“Heritage Day gives us the opportunity to look at where we came from and choose a different future, where poverty and gender inequality are a thing of the past.” – CEO, Faith Khanyile
WDB has a rich heritage that goes back over 26 years. Our founder, Mrs Zanele Mbeki, continues to be a huge inspiration to all of us – she is passionate about the issues of poverty and women’s rights in our country and we can all learn from her stoicism and dedication to tackling these issues head on.
I first met up with Mrs Mbeki in the early 1990s. I had just returned from the US, having completed my MBA, and I wanted to see how I could use my skills and education in women’s development.
The birth of WDB Investment Holdings
The idea behind WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH) was basically about the sustainability of the WDB Trust. Because WDB started as an NGO, it was donor dependent and we needed to think about how it was going to be an independent, financially sustainable institution going forward.
We registered the investment company at the end of 1996 and Tania Slabbert and I started as managers of the company (I was seconded by Brait) and basically we hit the pavements looking for deals! So that’s how it all started.
The first big deal was Uthingo, the national lottery operator. We were able to get a 5% equity stake in that deal. We also got involved on their board – and started to earn income as well because it was a cash-generative business, so we started to earn dividends.
The next big one was BP South Africa. We had a 10% equity stake in BP and we also decided to serve on their transformation subcommittee to drive women representation in senior leadership positions within BP. We received management fees for this and I think BP was a key deal that allowed us to grow the team and also become more commercially savvy as an investment organisation.
After BP, it was Bidvest that was really a huge game-changer for us. It was a multibillion-rand transaction and we were part of a larger consortium; in fact, we played a management role within the consortium. Being a listed company, Bidvest definitely increased the profile of WDBIH as an investment partner.
We were then invited to participate in the FirstRand empowerment transaction together with Kagiso Trust and Mineworkers Investment Company. This was followed by the Discovery transaction and we progressively started to be invited into these significant deals. We also started to realise that we had a huge role to play in putting the female voice at the centre of discussions in the boardrooms around the country.
WDB – a pioneering organisation
WDB is and always has been about pioneering. It’s about being bold. It’s about having courage but also about being of service to others. Our organisation is about saying what is it that I can give back to society and obviously for WDB, we’re really representing the voice of the most underprivileged – the rural women.
WDBIH has certainly done extremely well over the past 21 years. We’ve built a multibillion-rand portfolio of companies, we’ve repatriated R200-million to the WDB Trust to allow it to plough that back to rural communities, and now you know we are starting to get involved with the youth and with entrepreneurship through the WDB Growth Fund. BUT, unfortunately the need in South Africa is huge, especially for women- led organisations like WDB Investment Holdings. So we really want to do much, much more than what we’ve done in the past 21 years.
We need to be even more impactful. We need to move to the next level and we need to say: “What else can we do to make sure that we can create more WDB Investment Holdings of the future? Sure, we can inspire young women to start their own businesses and grow their businesses, but we need to find solutions and work with other like-minded organisations to take the women’s cause forward.
The time is now
Given the experience we’ve gained over more than 26 years we really are poised to do things differently and get more and more women to participate equally in this economy. But we need a sense of urgency in moving forward. The statistics are not looking good – South Africa is officially in a technical recession; youth unemployment is now sitting at over 50% and unemployment is around 27%. Most concerning is that the stats show poverty levels have increased since Mrs Mbeki and the founders started this organisation.
These statistics should be raising alarms – it’s time for us to put aside our differences whether we are in government or private sector and really think about the future of South Africa. We need to re-engage, to restart, to reboot and begin with TRUST being at the core of our conversations. If we can leverage the power of a united front, we can make South Africa what we want it to become.
What role are you playing?
Each and every one of us needs to be asking ourselves what we are doing to help reduce the huge levels of poverty in our country. As South Africans, we really need to start to take ownership and accountability for reducing poverty because each and every one of us can make a huge difference wherever we are.
Our challenge is to pay it forward. Our challenge is to see how each and every one of us can be part of advancing the women’s agenda in South Africa. We need to be asking ourselves what role I am playing as an individual to advance the women’s cause in South Africa and Africa?
On this Heritage Day, let us all commit to redefining our future. Let us each play a positive role to build the South Africa that we all want.
Wishing you all a happy Heritage Day.