Women in business gather

By By Dorcas Mhungu
August 2011
Women in Business
“It begins with me”, is the thought provoking theme that the 5th Namibian Women Summit (NWS) will be hosted under this year.

The annual summit, which will run from the 11th to the 13th of August, “Is unique this year because, for the first time, the organisation has invited participants from member states of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC),” President of the NWS, Anne Thandeka Gebhardt says.

The event, which annually provides a platform for the mixing and mingling of the Namibian female aspiring and practising entrepreneurs, was born out of the realisation that most businesses owned by women flop due to lack of networking.

Fifty delegates from SADC region will attend the event to be officiated by First Lady Penehufipo Pohamba.

Gebhardt says the Namibia Women’s Summit is now operating under the auspices of a registered Non Governmental Organisation called House of Women that was launched by former president Dr. Sam Nujoma at the 2010 summit. Dissecting the functions of the organisation, she said this umbrella organisation has three core functions which are capacity building, networking and forming smart partnerships. The feminine motivational organisation targets women already in business, women in leadership positions in both public and private sectors and the young and aspiring women.

House of Women will empower the Namibian Women Summit to carry out all the services that business women in Namibia have requested which include organising regional workshops and women directors training mentorship programs. Gebhardt, who sits at the helm of the Namibian Women Summit, derives the drive to whip into line her fellow female counterparts because she herself is an icebreaker in the real estate business. She made history by becoming the first black real estate agent in post independent Namibia. For the past 20 years, her business has grown from strength to strength since dropping the chalk and walking out of the classroom not in protest but to prosper in the more challenging business environment.

Throwing caution to the wind, Gebhardt stresses, “Our male counterparts should not take the organisation as one that challenges them but one that appreciates and complements their efforts.” She explained that capacity building will give the women the insight and encouragement for them to be able to operate their businesses with confidence. The young and aspiring entrepreneurs are included in the loop to enable them to rub shoulders with the experienced and professional women. Gebhardt noted that most businesses run by women do not thrive because women do not know what their counterparts are doing and end up not supporting one another. Gebhardt says the result of this crippling habit, is that women end up giving business support to established operators while their counterparts offer cheaper and better products.

The Namibian Women Summit, Gebhardt says, offers a prescriptive remedial platform to ailing businesses run by Namibian women and at the annual event, the entrepreneurs are accorded the opportunity to share ideas, and exchange business cards, underscoring the need to have functional networks for a business to grow. “We still believe in order for women to participate actively in the economic growth of the country, they need strong networking events. The Namibian Women Summit has become a special event in the diaries of women in Namibia since 2007 and what makes the summit different is the way the participants are treated,” Gebhardt says.

She said holding the event in venues that are used by high level politicians and top corporate officials gives the delegates a feeling of importance contrary to how they would feel if the event is held in a school hall or halls in one of the suburbs. The organisers also carefully choose the speakers and presenters at the forum. “We pick our speakers from the top of the range in Namibia and this alone is unique because most conferences boast of speakers from outside Namibia, regionally and internationally but the summit believes in the type of women that Namibia has reared and raised and that hearing from their own counterparts is an encouragement to the listeners that will make them feel that they too can get to the top,” prides Gebhardt.

The three day convention will cover topics on health, how to be assertive, and balancing one’s lifestyle. The roping in of participants from SADC member states draws its relevance from Namibia’s current chairmanship of the regional body and is line with SADC’s call for regional integration. The event will also feature an Expo where the entrepreneurs will showcase their products and use the opportunity to make business linkages with their counterparts.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the Ministry of Trade and Industry and two main programs will be launched this year’s summit,” Gebhardt explains with robust enthusiasm. The two programs, the SADC Women in Business and African Women Entrepreneurs Platform (AWEP) will be officially launched by the First Lady. The summit is expecting 350 delegates from all the 13 regions of Namibia to come and get first hand information on the new programs that will be launched by the First Lady who has shown immense interest in issues pertaining women and children.

Explaining the relevance of this year’s theme, “It begins with me,” Gebhardt says, “We believe that women are the agents of change, not only in Namibia, but globally and if you want anything to change in your life, you should initiate it yourself. If you want a world without corruption you should not be involved in corrupt activities yourself.” She challenged women to stand up against any form of violence physical and mental to become effective agents of change in their communities. Because women are nurturing by nature, and have the daunting task to take care of others, it is paramount that they remain healthy physically and mentally Gebhardt stressed. PF