me in this, and whenever I could, self-regulate.
“I think she sometimes forgets that she’s a junior executive, I feel like she would never work well with other people because she’s always talking about the work that she does.”, a comment reserved about me by a senior executive in industry a few months ago.
While for some cultural, and others religious or spiritual teachings and for another group, a cocktail of all these ways of learning and being, self-promotion is and has always been something associated with vanity. Even with the definitions below, sourced from Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary respectively, notice not only the structure of the definitions, but also the gender placement per definition.
noun: self-promotion; plural noun: self-promotions
the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one's activities, especially in a forceful way.
"she's guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion"
Definition of self-promotion
: the act of furthering one's own growth, advancement, or prosperity : the promotion of oneself didn't try to disguise his self-promotion
Because self-promotion is deemed more of a masculine exercise, when women do it, it comes across as not only trying to join a boy’s club, but also adopting a swear word. Weird, isn’t it? Or does this sound familiar? This means that we also incur a double cost, socially and professionally. Seen as less likeable, advocating too strongly when we raise our profile but also when we don’t do it, seen as incompetent leaders who won’t see their value and their worth and are passively getting by with their work. There’s also the esteemed professional proverb of “Let the work talk for itself” that cements these values around self-promotion. We’ve ironed out the semantics and politics around this matter, how do we now actualise it?
In her (revised and update) book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make to Sabotage Their Careers, author Dr Lois P. Frankel talks about the importance of taking yourself out of your sweet spot and highlights that “… It’s important to take yourself out of the women’s safe zone and toward the edge of the field where the winners are playing.”
In recognising that, let’s invest in the power of three, and start with these three marching orders to kickstart your journey to raising your profile and tapping into the badass that you are:
1. Leverage Social Media
Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, these platforms add value dependent on how you use them. Just like any conversation, it’s a give and take of listening and allowing your community and followers to talk about themselves, and an opportunity for you to talk about what’s relevant to the conversation or one that you want to drive. Share about your work win for the week, a speaking engagement that you participated in, sharing and congratulating the work of your fellow industry peers and/or friends and even a book that you’re reading with a mini review. These small steps and a strategy in place will definitely allow you to start thinking about how you can take the opportunity of the internet and its community to elevate your profile, and serve your community and purpose.
2. Tell your Truth - Authentically
When you have worked on a successful (or not so much) project and were the lead of a team, and post that on social media, that is the truth and whether you share the winnings or losses and lessons behind that, that is authentic content. However, if you’re taking all the glory in something that required the work of 2-10 other people, that’s you being an actual self-righteous and ill mannered non-team player. The only form of self-promotion that’s tactful, is one of truth and truth told authentically. And, as uncomfortable as sharing this may be with the world, remember that you did it and this is your opportunity to move towards operating outside your comfort and toward the edge. Career opportunities, and mentorships also arise from doing this, so if not for yourself, then from the other young and older people who gets inspired.
3. An Opportunity for Mentorship
It’s not always rosy, and as much as we share our successes, I’m a big believer that it’s also just as important to share your losses and challenges. This, because in as much as we may not want to admit it, whenever we have a platform or communities, we have a responsibility with how we use it, because people look up to you. How you drive and use that conversation and responsibility, that is completely up to you. Share your journey to connect dots, and information so that other may be empowered.
This won’t be easy, but I want you to try!
The comment by the senior executive, did it pinch? A little, however after I understood that the core of their reasoning was based on my self-promotion and not the lack of truth or authenticity about my actual work, I opened a bottle of wine and focused on how I could continue connecting the dots for other women, so that more magic and impact may be amplified and badassery be multiplied. This, is also important in the spaces that you allow yourself to thrive in, they become a catalyst in themselves. A recent experience of this was at the launch of The W Collective at the World Economic Forum on Africa. This is a lounge, a community of women who are focused on elevating the profile, high level discussions and networking of industry leaders who are focused on advancing career progression and personal development, and as it says in the name, we're more powerful as a collective. So ladies, get to your marching orders, and operate with what I like to call my "Personal Board of Directors", and cause a shift and change in the world with your badassery!
Images: The W Collective -
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the website, and between work, school and the new role with Circle of Young Intrapreneurs as Chapter Lead, an incredible global organisation for young intrapreneurs, it’s been a tough balance but I want to thank you for the continued support and constant resharing and engagement with the content. As such, I thought it only fair to share on some of the activities that’s been keeping me busy on these streets which includes some speaking, mentoring and some contributions on other platforms.
Some speaking engagements included:
1. Facilitating the Cape Innovation Technology Initiative Tech Skills Readiness Programme with their Software Engineering cohort as they embark on their careers. This is a great programme that looks at aspiring software engineering students largely from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeds knowledge and skills so as to cultivate the STEM future workforce for South Africa! An incredible knowledge sharing afternoon it was.
