When United Forest Products started in 2010, and I was appointed CEO, I had no inkling that I would appreciate the forestry industry so much, with its challenges and opportunities. I started this amazing endeavour with very limited knowledge of the forestry industry and ten years later, with me still at the helm, I am immensely proud of the important role the company plays in assisting SME’s with access to opportunities, to survive and to prosper in a very competitive industry. I could never have accomplished this without the tremendous support from women operating in the industry and the courageous women that are part of my team.
Women have always played an enormous role in forestry with them exposed to working under harsh conditions, mostly underpaid and performing manual labour. Fortunately, since independence, women are now well integrated at all levels in the formal forestry sector. I carry tremendous respect for Mondi SA’s CEO Vivien McMenamin who played an instrumental part in the establishment of Mondi Zimele, that supports the development and growth of SME’s within the value chain of Mondi. Apart from Mondi, there are various corporates who support SME development. Forestry South Africa, representing the Forestry Sector on various platforms and collaborating with government, stakeholders, universities and research institutes, locally and abroad, succeeded impressively in profiling the importance of forestry in South Africa.
There are still enormous challenges facing women and woman-owned business who operate within the forestry industry and other industries. The barriers to entry for forestry are substantial and efforts to enter often fail due to a lack of funding and access to land. On Woman’s Day this year, the President promised to:
- Support women-owned businesses
- Support small business operated by women
- Give women access to land
- Protect women at all cost
- Prioritising black women in industrial development
This is noteworthy and I encourage women to access these opportunities but also not to only rely on Government-led programmes but to empower themselves through knowledge and skills to enable them greater access within the industry.
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report found that, although there has been progress in some areas, it will be a century before women the world over enjoy equal rights with men. The report makes clear that giving equal employment rights and increasing female participation in labour markets has clear economic benefits. Those countries at the top of the equality league table are outperforming those where women have fewer rights.
According to Winston Churchill “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” This rings very true for me. Over the past ten years, I faced tremendous challenges but with every success I celebrated and from every challenge, I learned.
CEO United Forest Products