Women shaping entrepreneurship education

The establishment and growth of entrepreneurship and businesses are essential for economic development and employment creation. By providing students in tertiary education with the skills and knowledge to start and grow businesses, we can contribute to a more sustainable economy. Entrepreneurship education may spur students to become employers rather than employees, and encourage them to develop their creativity skills, self-confidence, independence, and to formulate innovative solutions to complex problems.

Entrepreneurship education programmes have been available in tertiary education institutions in the USA since the 1970s, where 73 universities offered such programmes. By the late 1990s, when South African tertiary education institutions started to research and develop entrepreneurship programmes, it was available in more than 1 600 universities in the USA. Entrepreneurship programmes were included in business schools’ curricula in the fields of humanities, engineering, agriculture, science, nursing, and law.(1) In South Africa, the first entrepreneurship programmes and modules were introduced at technikons (now ‘universities of technology’) in 1997, and at universities in the early 2000s.

The importance, relevance, and inclusion of entrepreneurship education have grown significantly since the early 2000s, when most universities started offering complete entrepreneurship programmes, modules, short courses, and/or commercialisation services, or a combination of these. Today, many academics are involved in research, developing curricula, teaching material, textbooks, teaching, and in creating life-giving platforms involving communities and other dynamic entrepreneurship education initiatives.

Although men still seem to be the prominent role players in entrepreneurship, a study(2) found that women-owned businesses outperform those owned by men only. Successful women business owners and leaders, including those in education, are inspiring role models who can be positive catalysts for change.

The Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard 2015 assessed countries’ support of high-impact women’s entrepreneurship based on data sourced from, amongst others, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the International Labour Organization. With a score of 71, the USA ranked first, while Sweden was top-ranked in Europe (68 points). South Africa, with a score of 41, ranked the highest in Africa. The report shows that all countries will gain from improving conditions and education to support high-impact women entrepreneurs.(3)

Experts are in agreement that women tend to be very successful in transformational leadership.(4) One context in which women can take the lead is tertiary education institutions, due to more opportunities being available in these institutions. Studies on women teachers/lecturers of colour, in particular, have confirmed the prevalence of transformational leadership amongst women, as well as its positive effect on their students.(5)(6) It is unclear from empirical studies how women in South African tertiary institutions lead change, but entrepreneurship is undoubtedly an acknowledged discipline that could enable students to create opportunities and innovatively meet the needs of society.

A seminal author on transformation in entrepreneurship, Schumpeter,(7) notes that every entrepreneur can act as an agent for change. It is important that the education of entrepreneurship is, at least to some extent, focused on the empowerment or development of future change agents who will, in turn, make a positive impact in their environments. The role of women on this transformational journey of entrepreneurship education for change has not been explored in South Africa.

Entrepreneurship education through a theoretical lens

A theoretical lens that enables an understanding of change and that is applicable to education (in this case, entrepreneurship education) is the socio-ecological systems perspective,(8) introduced in 1977 by Urie Bronfenbrenner,(9) who noted that there may be various systems within an educational ecological system that influence the development of humans:

  • a microsystem, where interactions with peers and lecturers directly influence the student;
  • a mesosystem, consisting of interactions between different microsystems, for example, interdisciplinary work;
  • an exosystem, consisting of family and the larger community; and
  • a macrosystem, which comprises societal beliefs and cultural values, and includes the policies that guide decisions.

It has been argued that, in entrepreneurship education, all these systems come into play in supporting future change agents. In this regard, women in entrepreneurship education have an opportunity to act as change agents and role models for entrepreneurship students, as they are able to become involved in the various subsystems, shown below in the illustration of the socio-ecological system in education.(10)


Socio-ecological system in education

The subsystems within a socio-ecological system do not function in isolation; they have an effect on each other. Subsystems are therefore separate yet intertwined, and each system has either a direct or an indirect effect on people and their development.

In this paper, we offer reflections and narratives from a diverse group of women in entrepreneurship education regarding the need for positive change. We asked these women to reflect on their passion, focus area, and the unique value they bring to this domain. Our call went out to over 40(11) women of all races and at various institutions identified as active participants in South African entrepreneurship education. A total of 31 women shared their thoughts and views.


Every woman indicated a consciousness of her role in the bigger picture — the socio-ecosystem — in bringing change. Snippets of their reflections are presented to illustrate their approach and the ripple effects of their impact on entrepreneurship education. It is important to note that most women make an impact on various systems, but extracts of their narratives are offered as examples of their transformative thinking about entrepreneurship education in a specific area.

