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Unlocking growth in the SME sector

This past year has tested the small business sector as they faced new challenges such as physical restrictions, multiple lockdowns and loss of revenue. But out of this crisis, one group of entrepreneurs has emerged stronger.

Despite these challenging times, the 68 small businesses on the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme collectively recorded a 31% increase in turnover growth, created 169 new jobs and sustained 483 jobs. This was achieved during a time when the South African economy contracted by 8% and shed 2.2 million jobs.

“Entrepreneurs are crucial to the growth of our economy, and developing them is essential to create jobs and uplift historically disadvantaged members of our society,” says Bridgit Evans, Director of the SAB Foundation.

“During one of the toughest economic times in recent history, we have been inspired by these entrepreneurs who made the commitment, and in many cases, pivoted their businesses, to not only survive, but indeed in many cases, grow.

Seeing them being able to flourish gives us hope for the SME sector and we were both amazed and inspired to find that 100% of them survived last year. It shows that with mentorship and guidance entrepreneurs can be given the tools and the confidence to build sustainable business and create jobs,” she continues.

These businesses were recognised for their achievements at a graduation ceremony at the Radisson Blu OR Tambo on Thursday, 20 May.The grand prize, the Tholoana Award, was awarded to Sabelo Lindani, the owner of Contour Enviro Group based in Somerset West, Western Cape.

Sabelo Throughout the programme, Sabelo demonstrated commitment to driving his business forward, experienced exceptional growth performance (92%) and showed potential for future growth.The Contour Training Academy (CTA) specialises in environmental support services, such as capacity development and environmental consulting.

Sabelo’s team manage quality management administration, environmental education and provide project assistance in the environmental and tourism sectors. “It’s been an incredible journey for me,” says Sabelo, “Entrepreneurship is exciting and scary at the same time. The assistance and support we received on the programme helped us refocus. What really helped me was having a mentor who would not let me give up, even when I wanted to. The growth in my business has been wonderful.We started on the programme with three employees and now we have 55.”

Even though the pandemic led to the closure of millions of businesses world wide,it forced SMEs to become agile – something Sabelo and others in his cohort attest to business owners with fewer resources and less cash on hand had to find innovative ways to stay afloat. They focused on diversifying, cutting overheads, cash preservation, digital transformation and new strategies that added value for customers.

The results achieved by businesses are encouraging. All 68 businesses more than just survived the pandemic, they experienced exceptional growth and created jobs in the process. There is hope that despite a struggling economy,
South Africa is moving closer to its target to make the small business sector responsible for 90% of formal jobs by 2030.

Longevity is critical to meaningful economic impact and 86% of entrepreneurs on the programme said they believed that their business would survive the next five years, along with a 46% increase in the entrepreneurs’ confidence levels.

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