Building an inclusive digital future: Empowering women entrepreneurs in South Africa

26 April 2024

In today’s digital era, the tech industry stands as a cornerstone of economic development and innovation. Yet, it grapples with a significant challenge—the underrepresentation of women in digital and IT sectors. Despite comprising 13% of STEM graduates in South Africa, women face post-graduation hurdles in accessing digital exposure and career guidance, leading to a stark gender gap in technology-related fields. Only 23% of tech jobs in South Africa are held by women out of 236 000 available ICT & Tech roles, highlighting the urgent need for industry intervention to bridge this representation gap.

Angie Maloka, Senior Manager of Youth & Women Programmes at the MTN SA Foundation, highlights the importance of addressing this disparity, stating, “Removing barriers hindering women from entering STEM fields is crucial to closing South Africa’s ICT skills gap and reducing high unemployment rates.”

In response, the MTN South Africa Foundation launched the MTN Women in Digital Business Challenge, committing R1 million to enable innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation for women in the digital economy. This initiative, now in its second year, is an extension of MTN’s SME accelerator programs, specifically focusing on fostering an entrepreneurial mindset among women.

The Challenge provides successful candidates with R100 000 each to support their working capital needs, business development, tangible assets, mentorship and access to business-advancing technology and software.

The Women in Digital Business Challenge goes beyond financial support; it creates a supportive ecosystem that nurtures talent, fosters innovation, and cultivates leadership among women in the digital space. A mentorship component pairs participants with seasoned professionals, offering personalised guidance to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. Moreover, comprehensive training equips participants with essential technical and business management skills, essential for navigating the digital landscape successfully.

Networking opportunities provided by the challenge facilitate meaningful connections with peers, industry experts, and potential collaborators, offering invaluable support and access to resources.

The impact of the MTN Women in Digital Business Challenge is evident in the success stories of participants like Mamello Mofokeng, Khathu Maphari, Aasiyah Adams, and Elizabeth Booi.

Following her four-month mentorship journey, Mamello expanded her team and reengineered her sales strategy, resulting in new market opportunities for her business. She also gained exposure and recognition when her success story was featured on Business Day TV to showcase the impact of the Women in Digital Business Challenge.

Khathu used her prize money to rebrand her business and address office aesthetics, compliance, and debt settlement. She has subsequently proposed a teacher training program, demonstrating a strategic expansion of her business’s offerings.

Aasiyah’s company has also grown significantly, with plans to expand into new markets. She is gearing up to teach 4 000 students in various courses, demonstrating substantial scalability and impact following the challenge’s financial and strategic support.

After being selected as a top 10 finalist in the 2023 MTN Women in Digital Business Challenge, Elizabeth’s business has expanded its impact to over 1 000 individuals. She is developing a learning management system and accreditation processes, focusing on empowering women and youth in IT and Data Analytics.

As the MTN Women in Digital Business Challenge continues to grow and evolve, its impact will only continue to expand. By providing women entrepreneurs with the resources, support, and opportunities they need to succeed, MTN is not only empowering individual women but also driving broader social and economic transformation. The challenge serves as a catalyst for change, underscoring our commitment to empowering women, fostering diversity, and building an inclusive digital economy for all.

MTN’s dedication to empowering women extends beyond empowering women in tech to succeed. We are committed to advancing women’s equality and diversity across our operations, promoting an inclusive environment free from gender bias.