Celebrating South Africa's Women Entrepreneurs

Date: Friday, November 13, 2015

150 women from throughout Johannesburg celebrate their journeys as entrepreneurs as part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 programme, in collaboration with UN Women and implementing partner Hand in Hand South Africa
150 women from throughout Johannesburg celebrate their journeys as entrepreneurs as part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 programme, in collaboration with UN Women and implementing partner Hand in Hand South Africa
1 October, Johannesburg -- 150 entrepreneurs travelled from Atteridgeville, Cosmo City, Vosloorus and Soweto to the Riversands Incubation Hub in Diepsloot to celebrate their achievements as business women. The event, titled ‘iBusiness Journey Yami’ (my business journey) was the culmination of the pilot of Coca Cola’s 5by20 programme and UN Women South Africa Multi-Country Office’s Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs Project (EWEP).

5by20 is a global partnership with between Coca-Cola South Africa and UN Women that aims to address the skills gap among female entrepreneurs. The collaboration, implemented in South Africa by Hand in Hand, identifies and addresses barriers facing women entrepreneurs, providing them with business skills, leadership training, mentoring, peer networking skills and access to financial assets. 

Started just three years ago, 5by20 has already reached more than 17 000 women in South Africa. These women own spaza shops and take-away restaurants; they fuel their townships, cities and communities.

Riversands Incubation Hub, where the event was held, is a space funded by the Gauteng Government and the Jobs Fund where business, community and social entities can collaborate to build large-scale, majority black-owned and run businesses from SMEs. It was an apt location then for an event which aimed both to celebrate these entrepreneurs and to bring them together to network.

After coffee and pastries, everyone was seated and the programme began with remarks from each of the three partners. The Chief Director of the Department of Small Business Development and MC for the day, Nomvula Makgotlho, introduced Vukani Magubane, Director of public affairs and communications for Coca Cola.

“Through the strength of the partnership with UN Women and Hand in Hand, we have witnessed the women participating in this programme establish and grow their businesses, increase their earnings and create new jobs in their communities,” said Ms. Magubani, “Sharing their success at the iBusiness Yami event will set an example for other women and create a virtuous cycle of re-investment in their families and communities’’.

Ms. Magubani was followed by Dr Auxilia Ponga, Representative for UN Women South Africa Multi-country Office, who spoke of the importance of networking. “We at UN Women have felt honoured to witness the formidable skill, determination and progress made by these entrepreneurial women. This meeting is important for the women to form links with those who are ahead of them so that they can learn, but also to hold the hands of those who are just beginning on their business journey.” Dr Ponga stressed that in the context of an economy that undervalues women’s work, “you need to put a salary to the time and the energy that you put into a business.”

Lawrence Gadzikwa, CEO of Hand in Hand South Africa commended the hard work of the women. "If you had not started your business before we met you, we would not be sitting here today. You are at the coalface of transforming communities. We would have not traveled this journey without you.”

Then it was time for the day’s guest speaker, Yvonne Busisiwe Kgame. Ms. Kgame spoke of her own journey, from being diagnosed with a brain tumour to becoming a motivational speaker. She rallied the women to claim their space, “The first step to greatness is having the courage to own your business journey.” She urged women to have a vision for themselves to fulfill. Ms. Kgame soon had everyone singing and dancing.

After the speeches, it was time to hear from the entrepreneurs themselves, as facilitated table discussions began. The women spoke of the daily and long-term challenges of running a business, recounted how far they had come, and swapped tips and advice on everything from how to maintain work-life balance and staying motivated to learning to stand up to that customer who always asks for things for free. After much laughter and recognizing many shared experiences, representatives from each table consolidated the discussions and presented plenary reports.

Among those who presented was Noko Makganyele, whose small business selling hot food and refreshments now has a bank account separate from her personal account. She pays herself a salary and the skills she acquired through the programme have helped her to nearly double her profit. Ms. Makganyele is just one example of the successes that have emerged from the programme. Others spoke of being able to afford university fees for their children and employing up to six people in their communities. 

Asyia Sheik-Ojwang, Coca Cola South Africa’s Head of Public Affairs, closed the plenary, again emphasizing the importance of leaning in each other for support: “Being an entrepreneur is a lonely journey, so we decided to bring the women together to realize that they’re not alone and are instead, part of something bigger.” 

Lunch was followed by networking before the women began their journeys home. It was a day filled with laughter, discussion and congratulations. At the end of the networking event, entrepreneur Naomi Masilo from Meadowlands could not contain her excitement, “Today was wonderful! I met wonderful people and learned a lot. The networking helped me to think about how to grow my business and take it from a spaza shop to the next level.”

With the support of local partner Hand in Hand, the programme seeks to train a total of 25,000 women entrepreneurs throughout South Africa.