How South Africa’s women entrepreneurs are leading responses to COVID-19

Accion partner Lulalend is supporting women entrepreneurs as they build more resilient communities in South Africa

Yashmita (right) and some of her friends smile for a selfie. “Women are so powerful when we stand together. We are invincible together,” she says.

Yashmita Bhana, a business owner based in South Africa, is no stranger to confronting a challenge with confidence. She studied civil engineering at Wits University, where she was the only woman in her class. Her first business collapsed after she stepped away to care for her second child. And when she was three months pregnant with her third child, she scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, raising R500,000 for charity.

Today, Yashmita is adapting her business to help people in her community affected by COVID-19. Her company Nihka Technology Group is providing temporary free access to tech platforms for business owners, including an online finance and proposal writing tool that is integrated to WhatsApp.

In addition, Yashmita has helped 50 early childhood development centers to complete online training and communicate with other social projects during South Africa’ three-month lockdown, which ended in early June.

“Every time someone stands up for a cause, or does something to improve the lives of others, you are creating a tiny ripple of hope. And that ripple will build and become a massive wave,” said Yashmita.

Yashmita and her company are clients of Accion partner Lulalend, which uses a digitally-enabled business model to provide short-term funding for small and medium enterprises that have been traditionally underserved by other financial service providers.

Lulalend has quickly adapted to support their small business clients coping with the effects of the pandemic. They are addressing client concerns on a case-by-case basis, restructuring loans and extending payment terms as needed. Lulalend also set up a Facebook page for their clients to connect with other struggling business owners and share their experiences.

Yashmita says a major source of strength is her community of fellow women entrepreneurs. “Throughout my journey, there is one really important lesson I’ve learned,” she said. “I didn’t do it alone. I was supported by some incredible women. Women are so powerful when we stand together. We are invincible together.”

Supporting women in business creates a “multiplier effect”

Lulalend is proud to support women entrepreneurs like Yashmita. “Studies have shown that when you empower women, you create a multiplier effect,” said Lulalend CEO Trevor Gosling. “You give them what they need to succeed, and they grow and they take entire communities along with them.”

Jennifer Classen, another client of Lulalend, is living proof of this multiplier effect. She started Ngaphaya Y2K10 (or “Beyond 2010”) with the goal of delivering high-quality industrial equipment and products during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Since then, Classen has made a difference in her community by creating more jobs and better opportunities for local women.

As an essential business, Classen kept operating through South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, providing job security to her employees. Beyond that, she’s used her infrastructure to help other businesses, many owned by women, deliver essential products like hand sanitizer. She is now on the forefront of the effort to deliver approved COVID-19 antibody test strips.

“For us, success means so much more than just financial reward,” said Jennifer. “As a woman-owned and managed company, our business is built on the principles of creating opportunities for other women through skills-transfer, sustainable employment, and genuine empowerment.”

Jennifer and Yashmita’s stories demonstrate how, with targeted support, underserved and women-owned businesses can be valuable partners for communities confronting the many challenges raised by COVID-19. In turn, they can also lay a foundation for more women to succeed in business and build financially resilient communities.

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