As we conclude Heritage Month (September), we should remind ourselves of just how special South Africa is as a country that is rich in cultural diversity. With our progressive constitution and so much political and socio-economic advancement in the last 24 years, we have come a long way. We should pause, take stock and pat ourselves on the back for having made it this far.
We are not without our problems as a country however, and coming from a terrible past such as ours, it will take a long time before we reach our “Canaan”. Some of our historical problems have unfortunately latched onto our heritage as a new people, which has left many unable to work and provide for themselves and their families. What is abundantly clear is that solutions to our problems will come from ourselves.
One of the biggest problems to address is the economic marginalisation of many of our countrymen. Getting this right will have a ripple effect and contribute towards solving other socio-economic challenges we are faced with. Seemingly, we will not be able to make a dent in the reduction of crime, for instance, unless people are able to earn a living and feed their families.
When Eskom started getting involved in community development back in 1988, it began with a project that gave bursaries to talented black students who excelled in mathematics and science to study engineering. The focus grew to include early childhood development and school gardens, which all culminated in Eduplant, a competition run in partnership with Food & Trees for Africa, aimed to promote permaculture gardens and the role of food security in schools across the country.
Eskom continued its work in similar and other projects until 1998, when the Eskom Development Foundation was officially established, with a mandate of implementing the organisation’s corporate social investment (CSI) strategy in sectors including enterprise development, education, healthcare, social and community development. Through its various programmes and strategic partnerships, the Foundation has been working to enhance the quality of life for South Africans.
Under one of its focus areas, enterprise development, the Foundation has been supporting black-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to become sustainable and create jobs. At the centre of the government’s latest stimulus package is the revival of township economies and small businesses. These businesses, which are based and operated in these townships, should be the drivers of this stimulus, if it is to make a difference and help grow these local economies.
It is a known fact that many small businesses fail to survive or realise their full potential when the only thing possibly standing in their way is getting some guidance. Help in the business world exists in many different forms and in some cases, it doesn’t even cost anything. The reality is that acquiring the basic skills of running a business is something that cannot be replaced or bypassed, and can too often mean the difference between survival and failure.
At Eskom we believe that there is nothing small about small businesses. And this is within the context of their contribution to the economy. Many economists and business experts agree that SMEs are the backbone of any economy. Our programmes support enterprise development and are geared at helping small businesses become sustainable, achieve success and uplift their local economies.
The Eskom Contractor Academy equips small business owners with the necessary skills they need to build successful and sustainable businesses. The academy combines theoretical and practical work, where students attend a residential study school for a week every month over eight months. By using the academy to empower entrepreneurs, Eskom is contributing to boosting much-needed economic activity around the country. The academy boasts a 97% pass rate with a 60/40% male and female representation and 51% youth.
The Simama Ranta Entrepreneurship Education Competition is run in collaboration with Education with Enterprise Trust (EWET) and aims to stimulate entrepreneurship education in high schools across the country. It identifies and celebrates schools that are excelling in teaching their learners how to become entrepreneurs using practical enterprise clubs within their schools.
The Foundation believes that one of the best ways to fight underdevelopment in our communities is to teach and encourage the youth, at school level, to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. To qualify for the competition, schools must run an enterprise club that teaches learners the basics of business through practical application while responding to their respective communities’ socio-economic needs. The competition rewards the winning schools with various cash prizes that they can use to grow their projects.
Business Investment Competition (BIC)
The annual Business Investment Competition (BIC) recognises and rewards SMEs that are significantly contributing to the fight against unemployment and poverty. These are businesses that are spearheading the country’s economic development by creating jobs in their local economies.
The competition is open to local, black-owned and registered enterprises that have been operating for more than 24 months in the manufacturing, engineering and construction, trade and services as well as agriculture and agri-processing sectors. The competition helps SMEs move to the next level with not only the financial rewards, but also the business skills, training and networking opportunities provided as part of the prizes. The competition winners receive cash prizes that they can reinvest into growing their businesses.
Small Business Expo (SBE)
The Foundation, in partnership with Thebe Reed Exhibitions, runs the Small Business Expo (SBE), a key calendar event in the small enterprise development space. The annual three-day SBE is a fitting conclusion to the Foundation’s other enterprise development initiatives as it is where finalists from the BIC and Simama Ranta competition get an opportunity to exhibit their enterprises and projects.
The expo gives entrepreneurs a unique platform to showcase their small businesses, build brand awareness, generate leads and interact with potential customers and investors. It also aims to stimulate entrepreneurship and contribute to the development of SMEs with a view to enhancing the country’s future economic growth and employment opportunities.