Energy, inspiration, impact: a week in South Africa

Our team travelled to Johannesburg to visit our projects and partners, and some of the 3,000 women entrepreneurs we’ve supported in the country.

In mid-October, several members of our team travelled to Johannesburg to visit our projects and partners, and to have the honour of meeting some of the 3,000 women entrepreneurs we’ve supported in the country so far. Our Senior Communications Manager Lulu Nunn was among them, left energised and inspired by the graduation of our Road to Growth programme and visiting some of the women’s businesses…

Visiting the women entrepreneurs we work with and their businesses is such an important way to learn about their experiences, and to understand the lay of the land for women business owners and the role and impact of our work. For me, someone who spends all day communicating about exactly this, that rings especially true. And so with these aims in mind I joined our first post-COVID project visit, excited to finally meet some of the women we work with face-to-face.

Hayley Matthews speaks with women entrepreneurs in South Africa

While our first day was mostly taken up with resting, planning and meetings, day two was when we really kicked things off. After hosting a rich and engaging breakfast event at the British High Commission in Pretoria, we boarded a minibus together with members of the teams of our partners the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy, DHL Express and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda). Driving through the beautiful jacaranda trees, we were off for half a day of visits to women who had either used our HerVenture business skills app – available in the country since 2021 – or taken part in our Road to Growth training programme, from which our first South African participants were to graduate later that week.

First up, mid-morning, we were honoured to be welcomed by Cynthia Thusi, founder of Tlou Collections, into her home and place of business in Gauteng’s Diepsloot township.

Foundation staff visits a woman entrepreneur's purse company

Cynthia is an innovator who recycles discarded materials into gorgeous bags, accessories, pencil cases and more, in her words ‘turning trash into treasure’. She supports her community not only by dealing with rubbish but also by giving part-time employment to other local women. She’s a perfect example of why it’s so important to buy from small businesses like hers, whether it’s a personal gift or corporate procurement.

As a user of our HerVenture app, Cynthia built her knowledge (in fact, our recent evaluation found that 100% of app users in South Africa in 2021 increased their business knowledge) and honed her marketing skills, enabling her to strengthen her business in the wake of COVID’s devastating impacts.

Foundation staff visits a woman entrepreneur's bag business

An extremely dedicated craftswoman, Cynthia’s getting exciting new contracts, including providing bags for our partners. We’re looking forward to seeing her flourish and achieve her ambitions of hiring permanent employees and growing her business.

Our HerVenture app supports women to build the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to successfully start, grow and strengthen their businesses. It is available for free on iOS and Android and thankfully works offline, making it the perfect digital tool for a country where extremely high data costs and loadshedding blackouts are huge challenges for many women entrepreneurs.

The app had clearly also held a lot of value for Petunia Thebe, superstar baker and owner of Cosmo Dumplings, who we visited next. Petunia generously welcomed us into her kitchen, telling us all about her star product – the eponymous dumplings, or dombolo, a traditional dish that she’s simultaneously championing the heritage of and breathing new life into with exciting ingredients. I devoured these dombolo alongside my first ever taste of chakalaka, a meal so delicious I ate it in total silence (which, as the Foundation’s communications lead, is very uncharacteristic).

Cosmo Dumplings are a proudly Black-woman-owned business, and Petuniah’s highly justified pride in her business and dedication to her craft was really clear. She never adds preservatives to the dumplings because it’s important to her to keep them clean, fresh and authentic, and she even designed and built her own industrial oven so that she could become even more efficient and meet the understandably huge demand she receives. It was great to hear what a valuable tool HerVenture has been in supporting her business’ strength and growth.

Foundation staff visits a woman entrepreneur's dumpling business

After that, it was time for our second lunch, naturally. Kholofelo Nengwenda, a passionate entrepreneur and, at that time, almost-graduate of our Road to Growth training programme, is a franchisee of the fast-growing flame-grilled chicken outlet, Galito’s. Our minibus took us off to her store, which opened in 2021 and has shown tremendous growth since.

Her chicken was delicious, her staff clearly proud to work for her—Kholofelo made it clear that it is of the upmost importance to her to invest in the development of her staff—and her praise for Road to Growth and the skills and networks she had gained through the programme deeply humbling. It was clear that Kholofelo is a formidable entrepreneur, with the MD of the Galito’s chain even turning up to sing her praises.

Foundation staff visits a woman entrepreneur's restaurant

Two days later, I was woken up by an infamously loud hadida bird on a beautiful morning – that of our Road to Growth graduation.

Road to Growth is an intense programme – it’s only seven weeks long, but the accompanying passion and energy of the graduation was akin to that of a full degree; testimony to the huge journeys of learning, growth and development that these women had gone through in that time. No wonder it’s often referred to as a “micro-MBA”.

Road to growth graduate dances in celebration

Powerful speeches from two graduates, Kea Modise Moloto and Dudu Makhari, brought whoops of elation, tears of pride and joy, and emphatic nods of agreement with references to the power of the programme and the sisterhoods that had been formed.

This programme has brought me face-to-face with the reality of running a business, of being a leader. The hardest thing was changing the way I was so comfortable with doing business. This programme refocused my attention in every aspect!

Kea Modise Moloto, Founder, Christian Woman Business Network and Arise Magazine

We know that when women entrepreneurs succeed, it also creates an incredible ripple effect, boosting economies and providing necessary goods and services to local communities. Meeting the women themselves and visiting their businesses, this became more apparent than ever. We saw how the women we visited are creating jobs and bringing wealth into their communities, and at the graduation we met stellar Road to Growth graduates including Shereen Hassim, MD of Book Express, which supplies academic textbooks to children and young people across South Africa and internationally.

The GIBS team with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women branded cupcakes
The GIBS team with some very on-brand cupcakes

In South Africa, women-owned SMEs have up to 33% lower turnover than men’s. Yet women are the breadwinners in so many families, the backbone of so many communities, and leading the charge in terms of service provision and innovation. The size of the opportunity here is clear. We’re really proud to work with such dedicated expert partners to seize this opportunity and bring our vital entrepreneurial skills training to women across the country.

Our work in South Africa is just getting started, and for all of these incredible women we’ve supported there are many more who face barriers and challenges to business. We can’t wait to work with even more South African women entrepreneurs and to see all of the fantastic impact that they create for their families, their communities, their country, but most importantly for themselves.

Road to Growth graduates in South Africa at the graduation ceremony with Foundation staff