A force in women empowerment

2016-09-08 06:00
 Professor Linda De Vries in her study

Professor Linda De Vries in her study

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Professor Linda De Vries’ says knowledge of financial literacy can be the difference between a thriving business and a dismal failure.

That’s why she works so hard to empower women with the skills they need to be successful.

De Vries is from the School of Business and Finance at the University of the Western Cape.

She might be a celebrated academic, but that doesn’t mean she would hide behind her books and not engage with the world out there.

De Vries says she’d rather travel the country empowering rural women-by teaching them financial literacy.

De Vries and her team of research students teach rural women how to start and run a business, from Khayelitsha, Langa and the greater Cape Flats areas to Garies and Lambert’s Bay.

“Sometimes I learn more from the communities because they have a lot of indigenous knowledge to share. We just complement each other.”

It’s a rewarding experience.

“I really have a heart for women in the rural community. It’s fascinating to see these women play, while learning about costing and other aspects of financial literacy in a business,” she says.

“I ran contract entrepreneurial training, using Lego blocks to illustrate ideas.

“The women don’t even know how to use Lego, but eventually they play and they learn.

Sceptical teachers would tell you the women can’t do maths and that teaching financial literacy would never work, because every business idea will have a financial component, but these women have successfully proved the contrary.”

Her greatest reward comes when her women reach a point where they are able to create an income for themselves. That’s when she feels most inspired.

The same women often send their children to university to further their studies - yet another rewarding experience for De Vries.

“It’s wonderful to hear how the training has changed the women’s lives and their attitude towards education. There is really nothing as satisfying as this.”

With one project in Langa, they have had huge success for the past 15 years.

“Mpumi Ngoqo(who has now become a good friend) from Langa is one of my favourite case studies,” De Vries says with pride.

“She’s been an exceptional project leader, running food gardens, supplying food to TB patients so they can take their medication daily. They work food gardens and get a bowl of soup from the spinach and beetroot, celery and veggies they produced in the garden every day.”

In addition to this, Mpumi is always asked to come and train school children on eco-friendly food gardening.

“It became a community project for my students too,” says De Vries.

“While Mpumi would be teaching food cultivation, we would teach entrepreneurship and financial literacy. In the end, we took them to California - and they ended up being runners-up in 2005 in an international entrepreneurship competition.”

“Mpumi is the best social entrepreneur you can find. We have even presented a paper at a health conference on the impact of food gardens on the health of TB patients, which was a great accomplishment for her.”

And there are several other related projects.

“Right now, we are working with more than five female entrepreneurs as part of the direct marketing association, and we hope to garner support from the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) as well, as a few of them are either advisors for the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) or members of the South African Women Entrepreneurs Network (SAWEN), previously under the Department of Trade and Industry.

One of them, Pheleza Nqulu, from Gugulethu, has just received the Trailblazer Award 2016, and she continues to empower others with her business and marketing skills.”

Another entrepreneur from Langa has run a successful roosterkoekies business for the past seven years.

She does the baking herself, employs a number of people, and is currently operating on a large scale.

“It all started with a Women’s Day celebration when we used smaller versions of her roosterkoekies during the conference tea time, and then to market it. “

The Langa project of Community Food Gardens are now registered and accredited and get funding from the Independent Development Trust (IDT) for their cooks in the ‘popular kitchen’ and for their food garden workers.

For years at the School of Business and Finance at UWC, Prof De Vries has been supervising her student’s research projects in various aspects of small business, especially female entrepreneurship support.

I can only be as strong as the students I work with, says Prof De Vries.

“Women are excellent at teamwork and I think we haven’t utilised the skills of women and their effectiveness to work together as a group enough...when you do that, you find there is a potential to unlock huge success.”

She speaks with pride and fondness of the University of the Western Cape.

“This University is a laboratory. Students, especially women, are my best learners. I am fascinated with young people and women, and their potential and their ability to work together.

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