Beating the Odds in the Steel and Manufacturing Industry
Is it possible to measure the benefits of networking and knowledge-sharing? For Tebogo Mashego, owner and founder of a metal fabricating company in South Africa, part of the overwhelmingly male-dominated extractives sector, the answer is yes.
Barely six months after attending a gender equality-focused ‘Sharefair’, hosted by UN Women in October 2015 at the United Nations Complex in Nairobi, Tebogo’s company’s productivity and profits are increasing. It is expected that the company’s turnover will have increased by more than 40% in just under two years.
“The Sharefair shaped my strategy and I was inspired to adopt innovative models of business and operations in the industry,” says Tebogo at her business premises in Rustenburg, South Africa.
“In fact, after the Sharefair, I changed my operating model from a manual to automated model – our old business model involved manual bending and twisting of metals which delayed production – and I upgraded the quality of my management systems.
“For instance, before we did not engage all employees in making suggestions on new product developments, and we lacked formalized manufacturing processes.
“I have also used the knowledge I acquired at the Sharefair, through networks I built there by meeting other women entrepreneurs, to diversify into other sectors that fit well with my current business model. As a result, I have expanded my markets and increased my income in a short span of only six months.”
The three-day Regional Sharefair on Gender Equality in the Extractive Industries focused on the theme of ‘Building on Good Practices’. While the extraction of resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, is driving immense social and economic changes in Africa, women are often excluded from the extractive industries value chain.
This exacerbates the gender gaps that already inhibit women’s access to resources and income-generating opportunities. The Sharefair brought together governments, civil society actors and the private sector to raise awareness of the gender-related issues in the sector. To make sure women are not shut out, gender perspectives need to be factored into natural resource management and policies.
Tebogo was one of 400 Sharefair participants; others included researchers, policy-makers, development agencies, regional economic commissions, the African Union, business leaders and investors.
Tebogo, in fact, has long experience of working in the extractives sector. She and her husband founded a metal gate manufacturing business together a while ago, following on from an earlier business that had supplied homes with fencing, burglar bars and aluminum doors and windows. She was one of the winners of an early round of the annual South African Breweries flagship youth entrepreneurship development programme, SAB KickStart, and the media exposure helped her build a new market base for her business and increase her export sales to neighbouring Malawi, Kenya and Zambia.
These experiences gave her the confidence to start her own business in metal fabrication, despite its image as a ‘men-only’ sector. One of the core aims of the company she set up, Ditsogo Projects, is to expand her employee base for youths and improve production in her steel business. With a growing market across Africa for heavy industrial metal engineering, she focused on supplying steel engineering services for the mining industry, hospitality and agricultural sectors. Her company now specialises in manufacturing transfer chutes, hoppers, conveyor structures, feeder tanks, vibrating screens, palisade fencing, platform cat ladders and heavy metal locking devices.
But it has been far from easy to find business and get orders – not least because she is a woman, and mining companies, government and big businesses seem reluctant to do business with local female-owned companies.
Tebogo’s response was to keep looking for new ways in which she could improve her knowledge and her skills. She sought out training as a specialist aluminum fabricator, and travelled to Germany to learn more about modern methods of metal fabrication and the international quality standard ISO 9001. She took part in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women global initiative that gives women entrepreneurs a business and management education and access to capital.
Her approaches to government agencies for grants to buy machinery and train staff were turned down, and so she looked for other innovative ways to get the equipment and expertise her company needed. She struck a service-level joint venture agreement with a large local fabricating company, and this gave her access to their resources, including the latest technology, a pool of machinery and transport.
But the Sharefair was, she says, a turning point.
“Sharefair changed my mind set,” says Tebogo.
“Through the session on addressing the challenges that prevent women from advancing in the extractive industries, I came to appreciate that perseverance is important to business continuity and success. I also started to appreciate technology as a major driver of business and profitability.
“I learnt that for women to succeed in the industry, we must invest part of our profit in upgrading machinery, technology and software. We must not be afraid to take risks. In fact, we must be very passionate about what we are doing.”
The power of women’s networks was a revelation to her.
“The Sharefair opened my eyes a lot to other opportunities and networks, and I have already used these to expand my business and employ more innovative models of entrepreneurship. The extractives sector has always looked impenetrable to many women – but it is not.
“The Sharefair exposed us to ways to reduce costs, increase productivity and maintain a sustainable, profitable business. We now advertise online, we have a professional web presence, and have access to shared data with partners.
“In fact, after taking on the good practices shared at the Sharefair, we have managed to reduce our operational costs by 20% and we are estimating an annual turnover of R4 million rand (USD 272,000) in 2016, compared to the previous annual turnover of R2.8 million (USD 171,000) in 2013-2014.”
Special attention was given during the Sharefair to the post-2015 development agenda and the role of women in the extractive industries in relation to Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
At the end of the three-day event, a pathway document was drawn up to highlight the areas where intervention is most needed if women are to benefit from the current rapid development of the extractives industry. It stresses that political will and public support must be mobilized to help women like Tebogo compete on a level playing field in the sector – so that she, in her turn, can help other women.