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Zambia: How Cooperatives Are Enabling Women to Take Advantage of Large-Scale Textile Business Opportunities

17.10.2022 | Graca Machel Trust: Johannesburg

It has been over 29 years since the Zambian Federation of Associations of Women in Business (ZFWAB), which hosts the Graça Machel Trust's Network of Women in Business (NABW), was established. Located in Lusaka capital of Zambia, ZFAWIB is a country-level non-governmental organization that has successfully promoted women's entrepreneurial activities in all sectors of the economy. Today, it is one of the most successful and sustainable national women's networks in the region.

ZFAWIB started with a small group of women entrepreneurs: a commercial farmer that grew flowers for export, a timber trader, and two women in the textile industry whose focus was establishing export markets for their members. Over the years, it has transformed into a national-level umbrella body driving advocacy, capacity building, access to markets, finance, and financial services, and network-building programs operating in agriculture, textile, trade, mining, construction, and consultancy services. Segmenting the federation's membership in different sectors inspired the idea of setting up a textile factory for women in 2019. This enabled women to take advantage of large-scale business opportunities to produce and supply protective clothing, school uniforms, and other textile garments imported from China or South Africa.

Reports by ILO Cooperative Unit underscore many ways cooperatives could support sustainable development, such as employment creation and opening up new market opportunities. These indicate that employee-owned businesses have higher levels of employment stability and have jobs that are less likely to be negatively impacted by cyclical downturns, giving more women the chance to participate in local economies and, in turn, advancing gender equality. Graça Machel once said, "cooperatives are very much needed in society, initiatives that encourage citizens to work together. Cooperatives allow us to be better citizens, successful individuals, and a society if we work with others in an organized and structured way." As a result, cooperatives have empowered many communities, given many a sense of responsibility, and reduced social inequalities.

Establishing ZFAWIB Textile Cooperative, funding opportunity, its sustainability

The opportunity to bring the dream of setting up a textile factory became a reality in 2019 when ZFAWIB was approached by the Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) to submit a concept note about the business to secure 100 sewing machines on lease. The state-of-the-art sewing machines would then enable them to perform different functions in the garment production process. This inspired the women to find investment funds and capital to start operations and grow the business. Before long, ZFAWIB Textile Cooperative was launched on 14th February 2020.

To ensure the federation is sustainable, beneficiaries contribute a share price pegged at K500 (US$ 32). Each member is allowed to hold 10 shares to be fully paid up and what is encouraging is that the network managed to attract 41 women who purchased 10 shares each. The money raised through the shares was the initial capital used to pay for business premises to operate from, service the machines, and meet other operating expenses whilst looking for a business.

Having worked with businesswomen in different sectors for many years, the Graça Machel Trust recognizes many challenges women face when they try to grow their businesses. This includes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, being encouraged by how the Trust's network has recovered its business that went into business just before the pandemic with the factory not operating for months during the lockdown period, a conversation with one of the network leads was necessary. The Vice Chair of the federation, Jacqueline Chipasha Mutale Dube, revealed that the pandemic brought an unlikely opportunity, a "launch pad" for the business as more orders came in to produce COVID-19 protective wear - cloth masks at a large scale ranging from 3000 to 60,000 and protective garments. Thanks to organizations such as UNICEF and COMESA and many other clients that placed orders and later became advocates and marketing agents for the business.

Despite the wins, the network's biggest challenge was finding premises large enough to accommodate all their newly found equipment in the right location and at a reasonable rent. Finding enough experienced tailors to work on large orders and operate at the highest productivity level was also challenging. In addition, with the experience gained over the past 2 years, they managed to revise their business plan. They considered external risk factors and shocks which have thrown some of our assumptions and projections off course, such as COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Collectively building stronger networks

As a former banker with an Economics, Business Administration, and Master in Banking and Finance for Development degree, Jacqueline Dube has contributed so much to the growth of the ZAFWIB network. She shares her passion with many other women in the network who have also seen its growth. She says, "When I put my mind to something, I give it my full commitment. I do not like to fail and therefore do not give up easily. I always look for solutions to whatever challenges or obstacles I face. I am a hard worker and believe in building relationships and working with others whenever possible". Growing up in Lusaka, as a young woman, Jacqueline's hopes were always to live a comfortable life and make a difference in people's lives, especially other women.

