The desire to see more women undertake entrepreneurship as a viable option has led the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) to partner with like-minded entities to achieve bigger outcomes.

SWEEP is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme, whose mandate is to develop student entrepreneurship, to instil an entrepreneurial mindset in academic staff and researchers and to transform institutions into entrepreneurial universities.

In its quest to advance student entrepreneurship, SWEEP seeks to equip student women with skills and opportunities to self-determine their destinies in the face of gender discrimination and many other obstacles that often hinder them from participating in entrepreneurship and the economy. These include personal safety, health and feminine related challenges and family responsibilities. In light of their underrepresentation, with student women shying away from starting businesses, the SWEEP initiative is seeking to help balance the scales.

Speaking at the programme’s information session on 26 April, Dr Norah Clarke (left), Director of EDHE, said that although the primary goal of SWEEP was to cultivate entrepreneurial drive among student women, the programme also aims to empower those who seek employment with skills to self-actualise in the world of work.

“We want to see you confidently building your businesses and careers as economically empowered women,” she said.

Dr Clarke said while she often hears about men also struggling in business and employment, they believe that the additional impediments women encounter necessitate a dedicated focus. It is the understanding of EDHE executives that women who generate their income and are not dependent on anyone for day-to-day economic needs are less vulnerable to gender-based violence and have options to vacate toxic environments.

“So, stable economic situations do contribute to student women’s ability to sustain themselves and their families, and that is the ‘why’ of SWEEP,” she said.

She told the virtual audience that beyond skills and opportunities, the SWEEP initiative aimed to instil resilience and survival skills in student women as plans sometimes do go awry.

It is against this background that SWEEP, launched in 2021, has partnered and continues to seek meaningful partnerships with entities and individuals who can help create opportunities for student women to thrive.

Introducing SWEEP’s partners

In collaboration with The Start-Up Tribe, an online learning platform for entrepreneurship development, SWEEP established the SWEEP Academy, through which SWEEP members will access tools that will propel the growth of their businesses and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.

SWEEP has also partnered with In On Africa, a research consulting firm that does research about the continent. Both entities share a passion for Africa’s development of Africa through research.  Ms Nobuhle Hlangoti (left), In on Africa’s Senior Research Manager, who attended SWEEP’s information session on 26 April, explained their motivation to partner up: “We believe that our youth is our currency and have done quite a bit of research on youth entrepreneurship and gender-based violence, especially through our youth platform called Voices Unite.” Their interest to partner with SWEEP was sparked by the programme’s quest to equip student women with skills, opportunities and entrepreneurial activities.

Yet another partner, Ms Florence Musundwa (right), Managing Director of Reign Supreme Holdings, is a Business Development Strategist focused on small and medium enterprises whose entrepreneurship pursuits began at university. “After I graduated, I did not have a launching pad or a network to assist me in actualising what I had already started at university, and it was challenging,” she said. By partnering with SWEEP, she said “I hope to bridge that gap — to have people assist you in fulfilling your career and entrepreneurial ambitions — and make sure the circle gets bigger.”

Musundwa shared her passion for financial independence and helping people reach their destinies. She encouraged the student women in attendance to connect with her and not be shy to partake in these conversations, “you may never know who is in the room to fund your business ideas or offer job opportunities,” she said.

Ms Ntsiki Mkhize (left), Founder of MentHer, a global mentorship network that supports female social entrepreneurs in ideation or seed stages, has also joined SWEEP as a partner. She will be offering mentorship to SWEEP members at their institutions. “I am a big believer in that how we move ahead in life is a result of the people we have around us,” she said, adding that her biggest pet peeve is entrepreneurs repeating mistakes made by others. “So, let us have people who have walked the path guide us.”

Having also commenced her entrepreneurial journey at university, she expressed a wish that she had had such guidance herself. Nonetheless, Mkhize said she was glad to be partnering with SWEEP in helping student women develop sustainable revenue models.

As SWEEP continues to refine its programme, they encourage more student women to participate in these conversations and emerging opportunities. For more information on how to become a member, visit the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme site.

Nqobile Tembe is Universities South Africa’s Communication Consultant.