Women and Digital Enterprise

I recently had the pleasure of attending part of the Missing in Action : Women and Digital Enterprise in the UK conference as organised by Digital Women UK and University of Nottingham. It was encouraging and inspiring to listen to women who have succeeded at entreprenurship through maximising the potential and opportunities within digital spaces. Natalie Lue’s story of how her dating blog Baggage Reclaim , led her to being a world renowned published author particularly caught my attention – not because I blog, but because of the familiar challenge faced by many women across the world – returning to work after maternity break.


Dr Carol Ekinsmyth, a researcher from the University of Portsmouth, gave an interesting academic take on what motivates parents, especially women, to take up entrepreneurship in place of formal employment. It is, of course, not always motivation – in most cases, women have no choice but to seek alternative ways to earn income as the challenge of finding the perfect life and work balance can be consuming. Dr Ekinsmyth argued that women are more suitable to digital entrepreneurship as the internet is a 24/7 operation that can be manipulated without the need to be locked in an formal work environment. Digital space allows freedom and flexibility.

I was more intrigued by the argument that people, women in particular, turn to enterprise to solve a social problem, for instance: childcare costs. Entrepreneurship is also sold, by governments, as an ideal solution to lack of formal employment opportunities. This, in turn, highlights that women are having to find solutions to social problems that should not exist – failures of government one could argue. With focus on high growth businesses, women in digital enterprises face the risk of being ignored by government policy makers resulting in being undervalued.
My mind wandered to the African context, to my home of Zimbabwe where the economy is currently largely supported by the informal sector. I thought of how widespread internet usage would hugely and positively change the conduct of business. I was starting to dream of neatly laid out websites from women in business selling their wares and collecting payments through Paypal. For a second, my heart sank as I resigned this to being just a dream that many women, especially low income women, may never see as reality…
                                    …barded hope…
There is no better moment when despair turns to joy. How could I have forgotten about Facebook, Whatsapp and mobile money transfer service such as Ecocash. That is our Zimbawean and African digital space that many women are taking advantage of everyday! I was in Zimbabwe early this year and paid my hairdresser through mobile money transfer. A friend travels to Dubai every couple of weeks to buy clothes and shoes for resell with advertising and orders done on Facebook. Social media is Africa’s digital space. My fears of inequality of opportunity in digital spaces in the world suddenly disappeared. While privileged women are more able to fully take advantage of the digital landscape, there are other easily accessible and just as effective ways for the less privileged.
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Regardless of where we are, there is future in untapped opportunities in digital space. As we are glued on our phones half the time, we might as well make some money while we are at it.
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An evening at the ZIWAs…

I spent the evening of the 3rd October 2015 at the grand Council House in Birmingham celebrating ordinary extraordinary Zimbabwean women doing wonderful and inspiring things in all spheres of life. The Zimbabwe International Women’s Awards is in its second year and proving to be a fantastic platform to honouring women. I did not attend last year’s ceremony and so I went with no preconceived notions but with an aim to have a wonderful evening. 

As I was also a nominee for general Blogger of the Year, I had had pre event communication with the ZIWA team. I have to commend the professionalism in their communication. Looking at the way the team is set up , with allocated tasks and specialty, I found no fault. The use of social media, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, most definitely helped spread the word about what the ZIWAs are about. I would have preferred a more robust press campaign in the call for nominees stage, particularly for people based in Zimbabwe, to ensure that there is no discontent at how nominees came about. Perhaps for next year, the ZIWA team should look to work with the print and broadcast media to widen their reach. 

I arrived at the venue just after 5pm as had been requested to come early.  While I was not expecting everyone to be there at 5pm on the dot, I was disappointed to have found a few people waiting outside the venue with doors shut. We did eventually get in and were warmly welcomed by hosts. The checking in was fairly simple and quick and as nominees we got lovely bracelets..

  
Walking up the grand stairs into the hall was a beautiful sight. The table setting was pleasing to the eye and the background music was carefully selected to meet various tastes.

