Unlocking Opportunities for Basotho Women to Sustain Women-led Enterprises and Job Creation
November 4, 2022
Studies show that women entrepreneurs face more complex barriers to accessing economic and financial freedom compared to their male counterparts. These barriers range from lack of skills, access to finance, poor networks, market access, and gender discrimination. One other hinderance to women’s success is the personal and professional life balance, where they are expected to spent time on household work, reducing the time they could spend on money making opportunities.
Even though there is progress made towards the attainment of gender equality in access to healthcare and education attainment, there is still more that needs to be done to break inequality and barriers for women in economic participation and access to opportunities and political empowerment. Sub-Saharan Africa has registered the highest gender gap at 67.9% in 2022. It is estimated that it would take around 98 years for the region to close the gender gap. This has negative economic implications. By closing the gender gap, developing countries can derive some growth dividends and reduce the opportunity cost due to the missing economic participation of women.
Lesotho is still experiencing unequal opportunities among men and women and has slipped about 40 positions since 2006 to rank 87 of 148 countries on the global gender gap index owing to gaps in the economic sector. An interesting fact for the Mountain Kingdom (Lesotho) is that women are more likely to be more educated and to be entrepreneurs than their male counterparts. However, they are clustered in small and micro enterprises, often low-value sectors, with low potential to generate high- and sustained-income or growth. The women-led businesses are dominant in sectors such as retail and wholesale sector, where 15% are women-led businesses compared to 11% of men; and women are very rare in high-tech and engineering sectors composing of only 1.5% compared to 9.5% men. The cultural and societal beliefs and biases have shaped and classified business sectors as being either masculine or feminine, thus, designating what are considered "inferior" sectors to women. Regardless of their education status, women still tend to be classified as having less business skills than men.
Governments are increasingly adopting affirmative public procurement and economic empowerment policies to support women’s participation in local industries Given the magnitudes of public expenditure on goods and services, public procurement becomes a useful tool and driver for promoting inclusive economic environment and opportunities. Championing a preferential procurement policy for women, the government would also be catalyzing equitable and inclusive economic growth, and ensuring distribution of economic benefits, ensuring equal opportunities for men and women in being awarded government contracts. Women are leading, owners and managers, more than half of the MSME in Lesotho, thus increasing the participation and competitiveness of women-led business has a high likelihood to expand economic opportunities, and jobs.
 Labour Force Survey 2019-BOS Lesotho
UNDP Lesotho Accelerator Lab Contribution
There is need to strengthen the existing initiatives to engender equity in business and enterprise development in Lesotho through approaches and activities aimed specifically at women enterprises. The first step would be to boost women’s entrepreneurial ambitions in the midst of social, environmental, and economic challenges.
In contributing towards addressing such issues, the Lesotho Accelerator Lab (AccLab) carried out an experiment dubbed Her_Empire to empower women-led businesses to foster competitiveness, improve business sustainability and job-creation. This experiment was aimed at building capacities of the women to enhance business profitability and enable sustained business operations amid the multi-layered crises that affected businesses recently, including COVID-19 and the rising cost of living and doing business. Through this experiment, the Lab is anticipating modelling an ecosystem for capacity building, mentorship and development of business networks for women-led enterprises to promote gender equality and women’s participation in economic activities.
In this experiment, the AccLab registered 18 women leaders and directors of for-profit and social enterprises for a training on techniques and strategies for running profitable and resilient businesses, accessing finance and market opportunities and collaborations. Through this, the Lab has also created an opportunity for them to compete in public and private procurement processes as well as the UNDP by introducing them to the UNDP Procurement Policy procedures and subsequently adding them into UNDP’s vendor database. The Lab also introduced the women to internet-based business resources and ran a social media campaign to profile these enterprises as well as enhance marketing and visibility. This cohort comprised of leading women-entrepreneurs in solar energy, plastic recycling, legal and law, agriculture, Information Technology (IT), beauty and wellness, and retailing. The participants underwent a six (6) months mentorship programme to bridge existing capacity gaps and integrate stabilizing strategies into their enterprises. Through partnerships with regulatory institutions such the tax authority, business register, government, and private sector, this process will enable interactive learning and support to foster change and facilitate formalisation.
The first lessons from this experiment indicate a need to focus on women’s business leadership abilities, restructuring of business enterprises to enable formalization and access to opportunities and adoption of technology and development of strategic alliances. On the other hand, this exposure is beginning to generate positive results for these enterprises; one enterprise was nominated among the top 100 in the local business plan competition, while others have taken part in business and networking sessions within the SADC region. Further, there are emerging new partnerships on the agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equality to support these enterprises. UNDP has signed a new MOU with Econet Telecom Lesotho aimed at providing the Her Empire beneficiaries and women-entrepreneurs with an e-commerce platform which will enable the enterprises to trade within and beyond Lesotho boarders. It is through such partnerships that Basotho female enterprises can leverage on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement by having an opportunity for their small-scale trading to tap into the formal trading system that will enable their growth and business success.
Her_Empire is the first of its kind in Lesotho, to help UNDP to achieve its gender equality and the leaving no one behind commitments, and the Government of Lesotho and partners to close the existing gender gaps.
The UNDP AccLab welcomes all partnerships aboard the #HER_EMPIRE journey as we iterate and work towards expansion of the experiment.