"Seek out and join networks, and if you cannot find any, then start one. Support and build up other women, especially those coming behind and looking to you to pave the way. Be a mentor, sponsor a young woman, and share your networks." - Graça Machel.

Graca Machel, Jacqueline Dube, and members

Despite enjoying some successes and having an optimistic projection of the business, she had to overcome some personal struggles that have shaped her and allowed her to reach greater heights. Ms Dube has a great appreciation for collective work. She attributes this success to a collective of women. "They have brought different skills, strengths and experiences that complement each other to achieve one common objective". Jacqueline is proud of the successes the business has achieved since it started. She shares, "we have been able to employ young women who struggled to find jobs despite having gone to some skills training schools, and others have improved their tailoring skills. We are therefore making a difference in their lives." Here are some personal inspirational facts:

Five inspiring facts about Jacqueline Dube

  • What inspired you to join the ZFWAB network, and why the interest in textiles?

Having worked for 27 years in the Banking sector, the first project I started was poultry farming, and then I set up a Financial Services Consultancy Business. Reading the mission of ZFAWIB, I was encouraged to join the organization. First, to grow as a businesswoman in my own right, network with other businesswomen, build linkages, and learn from other women who had been in business longer than me. I also immediately realized that this would be an opportunity for me to use my Banking experience to contribute to the advancement of one of the ZFAWIB objectives of bringing women into mainstream economic activities. I found myself in the Textile Sector because I wanted to learn a new skill, and because of the interest and passion I exhibited right from the beginning, I was voted in as the Vice Chairperson of the ZFAWIB Textile Cooperative when it was set up.

  • What is the best business advice you have received that you continue to use in your business today?

Money has to work for you and your business because money does not grow when it is just sitting in the bank, but take calculated risks when investing your money." Before venturing into business, she wishes she knew that running her own business needs total commitment if one has to succeed. Affordable funding for working capital and capital expenditure is critical, and experienced and reliable labor is a key success factor.

  • What critical success factors do you use that are typically ignored by some entrepreneurs?

Developing important habits and strategies for managing finances to be a successful entrepreneur is critical. Keep a record of all transactions and maintain a Bank account through which all the transactions should be done. You should be able to track your income and expenses and monitor the business's profitability to take timely, appropriate action, change your strategy, and focus when the need arises.

  • Biggest barriers to women-owned businesses in accessing finance?

The biggest barrier is access to affordable finance to grow or expand their business. And where it is available, most women do not own assets they can pledge as collateral. Even though the attitude towards financial inclusion is changing, it is not significant and remains verbal.

  • What inspired you most about Graça Machel's visit to your textile factory?

The very fact that she took time out of her very busy schedule to come and visit the ZFAWIB Textile factory. For me, it shows that she is interested in the practical things that women's organizations are doing and understands the impact of those activities. This was a real challenge, and my takeaway was that as a women's organization, we need to focus on doing things that make a meaningful difference in women's livelihoods and have long-lasting tangible benefits and impacts on future generations. In that vein, she challenged us to bring on board young people who will not only learn from us and guarantee continuity but also bring the energy and open-mindedness that will enable us to expand our horizons.

"In the next five years, we should be the biggest local producer of textile garments and be able to compete with imported finished garments so that we contribute towards the government's import substitution. We should have created over 500,000 direct and indirect jobs and set up another textile factory in another town."

Jacqueline Chipasha Mutale Dube, Vice Chairperson,

Zambian Federation of Associations of Women in Business (ZFWAB)

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