Networks, networking and small-scale women entrepreneurs in Cameroon
Ning Ernestine, Nnam
Rosa, Peter; Cooper, Sarah
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
African women entrepreneurs; social networks; network relationships; Cameroon; semi-structured interviews
The University of Edinburgh
Type of publication|
Thesis or Dissertation; Doctoral; PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Edinburgh - University of Edinburgh
Added to C-A: 2021-06-09;11:01:30|
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