Trotting the globe to coach women on business success

COACHING: Seanie Comerford during the interview in Nairobi. Photo/MERCY GAKII
COACHING: Seanie Comerford during the interview in Nairobi. Photo/MERCY GAKII

Seanie Comerford, the executive director of Africa Foundation for Governance and Leadership, regards herself as a global nomad. Born and bred in Ireland, she has studied and taught in Chinese universities, lived and studied in the USA and now she is heading the Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership for Africa programme.

She is currently in Kenya to kick-start the WELA programme, which will be offered in in the country for the first time. The programme was started in Accra in 2012 and has been taught in Lagos, Nigeria, where Comerford says the women are "very focused and aggressive".

Her role in the programme includes coordinating academics and coaching the women on a year-long course that involves five months of class work.

“The studies will start from end of March, where women will pay $8,000 (Sh731,200) for the five-module, 15-day class work spread over five months, and a 10-day study trip to China at the end of the course,” she says.

The fees is payable in instalments, and covers the trip to China. The institution does make arrangements with the individual students on payment for their studies.

From March to July, the women will learn for three days each month under different instructors. Comerford says that the instructor are highly experienced in women enterprise issues.

“We carefully select who can impart the knowledge to the women because challenges that women face are unique,” she says.

Africa-specific challenges such as the general cultural landscape, Comerford says, makes women's attempts at business tough, stacking the odds against them.

“We have experienced that generally women may not have property registered in their name, meaning that they must involve husbands in all financial planning, especially when she has to take a loan.”

Comerford has also observed that some men are uncomfortable letting their wives have more money, or do jobs and businesses that rake in, thus they may discourage them from trying their hand in businesses or higher-paying jobs.

The WELA programme is thus designed to help businesswomen to reflect on their enterprise models and refine them to suit future needs such as regional expansion.

Over the five months of classroom learning, each of the students is paired up with a mentor. Mentors help the students see loopholes in their business models and tweak business plans early enough for the target markets. Women venturing into business for the first time are empowered to draft winning business ideas after going through the training.

Comerford says coaching will be done after the China exposure trip. This will focus more on the women's personal development goals and implementing what they will have learnt.

Coaches have been carefully selected with the African business landscape in mind, she says. They will offer counselling and self-esteem improvement lessons, while implementing the hard basics of entrepreneurship.

Women carry more baggage to work and end up spreading their abilities wide and thin, Comerford says, adding that this is often because naturally women play the role of nurturing. This trait can work for or against their success in business, hence the need to refine their skills to harness successfully harness business acumen.

The international trip that's part of the WELA programme is intended to expose the women to global perspectives in the business world, enabling many to expand beyond borders.

Comerford says at least 25 women sign up in a single enrolment when the programme is offered in Nigeria as its popularity grows. She says her observations show that Nigerian businesswomen are aggressive go-getters.

In Kenya, she expects to attract inquisitive women entrepreneurs eager to expand their businesses.