A focus on the microsystem with a view to influencing the macrosystem

Although all the women in our report make a remarkable impact on their students, as evident from their reflections, some academics focus on undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Ms Daniella Amaral, a lecturer at Varsity College, is currently completing her PhD in entrepreneurship. She said that “stimulating students to create a better world through their entrepreneurial ventures” is her motivation to provide innovative teaching in entrepreneurship education.

Ms Tiyani Baadjie is also completing a PhD, and is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. She noted that “fostering entrepreneurial skills is important in instilling an entrepreneurial mindset”. Ms Baadjie takes pleasure in seeing “future-ready” graduates, and is committed to investing in young minds, as she considers them the future of the country.

Ms Chanté Botha, a Programme Manager of Executive Education at IIE MSA, is also in the process of completing a PhD. She shared her approach to educating her students and why she views it as necessary: “I arrange field trips for the students to visit, for example, an incubation hub, to experience the practical side of entrepreneurship. Within the actual classroom, I focus on practical activities… My assessments are also application-based, rather than only focusing on theoretical content. This enables the students to apply the theoretical knowledge in real life. This encourages and provides confidence to students to consider starting their businesses, which is critical for the growth of our economy.”

Some more seasoned academics communicated their desire to directly impact their post-graduate students in addition to their efforts relating to undergraduate work.

Prof. Evelyn Derera from the University of KwaZulu-Natal focuses her energy on her postgraduate students. She noted: “Gender occupies a special place among the explored [research] themes”. She believes that findings from the studies that she and her students embark on will have important implications for policymakers, practitioners, and managers seeking to improve the entrepreneurial education ecosystem. It is therefore evident that her intention is to improve the macrosystem by ensuring that it supports an inclusive entrepreneurial culture.

I am passionate about seeing students develop their business ideas and grow them. I am assisting students to develop their skills. This will assist the students and their businesses in practice.

Prof. Giselle Mah, North-West University

Prof. Brownhilder Neneh is a full professor in entrepreneurship and the Academic Chair in the Business Management department at the University of the Free State. Her primary focus is fostering research and development of entrepreneurial competencies and behaviours vital for successfully navigating the entrepreneurial pipeline — intentions, start-up, own or manage, grow, and exit — with a special emphasis on students and women entrepreneurship”. She believes her work is important for students, as she has utilised her research findings to revamp teaching and training materials, empowering students to progress from mere intention formation to effectively commencing their businesses”. Her work is also shared with the larger community.

Other women on various levels and from various institutions shared their passion for directly influencing the thinking and skills of their students:

I teach students how important creativity is in entrepreneurship from Day 1. My view is that successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs should break away from old thinking patterns and embrace their creativity.

Prof. Ziska Fields, University of Johannesburg

Dr Menisha Moos of the University of Pretoria seeks a balance between lecturing and facilitating students making their own discoveries. She encourages students to think critically about the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She makes use of real-life case studies in class, stating: “Entrepreneurship is such a practical subject.

I apply the design thinking process in stimulating students’ entrepreneurial mindset. Empathising with potential users allows the students to get to know the real problem.

Ms Onica Matsheke, Vaal University of Technology

Prof. Cecile Nieuwenhuizen of the University of Johannesburg (SARChI: Entrepreneurship Education Chair) views her role as building capacity through postgraduate supervision, developing young academics, and conducting research. Entrepreneurship development, including entrepreneurship education, has been my research niche.” She was awarded an honorary doctorate in entrepreneurship by the Krakow University of Economics for her contributions to the discipline.

Prof. Sandra Perks of Nelson Mandela University specialises in research related to marketing small businesses to enable entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

A focus on the mesosystem with a view to influencing the macrosystem

Participants put in a considerable amount of time and energy to ensure interdisciplinary infusion into entrepreneurship education.

Prof. Samantha Govender, Deputy Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zululand, reflected on her contribution to entrepreneurship education: “I made a few strides … starting with infusing entrepreneurship education into the curriculum, introducing and encouraging interested students to participate in planned entrepreneurial activities, forming a task team in the faculty, having faculty representatives participate in university activities and participating as a member of the university entrepreneurship committee.”

In order to ensure continuous and impactful innovation and entrepreneurship, the DUT has identified that a distinctive education in entrepreneurship needs to be delivered through curricula and research that stimulate creativity and innovation that lead to the creation of start-ups, spin-outs, and people-centred, engaged entrepreneurship.

