Affordable finance solutions for women entrepreneurs are hard to come by in South Africa. It was with this in mind that financial services expert Juliette du Preez and partners Jenny Tyobeka and Dudu Thabede established Milani Ka-Banzi Investment Holdings (MKBIH).
Milani Ka-Banzi means “to grow broadly” and the three partners, each of whom is a successful businesswoman in her own right, are committed to helping develop women-owned businesses.
Having spent many years in the financial services industry, Du Preez says she found herself questioning whether she wanted to remain in banking for the rest of her life. It’s almost inevitable that you reach that point in the corporate world, she says.
“I wanted to get something more out of life than a wristwatch and a pension. I also had to prove that I could make it outside a safe environment that has lots of structures and mechanisms in place. Because transformation has always been close to my heart, I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the development of young women entrepreneurs while also carving out a new career for myself.”
Du Preez’ expertise lies in credit and risk management, as well as the customer interface in retail banking. Tyobeka too has a strong background in financial services and corporate governance, while Thabede is a marketing and advertising professional.
They have set themselves the goal of becoming the benchmark for BEE women-owned investment companies by investing in sectors that are positioned for accelerated and profitable growth, such as mining, tourism, information technology, commercial property and retail.
“We seek out strategic investments and buy shareholdings in those companies,” says Du Preez. “We take on the role of an active strategic partner, not a passive investor. We want to share our business insights, experience and knowledge.
By having input at board level into the strategy of the companies we invest in, we ensure that our investment is protected and that we have input into the transformation of the company.” Du Preez says MKBIH is an iterative organisation.
“As our investments grow, the dividends flow into the MKBIH Foundation, enabling us to invest in businesses owned by women. We protect those investments by coaching and mentoring the people we work with, and sharing management and financial skills with them. This is a vital component of what we do because empowerment is about giving people the skills to grow and develop themselves.” Asked how she got MKBIH off the ground, Du Preez points out that she made sure she had a safety net in place when she quit her job at the bank. “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have debt,” she adds.
But she concedes that financing the business was no easy task. “It helped that we had banking experience as there were relationships in place and we knew what the banks would look for in a proposal. We put our own resources in too, particularly into the structuring of the business, and into branding and marketing.
We have always known that investing is a long-term, arduous process so we have never expected quick wins.” MKBIH views women as fundamental to nation building, and the directors believe that entrepreneurs are the key drivers of real empowerment in the country.
The foundation invests in city-based women business owners who have completed secondary school. “A basic education is important because there has to be something on which we can build to make the business workable.” “We are currently working with a major institution that is keen to fund an umbrella programme for entrepreneurial skills development,” says Du Preez.
“It’s about bringing together partners who share our belief that when people are working, they enable the growth of the economy.” Du Preez cautions that MKBIH is not taking on the world; rather it is identifying niches where it has the ability to make a difference. “We invest where we can apply our skills,” she says.