Three South African women entrepreneurs who used adversity to create successful businesses are off to the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge which takes place in Turkey. They are Shona McDonald who manufactures wheelchairs for children with special needs, Margaret Hirsch who co-founded one of South Africa's leading appliance store chains, and Wendy Kemp who founded a leading a credit control company.
President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh, said these three women were chosen because they were committed, and had started from scratch in markets which were usually male-dominated.
All three women entrepreneurs share a trait which is common to so many successful women entrepreneurs in Africa, and indeed around the world. Their businesses were launched in response to a real personal or social need, and they bootstrapped their way to success. Today, each of these businesses are a force to be reckoned with, as are the strong and determined women behind them.
The International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge is a global network of women in business. They meet once a year and nominated businesswomen receive awards in recognition of their pioneering work.
Meet the three women who have been selected to participate from South Africa.
Shona McDonald, founder of Shonaquip
Shona started her company, Shonaquip, almost 30 years ago because she needed an electric chair suitable for her disabled daughter Shelly. At that time, the technology to transport young children with disabilities was not as developed as it is today and she had to resort to pushing her daughter around in a pram. However, the solution was not ideal, so she approached UCT bio-medical engineer Mike Price to help her develop an electric chair specifically to meet the needs of younger children. When Shona realised quite how many other parents also struggled with getting the wheelchairs, she established her business. She says: “At Shonaquip we also assist with assessment because if a child gets the wrong wheelchair, it can lead to a further disability,” said McDonald. To date, because of Shona's amazing work, more than 4 000 children have been assisted and a large portion of the profit goes into training therapists, health-care workers and parents on how to work with children in wheelchairs. “I am thrilled about this opportunity to go to Turkey. Business really has the potential to change the lives of people,” she adds.
Wendy Kemp, co-founder of Accountability
Wendy was inspired to start her web-based client credit check company, Accountability with her late husband Howard, after they personally ran into financial difficulty. At the time, they could not recover R380 000 which was owed to them by a client in one of their manufacturing businesses. That experience led the pair to find a solution to these types of challenges for small businesses. Kemp said business owners were becoming hesitant to take on new clients because of payment risks. Today, her company Accountability aims to assist companies in "protecting" their businesses through reducing the risk caused by outstanding payments. The company helps businesses to do credit checks on prospective clients and they assist in collecting outstanding money.
Margaret Hirsch, co-founder of Hirsch's Homestores
Today, Margaret and her husband Alan run a R2 billion empire which started out as a micro-business 40 years ago. At that time, the couple started out on their entrepreneurial journey with just R900 in the bank, and a desperate need to make ends meet and build a small business that would put food on the table. Hirsch had lost her job as a bookkeeper because she became pregnant, so in an attempt to move forward, they set up their small appliance repair business, with Alan doing the repair work and Margaret doing the company’s books. “The secret to a marriage success is if the woman is in charge of the finances,” says Margaret. Today they have stores around the country, which repair and sell home appliances. “Our business grew when we started selling and fixing appliances. We also try to give our customers that personal touch, which has made our business grow to where it is today,” she adds. You can read Margaret's full LoA '100 Lionesses' profile here.
The underlying mission of iWEC (The International Women's Entrepreneurial Challenge) is to empower successful businesswomen and enable them to expand their business reach into new markets and geographies, granting them unique networking and mentoring opportunities along the way. This year, IWEC 2015 will be hosted by Istanbul Chamber of Commerce on 15 – 18 November 2015 with the participation of 150 female entrepreneurs from 35 countries. IWEC will give nearly 40 female entrepreneurs from different countries the opportunity to internationalize their businesses and this year’s theme will be ‘Connecting Women Businesses Globally: Driving Growth Through Women’s Economic Participation’
According to an IMF report on February 2015, female labor force participation is 40%, while only 21% of women in the Middle East and North Africa work outside the home. This number rises up to 63% in Eastern Asia, Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also mentioned in the report that more women participation in business life will bring significant macroeconomic gains. For instance, gender equity in labor force of the U.S. would contribute a 5% to their GDP, in Japan 9%. In UAE a 12% contribution is estimated, while this percentage would be fairly bigger in Egypt with 34%. In Turkey, gender equity in labor force would enable a 25% bigger GDP.
The 9th IWEC Conference will receive Turkish and international business people, academics, public and non-governmental organizations, in order to discuss the theme from all aspects and with different perspectives. During the Conference, the most successful female entrepreneurs will be receiving their IWEC Awards and becoming members of the IWEC Network.
The International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation, IWEC, is a 501c(3) registered non-profit organization based in New York City. It is an initiative of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce of Manhattan (New York) and FICCI/FLO (the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies Organization) supported by the U.S. Department of State. In South Africa, the Cape Chamber of Commerce has joined the network as a key partner. IWEC’s goal is to develop a global business network for successful women business owners, helping them gain and expand access to international markets.