12 December 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Johan Roux
Refilwe Xaba
Refilwe Xaba’s thesis takes a deeper look into why women entrepreneurs in the informal sector are not thriving as they should.

Refilwe Xaba is not only a Senior Assistant Officer in Entrepreneurship Development at the University of the Free State’s Centre for Development Support. She is also the CEO of Glolooks, a Bloemfontein-based company which manufactures and supplies an organic natural hair product range. All this makes the journey to complete her Master’s of Commerce with specialisation in Business Management more than an academic journey. 

It was not an easy process for Xaba as she experienced a two-year-delay in her studies. “I registered in 2015 while I was a full-time student since I had not started working here and had not started my business,” she explained. Despite the detour, Xaba managed to get back on track and she finally graduated on 11 December 2019.

Sustained impact 

Xaba’s thesis on The Internal Factors Affecting the Performance of Women Entrepreneurs in the Informal Sector focuses on management, money and motherhood. Her research recommendations took into consideration the work-life balance that women have to contend with, in addition to other issues. “Women in pursuit of careers are still mothers and wives,” she said.

The study sampled 300 women entrepreneurs operating in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality’s Bloemfontein, Botshabelo, and Thaba’Nchu areas. Challenges experienced by the respondents ranged from having young children, a lack of formal business training, as well as access to human, financial and social capital, low levels of management and marketing skills, family-to-work conflict and work-to-family conflict. 
“This means informal women entrepreneurs have to find ways to ensure that their businesses survive in the absence of support such as basic infrastructure, financial assistance and learning opportunities,” added Xaba.

Hindering women’s performance cripples the economy

According to Xaba, the informal sector plays a vital role in the economic and social development of South Africans. “It is one of the strategies employed in alleviating unemployment and poverty,” she said.

Small-scale operations with relatively low-capital requirements, low-income generation, low-entry requirements with respect to education and skills, and labour-intensive production methods are as important to the economy as multinational corporations. Some of the recommendations Xaba made include prioritising education to equip entrepreneurs with cognitive skills to better identify and exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. Furthermore, mentorship surfaced as a necessary staple to the success formula. 

In addition, “families should find ways of incorporating their skills and knowledge into the running of their businesses”, Xaba advises. In order to mitigate the challenge of inadequate access to finance and low levels of start-up capital, South African banking institutions need to explore microfinancing as a possible funding model for women. 

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