BY DR AUDREY VERHAEGHE, CHAIRPERSON OF THE SA INNOVATION SUMMIT

Innovation is where creativity and implementation meet. The most defining feature of innovation is that it makes a difference in the world. It’ s so in demand that each year , the SA Innovation Summit brings together over 1 500 entrepreneurs and 200 investors to facilitate R1-billion worth of dealmaking.

Although women make up 51% of the global population, women business owner statistics do not match up. In Ghana, which far outstrips other countries with the highest percentage, female business owners are at a staggering 46.4%. Only 18.8% of business owners in South Africa are women.

Women entrepreneurs who are entering the space still need to negotiate levels of male-dominated industries to bring their ideas to life. At the same time, there’ s an appetite in the market for good female pitches.

What the innovation space needs is collaboration. There are ideas and there is money. But there is also a wide gap between the two. The industry needs ‘glue-makers’ – players who facilitate networking opportunities between entrepreneurs and investors.

This is one area in which women can make their mark. Women are naturally excellent collaborators. If we can bring people together around the dinner table, why not around the conference table

The challenge remains to encourage women to also take their seat at the table, not just bring others around it. Research by Statistics SA has shown that in the second quarter of 2018, just 32% of managers in South Africa were women; “domestic worker”, “clerk or technician” were the only fields dominated by women. If women aren’t stepping into leadership and decision-making positions, we’re depriving the world of a more connected, nurturing and collaborative way of thinking.

We are powerful. Right now , connectivity is empowering us to build these better businesses. It allows us to work from anywhere, anytime – even while at home with children. There’s a phenomenal future for women on the horizon.

To harness this future, we need to shape the perceptions of girls and young women, and empower them to lead at the edge of innovation. Young women need to see role models, and we need to teach girls to realise their purpose. That purpose is bigger than their circumstances and bigger than their family.

My purpose is the thing that pushes me. My purpose is to help people get new ideas into the world and commercialise them. My mission is to create an innovation-mindset driven economy.

There will be difficult days, and there will be times you don’t make targets. But don’t change your mission – change the world.

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