By Kelly Fisher, Account Director at Irvine Partners
It’s no secret that micro, small and medium enterprises (SMMEs) have been hard hit over the last two years. This is a sector of the market that, pre-pandemic, continued to show strong growth across the continent. StatsSA reported that, “in 2013, small business generated 16% of total turnover in the formal business sector, expanding to 22% in 2019. The contribution of large businesses waned over the same period, from 75% to 68%”.
In order for these businesses to survive and thrive, they not only need the support of consumers and government, but they need the support of the private sector, too. Below are some companies that have been helping small businesses across Africa. And read on to find out how corporations can continue to help SMMEs.
In 2021 Airbnb announced further investment and support of tourism SMMEs in South Africa. This has been done in a number of ways. One is by contributing to infrastructure and tackling digital and financial accessibility. With less than half of South Africa’s rural population connected to the internet, digital exclusion poses a significant barrier to entry for many potential tourism entrepreneurs.
To tackle the digital divide, Airbnb has partnered with Ikeja, a company focused on providing fast, affordable WiFi to townships. “Over the next two years we will work together with Ikeja to provide at least 100 Airbnb Academy Hosts and their communities with free WiFi. Each of these 100 Hosts will become a WiFi hotspot within their community, giving 100s of others access, resulting in a powerful network effect.”
Another is through training in order to empower a new generation of tourism entrepreneurs through the Airbnb Africa Academy. Since Airbnb launched the Africa Academy in 2017, it has trained more than 300 entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas, who earned more than R2.8 million in 18 months*. Last year, Airbnb announced that it is partnering with the University of Johannesburg School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) to expand the Airbnb Academy programme to at least 1 000 students over the next three years. In addition, the company will work with partners to take the Academy to more communities in South Africa, including working with the Public-Private Growth Initiative and the Waterberg Municipality to run the Academy in the District Development Model pilot.
Hohm Energy, as one of the official sponsors of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association’s (SAPVIA) PV Green Card, which sets the industry standard for quality solar installations, has a vested interest in supporting emerging service providers. “We want to create opportunities for smaller solar installers to grow their businesses and establish themselves as competitive players in their burgeoning market,” says Ryan Steytler of Hohm Energy. “We do this by putting vetted solar installers into direct contact with customers looking for solar solutions. Hohm Energy also sources solar components at competitive price points, making it easier for installers to provide solar solutions at best prices.” In this way, Hohm Energy offers a one-stop solution for customers and installers to make rooftop solar systems widely accessible and simpler to procure, adds Steytler.
As Trevor Mthombothi of Mzansi Solar explains: “Hohm Energy takes the stress out of growing my solar business. I no longer have to go looking for clients and compete with other installers to get the cheapest price.” Mthombothi adds that Hohm Energy’s support has enabled his business to flourish. “As a small business, procuring solar components was really affecting my cash flow. Hohm Energy buys all the core components needed for a project, and I just have to install them. By working with Hohm Energy, Mzansi Solar has secured almost R600,000 in revenue in the past four months.”
The pandemic has also brought the importance of good nutrition to the front of ongoing global conversations. Now more than ever, governments and economies across the continent have placed an increased emphasis on nutrition and are conceptualising strategies to combat the various deficiencies affecting millions from living healthy and ultimately productive lives.
To achieve this, the ‘small players’ who provide crucial produce must also be supported at a grassroots level. It is therefore particularly important to enable and upskill small mills, which are responsible for the processing of grain and other crops into food products across the continent through providing the equipment and technology needed to fortify staple foods at a cost-saving. Not only has Millhouse International been doing just that, but the organisation, which is an African-owned manufacturer of micronutrient and vitamin blends, through its Lodestar Centre of Excellence, also engages and trains local experts, government regulatory, food control and healthcare agencies.
“The Centre serves as a network of knowledge transfer and a training hub that improves and sustains capacity strengthening efforts in the areas of food safety and quality, nutrition, and food technology. We provide hands-on training to strengthen industry and institutional capacity, building the next generation of experts in a variety of topics which drive data transparency and improve actions that enhance our food systems to businesses of all sizes,” says Andre Redinger, Founder of Millhouse International.
What companies can do to continue to support small businesses:
- Use small businesses on elements of big projects.
- Provide training and mentoring to small businesses.
- Bring small businesses into your networking sessions.
- Give small businesses access to your resources – your accounting firm, your lawyers, etc.
- Share your business products with small businesses at a reduced rate.
You don’t need to make a big splash to help a small business. If you are the head of a bigger company and you have the ability to create change in your organisation, then consider implementing a small business support programme of sorts. The success of these businesses can make a big difference in the communities that they service and on the economy as a whole.
Kelly Fisher is a communications specialist. She sharpened her pen in motoring journalism before moving into comms, marketing and PR. She is also co-host of the local Brown Girl’s Guide podcast.