The number of women-owned businesses in Tanzania is rising as more of them are now favoring entrepreneurship over climbing the corporate ladder.
But even with this progression, the scale is still heavily imbalanced as men continue to dominate both the entrepreneurship sector and executive corporate positions.
Although she is just in her twenties, Bernice Fernandes is among a few Tanzanian women leading the path on the business front.
She is a public speaker, a certified banker, a management consultant, entrepreneur as well as being a philanthropist.
In particular, Bernice, 28, has a passion for supporting women and young female entrepreneurs to get the guidance that they need in order to be successful. Being a young, female entrepreneur herself, Bernice said she has faced many challenges. These challenges, she notes, come from the expectation that if a woman is too vocal or opinionated, she is seen as intimidating, but this has taught her to be more assertive. In her own words: “I want to help women break the glass ceiling, many women don’t know how to negotiate their worth, so we give them the tools and empower them to use them.”
Such a will has seen Bernice volunteer for charitable organisations, on top of running her own business. And how does someone fit all of this in before they reach 30? Bernice said that ‘focus, faith and determination’ is what has brought her thus far.
Her main focus now is to help other businesses grow, with a keen interest in helping women reach for greatness.
Her endeavours are achieved through a company which she officially launched last year – providing consulting solutions, corporate strategy and training to help businesses grow. It also focuses on developing start-ups in Tanzania, supporting young entrepreneurs to get their businesses up and running, and career progression for young professionals.
While this business is what takes up the majority of her time, she also balances that with speaking at public events, facilitating conferences, running Instagram live interviews, humanitarian work and also being part of Women In Action International Fellowship - serving women in business and also helping the vulnerable groups.
More recently, Bernice was the visionary of the ‘Masks for Hope Campaign’ - producing and distributing 10,000 facemasks to support the vulnerable communities in Tanzania through the Covid-19 crisis.
Having pursued business-related studies, along with her Masters in the US, the close to eight years that Bernice spent in America were the formative ones that gave her a taste of different jobs and industries, shaping her dream to eventually become an entrepreneur and consultant.
When she got her first job in banking she realised what she really wanted to dedicate her time to: “when I worked as a banker, I enjoyed the financial advisory work. I got to support clients by providing credit solutions, or help people save for a house.
This gave me the capacity to further my education in entrepreneurship,” Bernice says.
And that is what it comes down to for Bernice – helping people, especially women to be at their best and achieve their own goals. She said that this aptitude to help people with their businesses and careers started long before she created her business: “While I was at university, I was giving advice and helping people to brand themselves People would naturally come to me and ask me for my input, and then I realised it is something I am good at, and is almost like an art. You spend time to really get to know people, help them craft and brand who they are and support them to pitch themselves in a professional manner,” explains Bernice.
But it was back home in Tanzania where Bernice wanted to serve the most. She said it was always in her plans to come back to Tanzania after getting her degrees – to be able to “add value” to her home country: “I knew my plan was to go back to Tanzania, something which a lot of my friends couldn’t understand. But for me it isn’t about money, it is about purpose. My life mantra is ‘to whom much is given much is required’ I believe If God has given me much, I need to do much with it. I have a strong calling to give my time and energy to my country and my community,” says Bernice.
It is this selfless and fearless attitude that is taking Bernice on this journey, having worked a few years in Corporate America, before stepping out on her own: “for a while, I wanted to start my own company, but fear had been holding me back - when you’re starting from zero it is hard,” she notes.
The main thing that Bernice credits for supporting her along the way – and the advice she would give to other female entrepreneurs is around mentorship. Having several mentors herself, Bernice notes how important it is to have someone else who believes in your dream, and gives you guidance and advice. Having powerful women as mentors, Bernice says, has built her own confidence, and now this is something she wants to pass on to other women. She says that as women, we need to celebrate our accomplishments more.
Despite the encounters along the way, Bernice shares what makes it all worth it is the impact she gets to have on the people she works with: “I love seeing the results in people’s lives. When people tell me that their company is growing in sales, or improved performance, they got the job or got the promotion - that makes me happy. There is so much you can invest in people, but they have to do work too, so it is really satisfying when you plant the seed - and then get to see it grow,” she says.