“Women play a vital role in achieving sustainable development through promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment; we often stand at the front line in terms of poverty, yet provide invaluable contributions to sustaining communities,” said Cecilia Njenga, head of the UN environment office in SA during a panel discussion considering supporting the livelihoods of women in supplier development programmes.

The discussion was hosted as part of the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Dialogue Series on August 11 2020, presented by Fetola, Cold Press Media and Arena Holdings.

“Traditionally we have been taught to be competitive with one another, in a man’s world. That strategy doesn’t work,” said Fetola CEO Catherine Wijnberg, who chaired the women-led panel comprising Mamoroke Lehobye, MD of MyCFO; Mishinga Seyuba Kombo, head, enterprise and supplier development at Pick n Pay; Tamiko Sher, senior expert in the EU-funded Ecosystem Development for Small Enterprise programme; and Sekai Chiwandamira, regional chapter manager of Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) SA.

They agreed that we need to stand on the shoulders of women who have come before us, raise each other up and channel the power of collaboration to amplify success and impact.

“We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment: one that fits all of humanity and nature, one that better fits women in this post-Covid recovery period,” said Njenga.

Whether you are a corporate running a programme, an enterprise and supplier development (ESD) service provider, a woman entrepreneur or beneficiary of a programme, here are seven fabulous tips from women leaders in the supplier development ecosystem realise our unique strengths to transform and enhance the ESD ecosystem:

  1. Reverse the stereotype that women don’t support other women

Research shows women in particular benefit from collaboration over competition, and women who support one another are more successful in business. Be conscious and tackle the cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder for you to advance, such as unconscious bias. Overcoming these hurdles is to form close connections with other women, who can share experiences from women who have been there, done that.

  1. Find your voice

Unashamedly self-promote, bringing your talents to the table, but also know your limitations. Know what you can do best and look outward for collaboration opportunities to amplify your efforts.

  1. Prioritise relationship-building

Form circles of trust with one another and with those experiencing similar hurdles; draw on each other as mentors and sponsors; and find people who understand your space — to get the support, guidance and mutual learning you need.

  1. Connect opportunities

Whenever one of us comes across a great opportunity, whether it be around market access, funding opportunities or linkages to leverage network capital, we immediately need to share it with one another.

  1. Understand your value chain 

To sustainably participate in building needs-based solutions for yourself and other businesses.

  1. Have a shared definition of success

Ensure that the benefits of ESD programmes are mutually beneficial to both parties, in particular when creating value, building wealth, closing the economic gender gap, and establishing generational legacies.

  1. Be kind 

Cut yourself and others some slack and remember that as women we have the gift of gentleness.

Said Wijnberg: “For many years, I was not in favour of not promoting women-led businesses, but now that I look more deeply, it’s evident that women-run business in a way that has deeper and longer-term impact in communities. The change women can bring about, especially in our informal economies, is immense.”