Mala Chetty, President of the National Women Entrepreneur Council (NWEC), spoke to AfricaMoney on the main barriers to the growth of female entrepreneurship in Mauritius. Our economic expert rued that most women entrepreneurs either remain small, or close their business within the first five years. She observed that, of the 3500 women entrepreneurs in the island economy, only 10% are in the small and medium enterprise space while as many as 90% are still at the micro-enterprise stage.
[Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview]
- According to you, what is the main barrier to the growth of female entrepreneurship in Mauritius?
First and foremost, there appears to be a cultural barrier preventing women from making it big in the entrepreneurship space. There is a constant refrain today that in the sphere of education, women succeed better than men do. It is important to ask ourselves what happens after education. Why do women fail in business? Why do they not have the courage to step forward to grow their small enterprises into big companies? It is not a bad idea to start with a small enterprise and to be careful with the finances because this ensures that they do not borrow a big sum of money and compromise their financial status. However, it has been observed that women-owned enterprises remain small or fold up within five years. These five years are a difficult phase in the life of a start-up and the reason women close their business within five years is that they come across difficulties.
- What could be responsible for women being unable to take the leap from micro-enterprises to even small and medium enterprises, leave alone make the transition to big business?
Personally, I feel there is a problem in the growth of the company because women do not manage to sustain their business as they do not take the necessary risks at first and make do with micro-enterprise. It is important to note that of the around 3,500 women entrepreneurs on the island, 90% are in the micro-enterprise and 10% are in the small and medium enterprise. And, what is even more important is to note that these 3500 women entrepreneurs do not even represent 5% of all the entrepreneurs of the island. There is room for entrepreneurship and through entrepreneurship, women can be rescued from poverty and unemployment.
- Could you please provide your views on what can be done in order to tackle the issue of female unemployment?
Firstly, we should introduce proximity solutions, which means that we should be ready to go to these people in their homes and should not wait for them to come to Port-Louis or even to the Ministry for assistance. We should also relocate support and promotion centers, so they are nearer to the poverty belts and thus, are easily accessible by needy people.
Furthermore, we should be ready to introduce flexi hours at the workplace, with the knowledge that woman want to educate their children and be able to work at the same time.
- Do you think that women entrepreneurs in Mauritius are well equipped to face the challenges of globalization?
As long as they remain micro-entrepreneurs, they face competition as they are not innovation-focused or export-oriented, and this makes it difficult to face the challenges arising from globalization. Globalization means having the ability to export as well as import, in other words, free trade between countries. In spite of all the facilities provided by the government, such as participating in fairs in Mauritius and overseas, globalization is not a boost for small women entrepreneurs because they confront problems which are not faced by big SMEs, and they do not have the means or resources to export even within the region, leave alone farther overseas.
- Research conducted by the Mauritius Research Council stated that “the main beneficiaries of the globalization process would be larger enterprises, at the expense of SMEs”. How far do you agree with that statement?
This statement is unfortunate but true. In every sector of the economy, larger enterprises will invade the market and will take over SMEs and it will be increasingly difficult for small enterprises to position themselves in any sector whatsoever. However, one must take into consideration that it is SMEs that employ the maximum number of people. By providing SMEs with facilities and by opening the market to them, there is no doubt that we will be able to tackle the problem of unemployment. Actually, this is precisely what many developed countries are doing, encouraging entrepreneurship and at the same time, doing their best to employ more people in start-ups so that unemployment can be tackled.
In addition, we must ensure that these projects are market-driven because in Mauritius, there is a mismatch between production and demand. When you go to Vietnam, Malaysia or Hong Kong, you get the impression that people is following the general consumption trend, but in Mauritius this is not the case and production is not demand driven. We absolutely must create this connection between demand and supply to correct this mismatch.
- Finally, any strategies you would recommend to promote entrepreneurship in Mauritius?
I would recommend to the government to create an observation center for entrepreneurship. It would be a major asset for the country and would enable Mauritius to lead the way by not only being the first country in the Indian Ocean but also in Africa to create an observation center for entrepreneurs.
This observation center for entrepreneurship will enable us to study entrepreneurship from different perspectives and identify viable projects for these women entrepreneurs, so that they can tackle competition head on.
Incidentally, India is working along similar lines by creating projects for women and providing them with a remunerative package to undertake them.
Besides, the work of the observation center could also help in tackling the demand-supply mismatch.
Furthermore, in creating this observation center we could be helped by tertiary institutes, such that they would help us identify new projects based on studies previously conducted. As you know, conducting research and bringing forwards facts is good practice but doing so and not looking for the right solutions to solve the problem at hand, is useless.