2. When this email came into my inbox, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and what made me happier was the request to mentor for the day and share my journey was with their Youth@Work and their 60 phenomenal young women, who looked like me and came from the same township and a desire for knowledge and access was there. The opportunity was to engage with these young women on finding employment and choosing a career path – which as we all know how intimidating it can be when you’re still in your late teens. I’m so honoured to be able to get the constant opportunity to engage with young, black women and use my platform for such, to empower with information and access more than anything - be it through work or otherwise. I was left inspired ?❤
3. About two weeks ago, I flew to Pretoria to facilitate a panel discussion on Power and Influence of Young Trailblazers in Corporate and Business that had fellow One Young World Ambassador Farai Mubaiwa on the panel. The Young Corporate Leader‘s Women’s Day celebrations included a keynote addresses by Ipeleng Mkhari and Dr Matete Madiba, just to mention a few of the phenomenal women who got to use their platforms and engage with us. Well done to fellow Ambassador Kamogelo Lesabe for pulling this stunning event together with your team
4. I really do enjoy spending my time with my peers and those even younger, especially still in their teens and impressionable when it comes to making impactful decisions like what subject choices and the career choices that are available for their choosing – of course the bias in me leans towards STEM careers, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I got to have some time with these students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC shared the experience.
Associate Professor at SARChI, Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg on his podcast. In it, we looked at the role of Venture Capital as well as other ingredients for start-up success in South Africa, which can be found in this link - https://soundcloud.com/mzukisiq/start-up-opportunities-and-venture-capital , aswell as a feature on Daily Maverick on South Africa’s Silent Start-Up Revolution which he authoured
One the most impactful and growing technology entrepreneurial schools in Africa is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which over the years has premise in Ghana and recently Nigeria and South Africa, with plans to launch in Ivory Coast and Kenya soon. I had the opportunity to host a session on Open Innovation and Community Building at one of their Community Conversations in Cape Town, as well as share some of the nuggets from the experience and my journey as a junior executive in corporate innovation- https://meltwater.org/open-innovation-and-community-building-with-vuyolwethu-dubese/
It was the cover image that captured my attention to pick up the book and lean in, the image of two black women in their beautiful black hair, smiling at each other. With closer attention, I learned that one of the familiar faces with one of South Africa’s most decorated woman in business and leadership, Dr Judy Dlamini. It was the third point of observation, the title on the cover “Equal But Different: Women Leaders’ Life Stories – Overcoming Race, Gender and Social Class” and paging through the pages and seeing the black powerful women leaders profiled that convinced me to eventually buy the book with much excitement.
“My interest in this area of study is based on my strong belief that people are born equal but different. It is a belief that equity across gender, race, social class and sexual orientation will be attained in my lifetime.”
This is the opening quote of the first chapter of the book, where Dr Judy Dlamini unpacks the motivation for choosing the social identities of race, gender and class to carry the narrative of the book and the genesis of the book’s conception. The strongly academic tone of this opening chapter (very well consistent throughout the book) is sweetened by a framework suggested by authors Dlamini fondly quotes Nkomo and Ngambi (2009), a meso-level approach to women leadership that is operational at Societal, Individual and Organisational Level.
I’m so incredibly excited to be affirmed every day I see a sea of women, and particularly for my societal identity, black women who are successful in business and technology. Representation matters, it does, and what matters within the confines and decoration of the politics of the image of your role models is also what they consume to inform their society. Taking into account the time period of Apartheid that these women grew up in, the socialism of not only gender but race played a role in how their lives turned out and ultimately, what class they managed to place themselves in, consciously and unconsciously.
In the chapter that followed, Dr Dlamini goes on to profile numerous leaders including United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, CEO of Barclays Africa’s Maria Ramos, Founder of Fly Blue Crane’s Siza Mzimela, and current President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa to name a few – this is where it got real for me.
The general consensus from the series of interviews confirmed this for me from the array of women leaders interviewed:
· Most of the women interviewed were black women, and the further education either in Europe or North America afforded them the entry point into the social class privilege that they enjoy today
· Men, and especially white men seem to be better mentors and sponsors to women at the start and peak of their careers
· Black women don’t see white women as allies, mainly because as Gloria Serobe puts it “…. White women are struggling to accept that they were marginalised; the fact is that they were. They benefitted from employment equity.”
From foreign perspectives of both women and men leaders, the consumption of feminism from both men and men to the strategy of quotas to enable more women into not only boards but also the transition from middle-level to senior-level management, this book peeled many layers to its honest core. The one unpleasantry of the book had to be the constant repetition of quotes from Chapter 2 “South African women’s life journeys” throughout the book from Chapters 3 onwards through to the final chapter. The reference of the chapters were written in a manner as though the reader started reading from Chapter 3 and skipped pages, instead from the beginning.
“There was consensus among the interviewees that women tended to work in support departments, which did not expose them to leadership positions. Cora emphasised the importance of being in a revenue-generating position within the organisation as a success strategy, while Tomatoe Serobe, co-founder and CEO of WipCapital, emphasised the need for women to understand the business of their company as a whole rather than only the small division where they worked.”
For a young woman starting out in her career and/or business, this is a book of great insights and a look at what not only successful black women representation looks like, but also a consultation on where and how one would draw the line in being an ableist of sexism, tokenism and other –isms in your career journey. Take heed of the strategies and advice supplied by these global leaders and do your best in your journey.
Images : Dillion Phiri.