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DM / Sara Fakir, 38, is the mentor of the company ideaLab, which she founded in 2010 with her childhood friend Tatiana Pereira
Getting to ideaLab, a consulting company for young entrepreneurs on Paulo Samuel Kankhomba Avenue in Maputo, involves negotiating street businesses selling second-hand clothes and shoes, SIM cards, peanuts and lunchboxes.
“In Mozambique, there are many entrepreneurs like these who have no alternative, because they lack the skills and the ability to develop their business,” says economist Sara Fakir, 38, a mentor at the ideaLab, which she founded in 2010 with Tatiana Pereira.
It was the first Mozambican company focused on social entrepreneurship, started to “support the development of start-ups, accelerate the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises and promote innovation”.
In Mozambique, the unemployment rate is 23 percent, and many people survive on informal work , although in the last five years entrepreneurial businesses such as biscate.mz, Maputo Living Labs and the ideaLab have been opening the way for change in the labour ecosystem.
The two childhood friends – Sara studied in Lisbon and Tatiana in Australia and Lisbon – realised that the Mozambican market offered undervalued opportunities. “We have a youth layer without jobs, but with skills to do anything and everything with the potential for growth,” Sara says.
They focused on the “growth entrepreneur”, helping to introduce words such as “entrepreneurship”, “business incubators” and “start-ups” into the Mozambican vocabulary.
At first pro bono, then in tandem with a company that helps turn ideas into sustainable business, they held their first ideas contest in 2013, attracting 186 proposals. Sara is sure this number could be even larger than the 600 entries so far received, and that, “for the first time”, it managed to “prove that there was a critical mass of entrepreneurs”.
Today, entrepreneurship is considered fundamental for the creation of wealth and jobs and, above all, for economic and social development. In Mozambique, since 2007, the education sector has introduce entrepreneurship into the secondary and vocational schools curriculum in the country, with the help of the UN Agency for Industrial Development and financial support from the government of Norway.
Between consulting and mentoring, events about entrepreneurship and training, the ideaLab, which has a network of partners, focuses mainly on women, through a female entrepreneurship program, Femtech, imported from South Africa.
“These are women who are already in business, but want to grow and do not know how to do so, because of lack of resources, a business plan or personal development. We help them address this with six months of training and personalised mentoring,” Sara says.
Craft, food, cosmetics, clothing, publishing market and grocery are some of the entrepreneurial areas. The programme costs nine thousand meticais, and links participants into a network of female entrepreneurs, Femmie, which, according to Sara, is unique in Mozambique.
“This is the programme’s great differentiator, which allows close sharing. Being an entrepreneur is sometimes a solitary activity, and this way there is mutual support and learning between peers,” she explains.
The programme promotes women’s empowerment, focusing on sociocultural barriers to women, who “are not supported to make a living in business”.
Sara explains that her case was different. She left a steady job as a consultant to become an entrepreneur.
“I took some criticism, but I was fortunate to have the support of people close to me, like my parents. But some family members and co-workers thought it was weird for someone who had a job to leave it,” she says.
She denies this happens solely because she is a woman, and says the issue applies to any entrepreneur, while not failing to acknowledge the stigma.
“At that time there were people asking me, ‘Oh Sara, why do you not tell the truth and say what you want is to stop working and be a housewife and take care of the children?’ They thought there could be many other things and they did not believe this could be the way forward for me. Even today I meet people who were my co-workers and they ask: ‘Hey, so is that thing still surviving?'”
In Mozambique, despite discrimination, women are beginning to redefine the nature of what it takes to establish a business. And, as the UN’s new 2030 development goals make clear, “women entrepreneurs are key to this development”.
For Sara, this happens not only because they have access to financing but also to a network of contacts that “are still concentrated in the hands of men in leadership positions”.
And changes to the sector? “I want more openness, more transparency, I want less ‘greasiness’ and less ‘boot licking’, and I want a political force that motivates. We know that no government can do everything, but it is not for them to do, it is for us.”
By Vanessa RodriguesSource: Diário de Moçambique