If you want to know about business, HerVenture is there. If you want to know about planning, HerVenture is there. It has an answer or solution for everything.
A social entrepreneur since 2012, Mercy Manzini founded the Johannesburg-based Mercy’s Company to create jobs for her community during the pandemic. Now she has her hands full with two other projects she runs simultaneously, one advocates against gender-based violence and the other is a youth development centre that empowers women and young people. She is happiest when she sees people stand on their own feet but her own journey as a Black woman entrepreneur has been a tough one. In this journey, our HerVenture app has been an “eye-opener”, Mercy says, teaching her how to plan for her business, how to get sponsorship, how to expand her business, and how to keep on pushing and just not give up.
“My name is Mercy, and I’m the founder of Mercy’s Company in Johannesburg, South Africa. We are a private agriculture company that grows and sells crops. We also assist other women who want to start their own businesses and equip them with farming and other practical skills.
I moved to Sebokeng, a township near Johannesburg, in 2017. Since then, I had been thinking about what I could do to help the community. The Vaal Triangle area, where the township is located, has always had high levels of unemployment and things became worse during the pandemic. There was empty land in the area but it was like a dumping ground, and so I decided to gather local women and youth and we started to clear the land for agriculture. We were growing vegetables and millet and selling it in the market. Because an ad-hoc project like this does not bring in money, I registered a company in the hope that I could provide jobs for people in the community. Now we train and employ more women and young people.
I have a background in agriculture because of my family and schooling. I was born in Mpumalanga where I used to plant with my grandmother and my mother. In fact, all my family was engaged in agriculture and it was also part of my schooling. My father always insisted that I go to school, though I could not always attend because I had to look after my siblings. But I did learn planting at school too.
I have also been involved in social change projects for almost a decade. In 2012, as a church pastor, I started a non-profit called Fire Touch Ministries. That is where I learned how to help needy families across all nine provinces in South Africa. The NGO used to provide for all these families but we had to stop two years later because of the lack of resources. Before I became an entrepreneur, I worked at a Krugersdorp old age home for a year and a half when I was still young, right after my matriculation. I also worked at the Emperor’s Palace hotel for eight years — I started as a waitress, but I was hardworking and a fast learner and they promoted me to hostess, supervisor, and eventually, a manager.
I drew on all these experiences when I set up Mercy’s Company in 2020. A year later, I registered two other projects — one advocates against gender-based violence and the other is a youth development centre that works to empower women, youth and children. These projects focus on ending violence against women and girls, enhancing women’s voice in decision-making, promoting education, conducting afternoon classes for children, providing training and professional development, providing appropriate counseling for women and children, and ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all women, youth and children. We currently operate in three provinces.
Sometimes, if you are a woman, you don’t really have a voice and that makes it difficult to find sponsorship.
Getting these businesses and projects off the ground wasn’t easy. As a woman entrepreneur, and especially as a Black woman, it is difficult to get people to take you seriously. Sometimes, if you are a woman, you don’t really have a voice and that makes it difficult to find sponsorship. But for me, it was very important to be financially independent, to stand on my own feet, earn my own money, put food on the table and support my children. But I learned things the hard way. My first husband, who is also the father of my first two kids, was very abusive. That experience forced me to be strong and to stop depending on people. It made me think that I had to do something on my own to support my children and pushed me into entrepreneurship. Now I am the breadwinner of the family. My current husband is loving and supportive and that keeps me motivated.
But even though I set up my company and the two projects, I faced challenges organising labour, water and equipment for my business due to the lack of sponsorship. That’s when I came to know of the HerVenture app through a family friend who said you can download it for free. When I got it, I was like, “Wow! Everything’s there!”. If you want to know about business, HerVenture is there. If you want to know about planning, HerVenture is there. It has an answer or solution for everything.
HerVenture is an eye-opener. It has taught me how to plan for the business, how to market the business, how to get sponsorship, how to budget, how to expand the business, and how to keep on pushing and just not give up. Ever since I joined the app, I have learned how to identify and hire skilled people for the company. I have seen an improvement in terms of increased sales and new customers. I am reinvesting the increased income back into the business by buying some much-needed equipment. Because we have had trouble getting a steady supply of water, I also plan to start drilling bore holes so that the business can be more sustainable. I have also used the app to improve my social media skills.
More importantly, HerVenture has made me more confident. I used to be very shy before. When I was younger, everyone knew me as the quiet girl in class. But since I started using the app, I know how to assert myself. Even in my church they go, “hey this one, she is a straight talker and saying what is right.” So that’s how I am now and HerVenture has helped me with it.
As a woman entrepreneur, my vision is to see women standing on their own two feet, to see them refusing to stay in abusive relationships and do something on their own.
I’m happiest when I see people rising. I don’t want to see someone living in pain. I just want to see people being encouraged, being happy, and being healthy. So I am now introducing women around me to HerVenture. You can use it anytime and anywhere, even if your phone has no data. It’s easy and it’s free. If someone tells me they don’t own a phone, I invite them to come to my place where I do a session on how to start a business, how to start bit by bit. Even if you don’t have money, even if you don’t have a phone, you can start something. Even if you don’t have a big garden, you can start to plant something small and you can grow from there.
As a woman entrepreneur, my vision is to see women standing on their own two feet, to see them refusing to stay in abusive relationships and do something on their own. As a business owner, I don’t want to see my business coming to an end. I want to see it grow and, even if I’m no longer here. So I’m teaching my family and those around me how to do things.”
All photos by Siphiwe Sibeko. Women entrepreneurs in South Africa can download HerVenture for free through the App Store and Google Play Store and use it offline to save data.
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HerVenture is available in South Africa thanks to funding from our partner DHL Express.
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