“I Couldn’t Reconcile Working and Looking After My Children”: How a Small Business Owner in Mozambique Defied COVID-19 to Turn Her Salon Around

A business skills training program helped Gilda Lourenço find a way to care for her family while helping her small business survive the pandemic. And now she’s ready for more.

Every day for 13 years, Gilda Lourenço has risen early to start the endless work of a small-scale entrepreneur. A hairdresser with her own salon in Maputo, Mozambique, Gilda works to support her two sons, her grandmother, and her sister, who all live with her.

“Everything I do is to see a smile on their faces,” she says.

Her two boys need school fees, and her ailing grandmother needs medicine. And so Gilda needs a strong, steady source of income.  

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the salon she had worked so hard to build for many years could no longer provide her with that.

“I struggled a lot to keep my clients in the pandemic,” Gilda says. “I often faced lack of stock and poor time management as I couldn’t reconcile working and looking after my children as they were studying from home.”

Like many women around the world, Gilda was struggling with the triple burden of domestic work, professional work, and community work – now exacerbated by an unprecedented pandemic. Research has shown that despite women already doing most of the world’s unpaid care work, the pandemic has caused a “dramatic increase in this burden.”

Gilda began to despair of achieving her full potential as a business owner, and what that would mean for her family. 

“I was on the verge of closing my business,” Gilda recalls.

Small Business Management Bettered by Training

Before the pandemic, Gilda acknowledges that she was operating her hair salon based on instinct, rather than solid small business management practices. She felt she could get by, however, because she was able to pay her operational costs and household expenditures.

That didn’t last.

As the lockdowns and restrictions began, Gilda realized she was only able to cover her operating expenses and could not make enough money to meet her family’s needs. But she believed in her own skills and ability to improve.

So Gilda joined a TechnoServe program, Business Women Connect (BWC), a partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation that helps businesswomen in Mozambique to improve their business skills and financial literacy.

Getting Help From TechnoServe

 “I know that I have talent as a hairdresser but I lacked the business management skills,” Gilda admits. 

Small business owner, Gilda Lourenço, works in her salon.
Gilda Lourenço does business accounting in her salon

Gilda quickly learned new skills that helped her run the business more effectively: how to keep records, pay herself a monthly salary, diversify her products and services, and save the remaining profits for investing back into the business.

And she also developed the confidence to trust her own instincts and seek new directions. “The training showed me that to grow in business, we need to challenge ourselves and think outside the box,” says Gilda.

So she decided to invest in an online course in hair prostheses (wigs) to expand her salon’s service offerings. She quickly applied her new skills in a market analysis to identify business opportunities selling sweets to students at a nearby school and becoming a mobile and banking agent for her community.

Soon, her financial situation began turning around. 

“With my improved business management and better customer service skills, I’m able to pay for my operating costs, make monthly repayments, pay myself a healthy salary, and save the remaining profit,” she says. Gilda is now making 70% more in sales than she did before the TechnoServe training, enough to even hire a new employee for her salon. From her days of worrying over whether or not to shut her business, she is now providing for her family as never before.

“Before joining the program, I couldn’t buy clothes and school materials for my children and buy medicine for my grandmother – but now I can,” Gilda relates. She can even travel with her children to visit family outside the country, something that was “literally impossible before.”

Salon by mall business owner, Gilda Lourenço.
Wigs in Gilda’s salon in Maputo, Mozambique

The challenges of running a small business while serving as the family’s main breadwinner – especially during a pandemic, and in a low-income country like Mozambique – are still present for Gilda. But with new skills and confidence, she is looking forward to the future.

She’s saving money to complete construction on a new house, and is even considering opening a small bakery to supplement her income. And she is excited to see her children complete their education and to provide them with “better opportunities,” she says.

Not so long ago, these opportunities seemed impossible. But with the right training and support, Gilda is now making them a reality.

Thinking back to where it started – with her decision to face her challenges head-on and join the TechnoServe program – Gilda says joining the program was “one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

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