Business development leaders routinely have to endure difficult circumstances to bring about economic change. This is particularly true in developing economies where entrenched systems exist. For example, gender inequality remains a major concern across the African continent, Latin America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Even in developed economies where legislation prohibits unjust practices against women, minorities and other groups, it still happens. Laying the groundwork for a gender-neutral economy is a tough ask.
Countries like Angola, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa are resource-rich territories with severe imbalances between male and female earning potential. The existing systems tend to favor males over females, with higher earnings, access to resources, connections and tenders. However, changes are afoot in these countries thanks to strong leadership initiatives being implemented by people like Isabel Dos Santos, Joyce Banda, Edna Adan Ismail and Tanzila Khan. These women fight fiercely to educate society about the merits of education, skills training, work development programs and the financial independence of women in their communities.
Planting the Seeds of Change
Many patriarchal systems tend to repress economic activity by sidestepping half of the population. It has been proven that female empowerment (skills training, education, work, etc.) leads to much greater productivity at the local level, regional level, and macroeconomic level. This facilitates the growth of multiple complimentary industries and businesses. The Angolan case study is proof of that. One such development initiative championed by Dos Santos took place in Humpata in the province of Huila. Female farmers were provided with the training and resources to develop a strawberry field. By the time it was completed, 120 women were self-employed and contributing to their local community as breadwinners, entrepreneurs and productive members of society.
Effective Business Steps for Change Advocacy
While change is inevitable, it is often accompanied by tremendous resistance. People and systems tend to gravitate towards the status quo due to their fear of the unknown. The rapid pace of technological change also warrants movement towards new systems and practices. This includes an overhaul of telecommunication structures and frameworks, transportation systems, educational systems and workplace functionality. Change advocates have to battle multiple elements simultaneously. Several important steps have been identified as necessary for achieving the desired results:
Dialogue – communication is vital to explaining why change is necessary in the business environment. To this end, stereotypes must be broken. Women are just as capable as men and this point must be inculcated in society from the grassroots up. This includes changing educational systems, perceptions and practices.
Provision of resources – talking about change is one thing, but effecting change is an entirely different animal. Champions of change need to stand up and be counted. These people serve as icons for change movements as they are advocates for it. They also facilitate change by providing scholarship opportunities, training and skills development, employment opportunities, access to financing and other resources.
Leading by example – there is no better exponent of change than a person who talks the talk and walks the walk. Fortunately, there are many female business leaders who have proven their worth and continue to generate outsized returns for their movements.
Change management is a complex topic in closed societies. It is often intertwined with culture and politics, and borders on taboo, at times. It is however, necessary to broach the subject to bring about greater inclusiveness in the economy and more opportunity for women and the youth.