Giving Women the Edge in South Africa: BWASA
What makes the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) most impressive is not just that it is the largest network of professional and businesswomen in the South Africa. BWASA is also impressive because of its comprehensive business approach which meets the needs of all business women - professionals, corporate or entrepreneurs – of all races.
BWASA is a catalyst for the transformation of the lives of women of South Africa as well as the entire continent, by building bridges between race and gender equality in industry, private and government sectors.
We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk today with Claire Mathonsi, BWASA Executive Director and Nia Kubheka, their National Administrator:
The organization’s roots can be traced back 33 years, when three separate associations each had their own focus – one on women entrepreneurs, one on professional women, and one on women in the corporate sector. In 2000, these three networks merged, fusing together to form BWASA broadening their approach and reach to support all three groups of women: professionals, entrepreneurs, and those in corporate jobs. While its headquarters is in Johannesburg, the organization has eight branches located in urban, rural and township settings.
Director Mathonsi said, “We give women the edge, providing them with skills to advance and negotiate their environment. [BWASA] is the platform for women in business. We also work very hard to be the voice for women and to make a difference in the lives of women. Gender equality is a problem in itself, so we also tackle social norms and beliefs here that keep women from being able to meet their potential.”
We heard about three of BWASA’s interesting initiatives:
A new priority for BWASA is to tackle the challenge women entrepreneurs in South Africa face in procuring public contracts. BWASA is exploring multiple avenues to improve the capacity of women owned businesses and to improve the contract process. In an example of BWASA’s innovative thinking, they have gathered information about similar programs in the U.S. and would like to learn more about the process in Brazil.
BWASA is also getting women involved in different incubation programs so they can focus on their businesses and accelerate growth.“The private sector remains the least transformed sector,” said Director Mathonsi.
One large role BWASA has taken on since 2004 is in working on a census that tracks the representation of women in senior management in South Africa. Many South African companies have made great strides in increasing the representation of women in senior levels of their organization. Working with Catalyst, a leading research organization, BWASA reports on the progress of women in South Africa’s major corporates and state-owned enterprises.
BWASA is able to accomplish so much because it relies on volunteer committees at their branches all over the country and also partners with national and international women’s organizations with similar missions. Director Mathonsi said, “We have a strong principle of paying it forward. Women who come through BWASA have to do that in the system.”
BWASA is committed to providing a dynamic forum that inspires and grows women in business – not only for the benefit of its members, but for the benefit of South African business. Join us in applauding their example, intricate coordination and deep resolve to spark transformation.
Here at The Way Women Work, we collaborate with, amplify and support Business and Professional Women’s networks all over the world. We spotlight these organizations on a regular basis and share their great work in advancing the careers and businesses of women in their countries. Learn more about these organizations here.