Prof. Keolebogile Motaung of the Durban University of Technology, who is Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, is a research scientist and entrepreneur. She trains her postgraduate students not just on how to do research and become a scientist, but also to become entrepreneurs. She illustrated entrepreneurial thinking by founding a spin-out company called Global Health Biotech in 2016, based on her research. She described her academic role as enabling and monitoring engaged entrepreneurship.

Prof. Makhosazana Faith Vezi-Magigaba (“Nana”) is Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning (Faculty of Commerce Administration and Law) at the University of Zululand, and the co-ordinator of entrepreneurship activities at her institution. She said her institution is on a mission to infuse entrepreneurship in all curricula”. As a leader and decision-maker in her institution, she plays a pivotal role in collaboration with other universities, nationally and internationally, to establish the Entrepreneurship Centre”.

Other participants who are impacting the mesosystem with interdisciplinary or, in some cases, transdisciplinary work in entrepreneurship education also shared their views.

Dr Stella Bvuma of the University of Johannesburg has a passion for the area of ICT4 development and technology adoption in particular areas, such as ICT as an enabler for business growth and sustainability, digital technology for inclusivity, and the digital economy”. She was a category winner of Women of Stature 2023 (Women in Technology), and is a role model for many of her students and the staff she leads at UJ. Dr Bvuma sees a way forward in South Africa, one where women can make positive changes in the economic environment through technology, which, in her view, enables inclusivity.

Dr Anrusha Bhana of the Durban University of Technology shared her passion for family entrepreneurship education, which stems from her “third-generation family business entrepreneurship background”. She firmly believes that entrepreneurship “will create generational wealth and will positively impact social societies”. As an example of interdisciplinary scholarship, she supports the development of accounting skills in entrepreneurs, as well as entrepreneurship research for accountants.

I have a keen interest in developing entrepreneurship as a compulsory module in teacher education programmes.

Dr Anita Hiralaal, Durban University of Technology

Dr Patricia Opondo of the University of KwaZulu-Natal teaches a foundational entrepreneurship course at the School of Arts of UKZN. Her passions include cultural events management and impacting youths interested in arts management, curating small and medium-size cultural and heritage events, and film and media projects. She is currently the Entrepreneurship Champion of the School of Arts of UKZN.

Prof. Miemie Struwig of Nelson Mandela University is currently involved in many multi-disciplinary research projects, with entrepreneurship as one of her research foci.

Prof. Thea Tselepis of the University of Johannesburg is involved in entrepreneurship for creatives, with a focus on interdisciplinary problem-solving, underpinned by a design thinking methodology. I enjoy designing and implementing accessible platforms and tools for interdisciplinary students who want to become entrepreneurial.” She is also an NRF-rated researcher.

A focus on the exosystem with a view to influencing the macrosystem

Many women reflected on their community engagement, both internal and external to their institutions. In many cases, the roles they fulfil in their institutions require decision-making with regard to empowering others.

Prof. Matshediso Mohapeloa, “Prof Tshidi”, is Acting Director of the newly formed Rhodes University Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator. She leads a postgraduate diploma through the Entrepreneurial and Technological Empowerment Programme. Prof. Tshidi also has a strong focus on engaging the community in entrepreneurship education. She described the advantages and importance of community engagement in learning for her students as gaining business work experience and engaging on societal business”. Her role as Deputy Chair of the Community of Practice for Learning and Teaching in the Entrepreneurship Development of Higher Education (EDHE) is also acknowledged.

I am passionate about family businesses and family entrepreneurship, which is also my main research focus area.

Prof. Elmarie Venter is a well-known presenter, facilitator, mentor, and consultant in the field of family businesses. She is an NRF-rated researcher and thought leader in the field, and the co-founder and acting director of the NMU Family Business Unit, the first and only of its kind in Africa. She has a profound understanding of the importance of a healthy interrelationship between family in business and business in families.

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen of the University of KwaZulu-Natal applies SHAPE, which is an acronym for the social technology named Shifting Hope, Activating Potential Entrepreneurship. This ecosystem strategy can be seen as an applied approach to systemic action research. She is also the Chair of the Learning and Teaching Community of Practice of the EDHE, and leads as she expects from her students: “with an entrepreneurial heartset, mindset, and handset”.

