Dyless Mkumbira from Mchinji District ventured into business when her university dreams were shattered due to poverty.
She says: “My parents died when I was young and I was brought up by my aunt.”
When her aunt died, Mkumbira had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of her siblings, but things were not easy.
She then got married, hoping the husband would help relieve some of her responsibilities.
Sadly for the mother of three, she says marriage life was not all rosy. But she had to persevere for the sake of her children as she was not doing anything to bring food on the table at that time.
“After a few years of marriage, I started working at a telephone bureau and I saved money to start a small business,” says Mkumbira.
When she felt she had saved enough, she opened a small restaurant which unfortunately wrapped up because she couldn’t afford the rentals.
However, that did not stop Mkumbira from exploring other business opportunities.
She later opened a small shop in Mponela, Dowa District, where she was selling cosmetics, wrappers (zitenje) and hair extensions such as mesh and weaves. All these were imported from Zambia.
But due to management challenges, Mkumbira was forced to close down the shop. Nevertheless, she opened another in her home district which is now helping her survive.
The small-scale business woman says inability to access loans from banks is the main setback faced by women involved in cross-border trading like her.
Says Mkumbira: “We are small-scale business people and our goal is to just survive each day as it comes. So there are times we do not have money to top up our capital.
“But because banks have their own principles and requirements needed for one to access a loan, the only option we have is to rely on one another.”
She appeals to financial institutions to consider women like her whose wish is to see their children go to good schools and feed their families three times a day.
Issues of lack of capital withstanding, Mkumbira is at least motivated to do better for herself following a business skills training she received when she joined the Cross Border Traders Association of Malawi.
“I have learnt a lot through this association and to some extent there are things that I believe will help me bring my business to another level and also help my fellow women in the same line of business to progress in life,” she narrates.
The association’s national chairperson Esther Phukambiri agrees with Mkumbira, saying loans from financial institutions could help the women grow their businesses.
She says there is also a need for taxes to be reduced for women in small-scale businesses so that they find their businesses productive.
Says Phukambiri: “Business women are hard workers and failing is not part of them. So they really try to come up with measures that will help them survive in the business.
“Currently, we encourage our members to be in savings and loans groups which will help them when they need capital. So this idea has proved to be working and we believe it has somehow relieved the burden women faced for not being able to access bank loans.”
She suggests the need for government to construct cross-border markets where they could be selling their products.
“Sexual harassment comes into play when women move from one office to another chasing for customers because we do not have proper infrastructure for cross-border traders. If we can have these structures, I believe our women will be safe to do their business peacefully without being preyed on,” says Phukambiri.
National Association of Business Women executive director Barbara Banda, whose organisation offers training to Cross Border Traders Association of Malawi female members, says they take the initiative of giving women the expertise they need to ensure their businesses grow.
She says women in business are now being taught to use e-commerce as one way of moving with the time and ensuring they make money without the need of travelling.
“We believe some of these challenges that women face when doing their businesses can be avoided if technology is used to replace the old ways of doing things, so we encourage them to adopt new technologies in business,” says Banda.