The National Development Plan 2030 (NDP) describes Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) as catalytic economic mechanisms for sustainable development and economic growth. However, this narrative has been drastically disrupted in the past weeks with the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic presents a dual challenge of both economic growth as well as health, mainly because the health of a population is a critical input into the growth and development imperative of a country.
The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that SMMEs will experience incapacitated value chains and reduced production. This is of particular concern because, SMMEs have the potential to create employment for the general working population, subsequently creating an economically active society. Additionally, the NDP 2030 projects that by 2030, SMMEs would have created between 60 to 70 per cent of new employment opportunities; however, these projections may not come to fruition. Given the predictions expressed in the NDP 2030, the SMME sector must be collectively supported by the public sector, the private sector as well as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
To mitigate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African government has put in place interventions- the debt relief finance scheme and the growth/resilience facility- to support vulnerable SMMEs
Also, attempts for collective action geared towards supporting SMMEs can be observed through the Trilogy of Social Impact Conversations on Empowerment through Innovation for People and Society; an impact series designed by The Southern Africa Trust (SAT), in partnership with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) and the Mail & Guardian (M&G), to amplify the voices and vibrancy of marginalized groups.
The first of the Trilogy of Social Impact Conversations on Empowerment through Innovation for People and Society focused on the creation of fostering impactful value chains for SMMEs. Through the dialogue, it became apparent that the main drivers hindering the development of SMMEs is market access and deepening SMMEs integration into industry value chains. Entrepreneurs from the Women Creating Wealth Initiative, an initiative championed by GMT, expressed that as SMME owners, the biggest challenge faced was a lack of capital and poor networking for accelerating integration into industry value chains.
The Women Creating Wealth Initiative is a women’s enterprise development initiative where GMT has capacitated 300 women entrepreneurs in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. The initiative seeks to enhance the entrepreneurial skills and confidence of female entrepreneurs and increase their capacity to access opportunities, finance and markets to scale and graduate their businesses from income generation to wealth creation businesses. In 2020, GMT launched the initiative in South Africa, enrolling 120 entrepreneurs. Women Creating Wealth involves a six-day intensive entrepreneurial competency training course complemented through a ten-month aftercare support programme.
Bridget Lebala- Founder of ChambrayLine Fabrics- a participant of the Women Creating Wealth Initiative, owns a textile business based in Kramerville , Sandton. Armed with qualifications in textile design and product development, and experience in marketing and distribution, she is able to provide the necessary leadership to her company in its offering of designer fabrics; wallpaper and paint to the clients across the continent.
Bridget has been fortunate to secure funding to kick start her business off the ground. Even though she came across some twists and turns in her journey to success, she always manages to mitigate her challenges by mastering her craft and positioning herself in ways that enable her to do what her competitors are not doing.
“It has been a challenge dealing with the negative attitudes from the clients as I sell them products from my business, unlike how they received me when I sold similar products, but as an employee at my previous job. I chin up, do what’s necessary as planned and keep focused.”- Bridget Lebala
In her opinion, Bridget sees patriarchy as one of the most significant barriers to the growth of women-owned businesses in South Africa, “…patriarchy is still an obstacle, wherein a woman is not taken seriously when they are setting up a business, by the male counterpart. Their peers and the rest of the society can also extend vibes that are discouraging towards the female entrepreneur. In resolving this, I’d suggest to big successful business organizations to rally behind and show intense support to the women-owned businesses so that society, in general, could see that big business has the women’s business ‘ interest at heart, and that would create trust and belief which would further encourage the entrepreneur”.
Despite the challenges faced, Bridget is determined to run her business successfully and would like to do business with more contract clients in the hotel and hospitality space.
What is apparent from Bridget’s account is that women in the SMME sector still experience gender inequality and concerted efforts are needed to ensure that women have equal access to economic processes. Through fostering collective action, and expanding equality, the public sector, the private sector and CSOs must identify impactful drivers of change for gender equality. Empowering women in value chains presents an opportunity to strengthen women’s socio-economic rights, contribute to economic recovery that filters benefit more widely. As such, every sector must collectively support women-based SMMEs in fostering impactful value chains.