NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka
WOMEN entrepreneurs are known worldwide to contribute to the development of any nation, and this is why it is vital that they are empowered to perform this task.
It is for this reason that Standard Chartered Bank (Stanchart) has committed US$50,000 to support the growth of women-led businesses by harnessing technology.
In collaboration with BongoHive, the bank recently launched the Standard Chartered (SC) Women in Tech Incubator (WiTI) programme to support female-led technology enterprises and female business owners who would like to leverage technology to grow their businesses but lack necessary support.
WiTI is designed to provide targeted support in areas of business operations, digitisation and digital transformation, accounting and financial management.
Women entrepreneurs will be expected to apply to be on the plan, and successful applicants will undergo an incubation programme where they will receive guidance on how to transition from being an early-stage start-up to a scalable start-up.
The candidates will also receive specialised support which will help them leverage technology and improve significant aspects of their businesses.
Ten women will be selected for capacity building and later five winners will each receive US$10, 000 equity grant seed funding to assist with implementation of their business proposals.
The business must have been operating for at least one to three years, and has a tech-based or enabled platform, or a clear need to leverage technology to enable it to grow.
Applicants must be based and operating in Lusaka, and must be of Zambian nationality to participate.
They will attend a three-month incubation programme from March to May 2021, and the five winners of the incubation programme will attend a six-month acceleration programme from July to December 2021.
Bank chief executive officer Herman Kasekende says majority of women-led businesses are skewed to the micro, small and medium enterprises category.
Mr Kasekende believes it is through these small ventures that women play a significant role by supporting their homes and sending their children to school and having a positive impact on the economy.
“As a bank, we will finance the seed money of US$10,000, but we do not believe in just funding and walking away. Women in Tech is a programme that will provide mentorship and capacity-building to the finalists,” he said.
Mr Kasekende is confident that the programme will, ultimately, have a long-term positive impact on women-led businesses in Zambia, as well as create much-needed job opportunities.
Additionally, Stanchart Bank Africa and Middle East head of corporate affairs – brand marketing Olga Kimani says SC WiTI is the continent’s leading women in technology incubator.
Ms Kimani said through the programme, Standard Chartered has provided funding of around US$350,000 to various wit cohorts since the programme’s inception.
Between 2014 and 2019, more than 470 women went through the programme in five countries.
“The bank has provided the seed funding to women-led businesses across Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. We are delighted to launch the programme in Zambia,” Ms Kimani said.
She has observed that while the number of women operating their own businesses is increasing globally, women continue to face huge obstacles that stunt the growth of their businesses.
For example, Ms Kimani says, an international growth centre study on ‘women, entrepreneurship and institutions’ (November 2018) in Zambia revealed the presence of a gender gap in entrepreneurship.
She says it is for this reason that the bank refused to accept the status quo and set about putting together a programme that would give female-led technology start-ups a fighting chance to grow their big ideas.
Similarly, BongoHive Zambia executive director Lukonga Lindunda is aware of the challenges that women face in business.
“We also know that it is often much harder for women to leverage technology for their businesses,” Mr Lindunda has observed.
He is glad that SC WiTI aligns with calls for more diversity in technology, entrepreneurship and for more opportunities for women to develop entrepreneurial and leadership excellence.
Furthermore, Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Christopher Yaluma says the tough and unprecedented coronavirus environment has seriously taught everyone that technology must be embraced in conducting businesses.
Mr Yaluma has commended BongoHive Zambia for partnering with Standard Chartered Bank in launching the initiative to support women entrepreneurs in technology.
“Enhanced partnerships with the private sector are key to drive the development and empowerment of our women-led businesses.
“Even better today, we launch a programme that will support women businesses to harness technology and build capacity to actively participate in economic activities,” he says.
The bank and its partners believe in the positive impact WiTI has made among women, and that it is now up to the Zambian participants to make use of this global opportunity and grow their businesses.
NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka