Women Driving South Africa's Growth

The emergence of WDB was based on the understanding that the utilisation of loans/savings and support services would result in the creation of new jobs, an increase in the average income, the expansion of existing micro-enterprises and improved quality of life for the “unbankable” rural women of South Africa.

In 1997, the WDB Trust was formally set up as a women-led and managed Public Benefit Organisation that mobilises resources to promote women development. The WDB Trust, which started as a donor-dependent NGO, initially focused on providing loans from R100 to R10 000 to women-owned and -run micro-businesses. The aim was to reduce poverty and drive financial inclusion.

Over time, WDB Trust expanded its development programmes and in 2014, Zenzele, which offers an integrated poverty eradication strategy that links poor households in rural areas to finance and to a basket of development services, training and enterprise opportunities in order to build productive and sustainable family and community livelihoods, was formed.

In late 1996, a fully women-owned, -led and -managed investment holding company, WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH), was formed to ensure the Trust could be sustainable and independent and reduce its reliance on donors. The Trust receives most of its funding from WDBIH. WDBIH promotes transformation and the advancement of women in senior leadership positions in its investee companies. “We’re also able to help drive the transformation of companies we invest in, as well as boost their enterprise development initiatives by identifying how they can open up their procurement, supply chain, transformation or skills development mandates to female entrepreneurs,” says Faith Khanyile, CEO of WDBIH.

The female representation on some of the WDBIH investee companies boards includes 25% at Discovery and First Rand, 36% at Bidvest, 33% at Assupol and 59% at Tsebo Solutions Group. However, despite WDBIH’s success, the task at hand remains enormous. South African boardrooms hover at about 24% female representation, and these women still earn less than their male counterparts. “Considering that women make up 50% of our population, we won’t realise our full potential as a country – or achieve the growth levels able to transform the lives of all South Africans – until we include South African women as active participants in our economy,” says Khanyile.

When looking at WDBIH’s current portfolio, with over R6 billion in total assets, the picture’s a lot clearer than the organisation’s rocky beginnings 22 years ago.

“We were armed only with the tireless assistance and support of former First Lady Zanele Mbeki and other visionary South African women,” says Khanyile. “We set out to realise South Africa’s full potential by empowering women to participate meaningfully in our economy.”

But it is well known that “women with jobs transform families”. Economically self-sustaining families build productive and peaceful communities. “And empowered communities will transform South Africa into the country we all know it can be,” says Khanyile.

The WDB Trust was established in 1991 to put development resources directly into the hands of South Africa’s ‘unbankable’ women so that they could start their own income-generating activities and in the process reduce the cycle of poverty.

WDBIH has distributed over R200 million to the WDB Trust, enabling it to empower over 200 000 South African rural female entrepreneurs. The WDB Group shared vision is to change the landscape for all women in South Africa, from those who sit in boardrooms or executive positions to grassroots rural women, seeking to further the advancement of women by leading dialogues on social and women’s issues both in South Africa and across the African continent.

This article contains extracts from an article that was published in Destiny magazine in November 2017.