Building up our backbone in tough times

14 September 2021 Sanlam
Nozizwe Vundla, Head of Sanlam Foundation

Nozizwe Vundla, Head of Sanlam Foundation

Since its inception in 2013, the Sanlam Group Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme has helped 267 South African SMEs and financial planning businesses grow their revenue by 21%, on average, and create 391 sustainable new jobs.

In total, its supported almost 2 500 jobs. With South Africa having reached record unemployment levels, providing entrepreneurs with the skills and support to make their ventures successful has never been as important.

Despite the difficulties of Covid-19, the 2020/21 programme saw 35 jobs created – a phenomenal feat. Sanlam adapted the programme to offer extended grant funding and additional business development support from coaches and mentors. This helped participating SMEs to stay afloat and strengthen their offerings, with a future-fit focus and renewed vigour and vision.

Bolstering South Africa’s backbone
The ESD programme’s aim is to support the SMEs linked to Sanlam’s supply chain and sales networks. All participating businesses are 100% majority black owned. Nozizwe Vundla, Head of the Sanlam Foundation, says SMEs are the backbone of the country’s economy and key to creating employment opportunities and economic inclusion. “Our programme aims to empower SMEs to be financially confident and resilient, and foster the growth, transformation and employment this country so desperately needs. Our SME sector has been hard-hit by Covid-19 and social unrest. It is imperative we do everything in our power to give business owners the guidance, support and knowledge necessary to survive this – even emerge from it stronger,” says Vundla. Projects are typically two years long, with subject-specific masterclasses, bootcamps and one-on-one coaching with assigned professional business mentors. Year one focuses on setting the groundwork in good governance; year two is about growth.

Avoiding job loss in the toughest of times
• Cut costs and diversify: To help SMEs avoid job loss amidst the pandemic, Vundla says mentors worked with the business owners to cut back on costs, diversify to new revenue streams, and aggressively target more customers. The group’s Covid-19 relief grant also played a crucial role in keeping businesses buoyant, even when some were simply unable to earn any income for months.
• Adopt ecommerce when appropriate: Additionally, mentors encouraged several businesses to redesign their websites and consider adopting e-commerce. One SME successfully launched a site to market educational books and learning materials online, while another set up a platform to match up artisans (plumbers, painters, etc.) with their local markets.

Advice for SME owners during this time
In the face of uncertainty and adversity, Vundla encourages SMEs to go back to basics. “Take time to refocus. A mediocre plan well implemented, almost always trumps a big plan that’s poorly executed. Think about the next six to 12 months. Take it one day at a time and focus on your business roadmap.” Although sometimes it’s necessary to diversify, she says that right now, businesses should hone what they do best. “Identify what you do well and how you can offer more of this to more clients.”
Her advice to business owners right now?

- Consider ways to diversify revenues while honing in on what the business does best
- Have a strong sales process
- Base management decisions on sound financial metrics
- Build mental resilience. It can be lonely at the top, so seek business mentorship and support. Having a ‘why person’ to objectively question your decisions and give guidance is invaluable. Also, join a community of other SME owners so you feel less alone

Sanlam’s procurement spend was R62 929 334 in the last 7 years. In supporting SMEs, the group recognises it’s supporting their families, suppliers, creditors, debtors and communities at large.

Vundla adds, “It’s a tremendous privilege to positively influence one SME, then the next, and the next. We see the results that come from this space of sharing and knowledge transfer. There’s such a hunger. People have incredible potential; they just need support. In helping them to live with confidence, we build this country for generations to come.”

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