Across the world, there has been much discussion and debate about how best to support women-led ventures. Thus far, the emphasis has been on improving access to financial capital and human capital. According to Harvard Business Review another key factor in the success of these businesses that tends to be overlooked is access to networks, also known as social capital or as I choose to call it, the power of community.
In the Ernst and Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program, their research highlighted community as being one of the key factors in helping women overcome barriers to growth. “Communities are crucial to the success of all entrepreneurs for so many reasons: information flow, access to resources and general support and counsel. For women in particular, we have seen that community enables them to shorten learning curves, gain insights into tough business problems, collaborate and create valuable business partnerships. Community is a force multiplier contributing significantly to accelerated growth of women-owned businesses.”
It is therefore not surprising that in recent years, as a result of the intrinsic gender prejudices from ‘traditional networks,’ and also because of the benefits that come with curating communities designed with a gender-lens, women-centered coworking spaces, entrepreneurship accelerators, venture-capital firms and digital platforms have amplified globally.
Community is a much treasured value across the African continent. African Women have always known and believed in the power of the collective to get things done.
As women, our purchasing power is a massive lever that we should be pulling. When women choose to support women-led businesses, creative projects and political campaigns with their purses, it is no small thing, it is an example of the power of community at play.
Dr Susan Duffy, Executive Director, Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College offers these practical tips on how to build our social capital-
1. Be strategic.
You can’t be a member of every community, and you’re not a fit in all communities. Use your networks to find out which might be of interest to you, then try them on for size. Test them out, and don’t feel you have to commit just because you went to one event or paid your dues. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.
2. Think long term.
Ask yourself: Does this community have interesting people who could be potential customers, suppliers, board members or experts? Do they offer access to new circles? Do they have speaking opportunities that could raise your public profile?
3. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking.
Entrepreneurs are always short on time. Don’t be afraid to engage in a way that works for you, and that works for other people when you’re there. You may only go once a quarter, but when you go, deliver value by bringing useful conversation and connections to the people you meet.
4. Value your contributions.
If you’re not there for every meeting, you may wonder what you bring to the table. Simple — it’s you. It’s your expertise. It’s your experiences. It’s your unique point of view — and giving others access to those things through conversation.
5. Make sure your communities are diversified.
Women’s communities are important, but they’re not the only game in town. Perhaps an industry community or local economic development community makes more sense for you. A network is transactional. You need to build that network in order to get from point A to point B. Community is that secret sauce of when you feel you belong, and you’re getting what you need from the context that you’re in.
As we say in Africa, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Similarly in entrepreneurship, the collective genius found in a community can undeniably be impactful, we have seen it first hand at all our accelerators.
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