A lack of active participation by women in South Africa’s Food and Hospitality sectors despite their overwhelming presence within the industry was the driving factor behind the establishment of Women in Food and Hospitality (WIFAH) which was set up in early 2011.
With her foot firmly on the accelerator is Liz Sangion WIFAH’s executive chairman, who is also the founder and chairman of Awevest and AWCI, two broad based women owned and managed investment companies.
She has been active in women empowerment for the past 13 years and founded WIFAH as a result of her involvement with the hospitality industry through her investment company National African Women Alliance Investments (NAWA).
Established in 2003, NAWA bought a 12 percent stake in Protea Hotels, which was subsequently disposed of by UK-based equity company ACD. NAWA then acquired an economic interest in the Protea Group, which was subsequently sold to another equity fund based in Australia.
Sangion said: “This sale resulted in the dilution of our shareholding, but also gave us an opportunity to declare a dividend for the first time to more than 900 women, who were based in all nine provinces of our country.
“Within two years our investment in this company had grown by 300 percent and enabled us to settle our debt with the Industrial Development Corporation, which had funded our acquisition. This development spurred me into looking for opportunities in this sector.
“I undertook research into the food sector and discovered that women played a significant role, but there were few women participating at board level in major food production and retail companies.”
In championing women in the food and industry sectors, Sangion is hoping to rattle a few cages and exploit the entire value chain thus creating more opportunities for women in the industry.
She said: “Since the establishment of the association, we have seen tremendous response from women entrepreneurs both from within and outside these sectors wanting to become not only members, but also looking for opportunities within these sectors.
“For example women who run Bed & Breakfast establishments are linked with major groups in the hospitality sector and assisted with the grading of their establishments.”
The association was launched as a voluntary association and designed to achieve three things – economic empowerment of women through creating opportunities for women to become active participants of these sectors as both equity owners and suppliers of services; facilitate strategic linkages that will benefit women-owned businesses; the facilitation of business skills to ensure that women-owned businesses continue to thrive and communities benefit from jobs created by these women-owned businesses.
Membership is open to all those women who currently own or aspire to own businesses in these sectors and the benefits include: access to business training programmes currently offered and tailor-designed by Regenesys Business School; strategic links with major groups in these sectors and group procurement opportunities; business management systems and participation by these women in acquisitions by the company.
Sangion said: “Women empowerment is critical in these sectors given the sheer numbers of women already active in both sectors, albeit currently operating at much lower levels.
“We believe that empowering women economically immediately translates to meaningful empowerment and stability of communities given women’s roles in these communities.”
To date WIFAH has established a strategic partnership with Regenyses Business School to develop a business training programme and it has also launched a woman owned food franchise brand called the Braai Shack.
It has also engaged major players like Walmart, and other local and major manufacturers and retailers to access their enterprise development support of women-driven initiatives.
Sangion said: “Our objective is to see WIFAH as a serious player in these sectors both as equity owners and facilitators of opportunities for women owned businesses.
“We are encouraged by the confirmation of the need by both our members and industry players for a more co-ordinated and formalised approach and structure in the identification of opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
We remain hopeful that such enthusiasm will soon translate into concrete and meaningful support and commitment to our cause.”
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