We are nearing the end of March, which is also International Women’s Month. Like many other social initiative which finds its way into the zeitgeist for a short period of time, the issues surround female empowerment and gender equality in the workplace will likely die out in April only to be rehashed once again this time next year.
It is why we recently interviewed Divya Vasant (pictured in header image), founder and CEO of the Amazi Group, to find out how her company thinks differently about creating opportunities within business for female entrepreneurs and how it is having a far longer impact than traditional initiatives that crop up at this time of the year.
“Women, particularly women of colour are struggling to find their way into an economic system that was never designed for our success. Access to skills, access to market, access to finance are all huge barriers that continue to keep many women from being able to create sustainable earnings for themselves or start and grow businesses that are sustainable,” stresses Vasant.
Outside of being a beauty and wellness focused company, Amazi is looking at opportunities for growth outside those spheres, according to Vasant.
“Importantly, self-care to us isn’t just external, it’s internal as well. We believe investing in your self-development, your relationship with yourself, your learning is just as important as investing in downtime or investing in a self-care product or treatment. That’s why the solutions we offer to women range from affordable online courses that cover topics like Do you know yourself, to leading yourself authentically & uncovering your purpose to self-care treatments at our nail and beauty bars,” she adds.
While product is one side of the equation, skills development and entrepreneurial empowerment is another.
“Importantly, every rand spent with us whether on our online learning solutions or in our stores journeys with a purpose into the development of a woman who needs a hand up,” she explains.
“We develop women in a number of different ways. We offer free soft skills training to unemployed women to help ready them to take the next step in accessing better opportunities for themselves, we offer accredited technical beauty training to women who complete those soft skills and show the ambition and commitment to start a career in wellness, we offer these young women opportunities to apprentice in our stores under skilled mentors and lastly, we offer women the opportunity to start and grow their own microbusinesses within our Amazi nail and beauty bars,” outlines Vasant.
“We provide them with start-up infrastructure including equipment, point of sale & payment systems, we immerse them in a rigorous introduction to business and as they trade and grow their income within our stores, we provide them with business mentoring and support,” she continues.
While readily making access to skills is important, it is not the only avenue that Amazi is focusing on. This especially as a significant shift is still needed when it comes to making female empowerment an integral part of a company’s culture and not simply a month-long agenda for good PR.
To that end, Vasant says that organisations like Amazi that are female-owned can serve as an inspiration for others.
“We believe we can only dismantle the concentration of economic opportunity held by men by creating more women founded, women-led organisations that begin introducing women into the entire value chain from ownership to leadership to who designs solutions that meet women’s’ needs,” she notes.
The aim is to create a community of female business leaders who can network with one another and leverage those relationships to become economically stronger. This is an important aspect to be cognisant of given the current pandemic, which impacted small businesses and SMEs in particular over the past 12 months.
“Our overarching goal is to see more women, particularly women of colour being economic active & included,” emphasises Vasant.
“For any women, regardless of industry, we’ve created a digital self-development and entrepreneurial development toolkit available on our website. These interactive modules are written by us over the years of our experience journeying as women founders and share the important lessons, mistakes and turnarounds we’ve navigated,” she adds.
For women, by women
Looking at skills development in greater detail, Vasant explains that Amazi has been able to refine how it tackles digital skills, which can often prove more difficult to learn than traditional ones.
“We’ve been connecting with, supporting and growing women of colour for more than five years. There are three principles we live by when creating learning content and learning environments for women – 1. Content that is written for women by women; 2. Conversational, relatable, easy to engage content that is interactive 3. Access to a community to learn, share and growth with,” she highlights.
“Our content is conversational, it shares our personal stories and it is relatable. We’ve found that just the name ‘entrepreneurial development’ can be intimidating. When you are trying to figure out how to move from an idea into action, you are already overwhelmed. Having to try and make sense of highly technical terms isn’t useful. A lot of the work we do in how we put our learning opportunities together is to debunk, de-mystify and make the information women entrepreneurs need to know accessible and relatable,” the CEO continues.
Vasant is also careful to stress that the transfer of digital skills can only be effective in a blended environment.
“The accessibility of digital tools is wonderful, but it cannot completely replace the depth and reinforcement of learning that happens in a physical setting so we have crafted a blended approach to creating learning community using both,” she says.
“We have resource centres in both Johannesburg and Cape Town where we host workshops, events and other in-person experiences that reinforce the learning content we make available digitally. These workshops are accessible to any women who has purchased our self and/or entrepreneurial toolkits as an additional way to help reinforce learning as well as help women find community and support among one another,” the CEO notes.
The year ahead
As Amazi looks to the rest of 2021, much of its focus will continue on the skills development and opportunity creation front.
“We’ve set ambitious goals for the opportunities we want to create for women this year. We’re looking at extending our free soft skills to at least 500 young unemployed women; we’re aiming to further develop at least 120 young unemployed women through our accredited skills development, and we’re focused on supporting 30 women birth and grow their own microbusinesses,” says Vasant.
The company also launched a Rands & Change initiative this week that seeks to educate people on the brand itself, but more importantly how money from online courses and other tools are invested into creating further opportunities.
“Our Rands & Change movement creates a way for every woman to be an impact investor simply by consuming her self-care needs with us because her spending in our eco-system affects real impact,” explains Vasant.
“And importantly, she’s not having to spend more than she already had budgeted, she’s not having to contribute time she doesn’t have, just by being more selective in where she consumers we turn women from consumers into impact investors. And that’s the beauty and power of our model,” she concludes.