Other participants who engage communities (internal and external to their institutions) in entrepreneurship education include the following:

The research of Prof. Luzaan Hamilton, North-West University, is situated in the field of entrepreneurship, with a special focus on the promotion of women- and student entrepreneurship in South Africa. She noted: My commitment to community development includes my involvement in initiatives such as presenter of a short learning programme for women business start-ups and panel member for business pitch competitions.”

Prof. Melodi Botha of the University of Pretoria started her career by developing the Women Entrepreneurship Programme” to empower women entrepreneurs in South Africa. She later broadened her mission to collaborate with Allan and Gill Gray Philanthropy Africa, to enhance the entrepreneurial competency levels of entrepreneurs in Africa”. Her contributions and collaboration with industry enabled her to develop an NGO programme for SA Breweries and the Women in Leadership programme for the Presidency of South Africa. Her vision for the impact needed in the macrosystem is widely acknowledged, and she is also an NRF-rated researcher.

Dr Jabulile Msimango-Galawe of Wits focuses her research on the sustainability of small, medium, and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), enterprise development, and self-efficacy, particularly amongst women entrepreneurs. Her impact is direct, but, as she mentioned, extends beyond the classroom, as I promote entrepreneurship and mentor and coach other entrepreneurs”.

Increasing social businesses is important to the local economy, since they are mission-driven companies that apply economic business principles to benefit underrepresented customers and communities.

Ms Adelaide Sheik of the University of Johannesburg focuses on social entrepreneurship.

Ms Joyce Sibeko of the University of Johannesburg has led entrepreneurship projects in schools, refugee- and welfare organisations, cooperatives, in farming, and in spaza shops. She shared that she is driven by a deep commitment to creating positive change”.

A focus on the macrosystem with a view to influencing the microsystem

The macrosystem is about the culture needed for sustainable change and improvement. Several participants are in positions to influence not only microsystems, but also the macrosystems, in order to indirectly impact students.

Dr Norah Clarke has made it her mission to support entrepreneurship development in all public universities in South Africa. She describes her role as: “The founding member of the National Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education Programme [EDHE]. I am responsible for conceptualising, connecting, and scaling EDHE as a platform within and amongst all the public universities in South Africa.” Her leadership and advocacy, especially in championing student entrepreneurship, have been instrumental in establishing healthy growth, improved support, and a strengthened higher education entrepreneurship ecosystem, including policies, platforms, and ideas to support students, their lecturers, and the communities involved.

Entrepreneurship education is about going beyond the classroom and academic research by encompassing active engagement in entrepreneurship development to foster a culture of innovation and enterprise.

Prof. Shelley Farrington of Nelson Mandela University, an NRF-rated researcher, believes in big-picture thinking in inculcating entrepreneurial spirits and minds. Prof. Farrington is immersed in various activities, but noted that the most fulfilling aspect is the impact of these activities on her students: “Witnessing the impact of equipping students with entrepreneurial skills is very rewarding, and I continuously strive to cultivate self-reliance and creativity within them.”

Women in entrepreneurship education also use their research to improve the macrosystem (policies and ecosystems), and the Chair of the EDHE’s community of practice on Entrepreneurship Research is an example. Prof. Natanya Meyer of the University of Johannesburg is an NRF-rated researcher. She reflected: “As a researcher, I aim to link my research back to my students and share valuable insights from the ‘real world’ with them. My teaching motto is simple: Bridging the gap between theory and practice.”

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Looking through a social-ecological lens, our findings reveal a two-way stream of energy and positive ripple effects. The impact of women in entrepreneurship education is from the inside to the outside (from the micro- to the macrosystem), and from the outside to the inside (macro- to microsystem). Women in entrepreneurship education in tertiary institutions in South Africa are making an impact that ultimately moves people and shapes a culture of entrepreneurship. Every reflection testifies to the dynamic abilities of women in entrepreneurship education, resulting in collective creating and shaping of the prospect of better opportunities for all. A considerable amount of passion goes into various subsystems to improve the entire ecosystem, and the ripple effects of their initiatives are visible in various other subsystems. Many of the women mentioned in this report play significant roles in decision-making inside and outside their institutions, which was not the case a few decades ago. They all hold the belief that we need a culture through which students are empowered, informed, nurtured, and cheered on to engage in entrepreneurship.

We honour and thank each woman for being willing to share her views, reflections and passion, and we celebrate the positive ripple effects of their efforts. We end with a thought from the Dalai Lama:

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.


Multiple Authors

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