December is always a great month to “take stock” of the year that was, and I think a lot of people in business will agree with me that 2017 certainly had its ups and downs.
After the organisation celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, 2017 came with its own set of challenges for the entire WDB group.
While it was so important to celebrate and pay tribute to past achievements and the organisation’s incredible journey during our 2016 celebrations, this year brought the sobering realisation that we still have a very long way to go in terms of women’s empowerment and that we need to create a new blueprint to successfully navigate the journey ahead of us.
For both WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH) and the WDB Trust, forward planning has been essential, and while the vision and mission of WDB remains the same, there is a definite sense of urgency about making real change happen in our country, both in boardrooms and in the rural areas, where poverty continues to ravage the lives of so many women and children.
For WDBIH, there have been some major highlights in 2017, including the landmark empowerment deal with Tsebo Solutions Group (TSG), as well as WDBIH increasing its stake in Seed Engine to 51%.
In late July, WDBIH finalised the acquisition of a 25% stake in Tsebo Solutions Group (Pty) Limited, supported by a funding package provided by Standard Bank of South Africa (a key funding partner to WDBIH).
The transaction marked one of the largest acquisitions by WDBIH and established us as significant shareholders in TSG, together with well-known international investors Wendel and Capital Group Private Markets (shareholders at the Tsebo Holdings level) and the Tsebo Empowerment Trust.
WDBIH will have two seats on the TSG board and actively support the future growth of the asset as it pursues its strategy of becoming a leading facilities solutions provider across the African continent. Well done to everyone in our team who brokered this transaction and, to our new partners at Tsebo, we look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
The increase in the stake in Seed Engine (incorporating Seed Academy and the WDB Seed Fund), from 35% to 51%, officially confirms Seed Engine as a proudly 51% black-women-owned company.
This dynamic partnership serves both the business and social agenda of WDB in promoting true socio-economic transformation to ensure women are economically self-reliant.
Investing in the Future
WDBIH has also been involved in a number of campaigns and programmes aimed at mentoring and guiding entrepreneurial talent. This includes the Seed Engine AccelerateHer programme – a 90-day high-impact programme designed to fast track the development of women-owned business through business development support, mentorship and coaching. The inaugural programme took place in March and was sponsored by Shell Downstream SA. This programme focused on ideation-stage entrepreneurs from Ekurhuleni. Twenty-five women took part and we are excited by their incredible post-programme success – from acquiring major new clients to significant increases in revenue. Shell has come on board for the second AccelerateHer programme in 2018, with many more in the pipeline.
Also in partnership with Seed Engine, WDBIH launched its supplier development programme to support entrepreneurs, many of whom are now actively part of our supply chain.
The WDB Seed Fund is now fully operational, with two exciting investments to be announced in early 2018. The impact fund focuses on women and youth growth-stage businesses and offers investors tax benefits through its Section 12J structure, as well as Enterprise Supplier and Development points recognition.
WDBIH has also been supportive of the inspiring Primestars #MyFutureMyCareer initiative. This career-guidance project encourages learners to proactively explore and take full advantage of the career opportunities that exist for them, and we were all so impressed with the young learners who show not only academic talent and insight, but who are also grounded in empathy and have a deep concern for our country and the world. We have launched our internship programme designed to give youth with finance and accounting undergraduate degrees exposure to the working world and is our small step towards impacting youth unemployment.
The #StepUp2AStartUp Awards were another highlight on the calendar and we were proud to see the incredible ideas and talents shown by the youth, young women in particular. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we can certainly say that our future is in good hands.
Sleeping Out for Charity
I was privileged to be part of the SheEO Sleepout at Constitution Hill and, thanks to the great support of friends, peers and colleagues, I raised the second-highest amount for the challenge – R237 200. We did it as a team and I thank everyone who made this happen.
Let’s continue to be agents of change and make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate than us.
The Time is Now
While there have been so many highlights this year, I also think we need to be realistic and look at some of the lessons learnt along the way. Never before has the investment and financial sector been under more scrutiny. The need for good governance is absolutely imperative and being above corruption is absolutely vital. And while there is much negativity in the media across the board, it’s also important that we keep perspective and continue to share the successes and learnings in our industry.
While I am always prone to focus on the positive side of things and the progress that has been made, I really think the time has come for the need for financial inclusion to be top of mind among decision/policy-makers and the public – and that we use our voices to get the policy-makers to introduce women-friendly financial-inclusion policies, thereby forcing the private sector to act. It is clear that there is no progress at all levels in addressing this issue and I really think that it’s time to use every platform we can to highlight it.
WDB has been lobbying policy-makers for the past 25 years for government to introduce policies that are friendly to the development of microfinance institutions, without any real success.
When it comes to female fund managers (private equity and asset managers), there is also little attention being paid by government and business. We need to focus our energies on financial inclusion across the board – from grassroots to large businesses – and I call on my friends and colleagues in the industry to join me in getting some real action to take place; the time for waiting and polite conversation around the issue is long past. Let us all use our voices, platforms and dialogues to make the change that we need to see in our country and on the continent.
As things close down for the festive-season holidays, I’d like to thank all of our partners and the WDBIH staff who are so passionate and hard-working. Although we are a small team, we continue to punch well above our weight and I’m so proud that the hard work we do pays off, not only in terms of our achievements, but also makes an immense difference to women in the rural areas through the WDB Trust.
Let’s remain positive and come back energised and ready to take on whatever life throws at us. Wishing all our staff, friends and colleagues a safe and prosperous festive season, and best wishes for 2018.
CEO WDB Investment Holdings