Networks, networking and small-scale women entrepreneurs in Cameroon
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Ning Ernestine, Nnam
Social networks have been viewed as important to small-scale African women entrepreneurs to compensate for disadvantages in accessing financial and human capital when starting and operating a business. However, there have been few African studies on the experiences of women entrepreneurs in accessing and making use of their networks. This is the primary research gap that is being focused on in this study. While women in both developed and developing countries can derive resources from their social networks, research has been limited on the variety of networks accessed and on the detailed processes by which women entrepreneurs convert network contacts into practical value. Additionally, researchers have noted that network relationships can be disadvantageous and detrimental as well as beneficial. How far women entrepreneurs use different networks to compensate or counterbalance the disadvantages of others is poorly understood. Africa and specifically Cameroon is an interesting context to study these issues, because gender discrimination is strong but poor access to financial and human capital could be overcome by drawing support from large extended family networks, and can also access a variety of peer, community, church and business networks. The African literature stresses the collectivism of large extended African families, who have strong traditions and obligations to help each other, and hence an important source of assistance in the early stages of starting businesses. Yet because such families are paternalistic and are full of poor members competing for few resources, women may still be disadvantaged in accessing limited family resources. Additionally, family relationships can become toxic and counterproductive, and can greatly reduce and undermine entrepreneurial freedom and creativity. Any success or capital accumulation is likely to be eroded by numerous demands by other family members for assistance. They are thus forced to turn to alternative non-family networks to compensate. Accessing new networks, however, poses new difficulties. Deriving value from networks, therefore, requires going beyond a resource-based view of networks, where advantage comes from features such as network size and density. Other theoretical frameworks need to be considered which may explain processes of network utilisation and dynamics, such as assets contract theory and entrepreneurship theories of strategic resource orchestration. Because of the few studies on African female networks and women entrepreneurs, an exploratory case-based research design was adopted, involving semi-structured interviews of 24 women entrepreneurs from Buea, Cameroon, and a follow up in-depth unstructured interviews on eight of the women. Interviewees were purposively selected from the four most common business sectors in which female entrepreneurs in Cameroon are located, and from rural as well as urban contexts. This provided a variety of contexts for comparative analysis. The study contains three chapters analysing findings. Chapter Six analysed the profile and characteristics of these women and the specific gender-based obstacles and problems encountered in starting and running their businesses. Chapter Seven contained a detailed analysis of different types of networks used by these women to overcome their problems. The findings provided qualified support for the resource-based view of networks. Women did access resources through their network and the diversity of resources increased with the number of networks accessed. Bridging contacts proved especially beneficial. Each different network provided its own distinctive advantages in leveraging resources at different stages of a woman's business development. However, each network also was associated with its own disadvantages. Assistance was commonly accompanied by onerous strings attached, and benefits were undermined by mistrust, jealousy and lack of timeliness. Family embeddedness and collectivism was much lower than predicted by the literature, and many women avoided asking family for help to avoid conflicts, jealousy and obligations. They faced a constant stream of demands from relatives for help once they showed any sign of success, and some women became adept at minimising the effects of this drain, and optimising retention of their profits and capital. The importance of managing networks to retain resources was as important to orchestrate resource advantage from them. The research shed some insights on how women managed to develop over time by gradually switching from accessing family networks, to community, church and then business networks. The findings raised new questions and research gaps and proposed a list of areas for further research. In terms of policy implications, the research suggests that if formal sources of lending were encouraged to become more accessible and friendly, women entrepreneurs would benefit by not having to work so hard at managing and orchestrating difficult personal relationships, and of juggling a variety of networks to maintain an adequate stream of financial operating capital.