   

  
For someone who had arrived two hours before, I was disappointed to have had to wait for the awards ceremony to eventually start later than previously communicated. It also would have been lovely to have the founders of ZIWA to arrive earlier than guests to allow a smooth small talk and networking opportunity before formalities. Once the ceremony started, all ills were forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies was lively and engaging enough although she could have been more assertive in dealing with guests who were at times loud. 

I absolutely loved the food, most certainly because it was ready to eat warm – a challenge at most events. 

   
    
    
 
For future events, it would be best if the ZIWA team could ensure a quick dining experience by avoiding long awkward waits in between the starter, main course and dessert. It would also be best to have performances while guests are dining both for entertainment purposes and to shorten the long ceremony. The choice of performers was fantastic. 

I felt that the awards ceremony needed to have started earlier than it did. The long intermittent wait for food had changed the atmosphere as guests found ways to fill the gaps. A programme detailing the order of categories would be helpful in the future – perhaps a screen by the stage not necessarily an individual programme. The ZIWA team should also ensure that nominees or their representatives, should be seated near the stage area. The photo background banner had creases which did not look good on photos. Last award was called out just after 11pm.

ZIWA must be commended for a fantastic and admirable effort. It was a beautiful evening, a good night out with great food and company. The idea is there and it’s execution is one that will improve with experience. The stories of the nominees are inspiring and deserving of the attention, appreciation and celebration – and ZIWA is doing that. The best part of the evening for me was when 12 year old Tanya won her Sports award, when young Paida shared her Courage award with her mum and when the guests joined sang along to Busi Ncube’s True Love in honour of her Lifetime Achievement award. 

I look forward to a bigger and better ZIWA 2016! 

A language of curses

How many sweets have you got? 

I got 5, have you also got 5?

No, just 3. Can I have one more so it can me fair?

No! They’re all mine!

And it begins..a song erupts, the voice is as innocent as an child’s is. Soft. The song is catchy. You hum along and even cross your fingers as is the required gesture of the song …

Kumbira kumbira garema uchazvara mwana akadai…

Many of us are familiar with that scene and with the song. We innocently sang along, in an effort to guilt trip our friends and siblings to share with us whatever it is we wanted from them. Why would you not share when one throws a curse that if you do not share, you will have disabled children? Our young minds would not need to think this through, that threat was enough.

I am not sure why, but I randomly thought of this seemingly innocent song this morning. I even sang it and crossed my fingers. Obviously I was not cursing anyone but my thoughts had drifted to my childhood. I understand now that of course, finger crossing has not power on whether one has a disabled child or not. I now realise that, this, like many other taboos, we’re not real but just mechanisms in which to encourage young people to listen and to conform.  William Chigida’s paper on Shona Taboos: The Language if Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development immensely improved my understanding. However, with intentions being good, I can’t help but be annoyed with how the “taboos” or “curses” actually perpetuate stigma. If you grew up singing this seemingly innocent song, is it automatic that your views change as you grow? I do not think so. 

A few years ago, Siamese twins were born and successfully separated in Zimbabwe in what was a great medical triumph. I noted that, while we all celebrated the success, there were some who viewed these precious babies as a curse. I remember criticising the way some news reporting on the matter was handled. It made me wonder, why are we quick to label what we do not understand as bad, evil or curse? Why must we instil fear in others while actively resisting the opportunity to learn? Why must, our cultures and traditions, not be dynamic? 

In many developing countries, it is fairly common to see disabled people roaming the streets begging and homeless. It is also fairly right to say that it is as a result of being shunned by families and society for “they do not conform” to what we have always thought to be the “right way” to be. I am taken aback to the song….

It saddens me that, our ancestors, felt the need to scare for an audience. We are a terrified people and we pass on our fears to the next generation for fear of facing our our lack. 

             random thoughts, of barbed hope. 
Image : Getty Images 

Video : #50Africans1Question

Hona Media has done it again! I absolutely love this vibrant, simple but fun short film asking people one question. Filmed at Covent Garden in London at the African Summer Festival 2015, I absolutely love this vibrant fun short film were 50 people answer one simple question. 

Join the conversation using #50Africans1Answer on Twitter and Instagram. 

Watch it here…

#50Questions1Question