The first LGBTIQ+ business exchange programme brought together activists and entrepreneurs from across the SADC region
Botswana, which only decriminalised homosexuality in 2021, recently hosted an innovative business exchange programme aimed at enhancing the economic participation of the LGBTIQ+ community and improving workplace diversity and inclusion in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
The event was a collaboration between The Other Foundation, the LGBTI Round Table, and PLUS the LGBTI+ Network, and took place from 30 January to 1 February 2023 in Gaborone. It brought together representatives of LGBTIQ+ civil society organisations (CSOs) and small business owners from Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Eswatini.
The exchange programme was a platform to share insights, knowledge, and experiences on identifying and maximising opportunities for LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs and organisations in collaborating with corporates to promote inclusion, diversity, and equality in the workplace and in business.
“In an increasingly globalised and interdependent world, best practice sharing becomes an integral part of enabling CSOs to share what works, what does not work and what success looks like,” said the organisers. “This also assists other organisations from reinventing the wheel by ensuring they have a base to start from.”
They stressed the importance of “continuously improving the relationship between CSOs and businesses [that] will lead to wider reach in developing new LGBTI enterprises, more collaboration between LGBTI-owned businesses, improved access to corporate supply chains, and more inclusive corporate workplaces at a regional and global level.”
Participants engaged in discussions and business case presentations on the positive impact of diversity and inclusion on businesses. Discussions also explored strategic approaches to establishing meaningful relationships between these stakeholders to develop a symbiotic economic system both for corporate allies and LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs.
Many companies in the SADC region have yet to fully embrace LGBTIQ+ inclusion, diversity and equity
As part of the exchange programme, participants and civil society organisations were required to complete pre and post-work. This included establishing a multi-year plan of action that will help advance their economic participation strategies.
Botswana-based entrepreneur, Lorraine Setuke, who attended the programme, hoped to gain more knowledge and understanding around the potential synergy between CSOs and corporates in a way that opens up access to resources and partnerships.
“I gained a wealth of knowledge and a stable base of a networking pool from the different countries that participated in the exchange programme, which I think in return adds value to the level of thinking prior to my participation in the programme,” Setuke told Mamba.
Studies have found that company stock performance, compared to their industry sector, increased by an average of 6.5 percentage points after adopting inclusive policies. It’s worth noting that 91% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, and 83% include gender identity as well.
Many companies in the SADC region, however, have yet to fully embrace this level of inclusion, diversity and equity for LGBTIQ+ people.
Bongani Shongwe, who is a founder and managing director of Cardinal, an Eswatini travel and lifestyle magazine, noted that misconceptions about LGBTIQ+ people in boardrooms and workplaces are largely due to cultural and religious stereotypes and prejudices.
These, Shongwe says, have resulted in a lack of support for LGBTIQ+ professionals in the workplace and few or no opportunities afforded to LGBTIQ+-owned businesses.
“There is a clear correlation between the lack of education on the value of the pink economy within our respective countries and its impact on economic growth, which is a direct reflection of the exclusion of LGBTIQ+-owned businesses as market participants,” said Shongwe.
Shongwe expressed enthusiasm that the Business Exchange Programme had begun to network entrepreneurs as a step forward in amplifying their fight for diversity and inclusion, particularly within his tourism and hospitality sector in Eswatini.
“Constant engagements and a rigorous policy push reform in organisations that lag behind is needed,” Setuke added.
The Other Foundation believes that through this initiative, participating activists and LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs have gained a greater understanding of how to work with businesses for inclusive and diversified economic participation.
I was able to sit at a table that I never thought I would engage at.”
Included as part of the three-day programme activities, were site visits to corporate partners hosted by the Botswana Business Development Corporation. The Head of Corporate Affairs and Strategy, Boitshwarelo Lebang-Kgetse, shared insights with participants on how the corporation was delivering the business case for LGBTIQ+ Inclusion in Botswana and the techniques used to achieve this success.
“The highlight of my week was when we went for a site visit [at a corporate partner] and I was able to sit at a table that I never thought I would engage at. It showed how the power of networking and collaboration can open up doors for change,” said Setuke.
These engagements consisted of high-level strategic discussions on how corporates can collaborate with LGBTIQ+ businesses in reaching their desired clients. Among the benefits that corporates stand to gain from these associations and inclusion initiatives are improved staff productivity, an increase in brand equity and enhanced corporate social responsibility impact.
The workshop sought to strengthen the capacity of CSO activists and LGBTIQ+-owned small businesses to embark on advocacy campaigns and initiatives that drive actions on the socio-economic participation of LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs and people in their countries.
“I had a great shift of perspective when it comes to business and the economic participation of LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs,” said Mwale Banda, co-founder and Executive Director of Women’s Alliance for Equality in Zambia. “I had the opportunity to learn how we can leverage our existing skills in order to add value to corporates through collaboration.”
Banda believes “This will also ensure that businesses remain accountable for inclusion and diversity in their work environments and recognise the important contributions of LGBTIQ+ individuals to a country’s economic growth and development.”
The exchange programme was another promising and much-needed initiative by The Other Foundation to develop and advance stronger multi-country networks to spearhead the inclusion and diversity agenda for LGBTIQ+ activists and their allies. This fruit of these efforts will also further advance the battle for equal human rights in Africa and the SADC region.
This article was made possible with the support of the Other Foundation and is part of a series addressing LGBTIQ+ Economic Empowerment in South Africa and the region. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Other Foundation. www.theotherfoundation.org.