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Timely boost for small business

Mmanaledi Mataboge

The National Consumer Forum (NCF), a non-profit consumer group has taken up the cause of lobbying for support, training and funding for SMEs.

The hopes of small businesses to participate actively in the economy have been revived thanks to a new project to empower South Africa’s entrepreneurs.

The National Consumer Forum (NCF), a non-profit organisation known for promoting and fighting for consumer rights, has now come to the fore to assist small businesses.

The project to support small enterprises was introduced this year at the request of government representatives who were familiar with the NCF’s work, said the forum’s chairperson, Thami Bolani.

‘This was based on the fact that many leading members of our team have a lot of experience in SME support work and have been quite active in the area in terms of awareness work,” said Bolani.

Government has several economic development agencies focusing on small business development, but there is still a high number of emerging business people who lack the skills to grow their businesses and run them successfully.

Said Bolani: ‘There is a recognition that even though we have statefunded SME support bodies, some of this help is simply not reaching many of our people who need this assistance. And this explains why our SMEs are failing so spectacularly.”

Government agencies tasked with helping small businesses include Khula Enterprise Finance, which has a mandate to provide finance, mentorship services and business premises to SMEs through a network of partnerships and to encourage the sustainable development of SMEs.

The National Youth Development Agency is tasked with providing funding to young people up to the age of 35 to help them to either start new businesses or grow their existing ones. In addition to these two bodies, the department of trade and industry has an agency for supporting small business, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda).

The NCF submitted a request to the South African Bureau of Standards to establish a technical committee that will develop standards for small business support agencies and advisers.

‘Without standards, we are simply doomed,” said Bolani. He said some government agencies were being run by people who have no clue on how to help SMEs. ‘There are many people in these bodies who have not run a small business and the support they give to SMEs is questionable.”

The forum has been vocal about delayed payments to small businesses, saying it posed a threat to the survival of many enterprises. Bolani said the NCF had already taken up the matter with the national treasury and the department of trade and industry.

A Seda project has been established to deal with the problem, but major issues remain. ‘In the absence of an advocacy group for small businesses, we are taking up some issues on their behalf,” he said.

The NCF argued that while big businesses usually have cash reserves, or can borrow cash while waiting for debtors to pay, small businesses did not have that luxury. They are usually hand-to-mouth operations and simply cannot operate without regular cash flow, the forum said.

Government departments are the worst offenders when it comes to late payments. Bolani said the NCF was looking into proposing the introduction of a law on late payment that would allow small businesses to charge interest on accounts that are not paid within 30 days of providing service.

Some European countries have already introduced the law, known as the Late Payment Act in the United Kingdom. The NCF’s new project, Access to Knowledge, known as A2K, aims to provide a skills training, marketing and networking platform for emerging entrepreneurs.

The pilot project was launched in KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga in February. The A2K centre will have a tender advice centre.

‘We will provide information on available tenders in the area, train entrepreneurs to complete tender documents correctly and seek to appoint a member to serve on the local economic development committee to represent the interests of consumers and SMEs,” Bolani said.

Business people will be taught ways of conducting business by electronic means since, as Bolani said, the internet would provide access to ‘real business opportunities”.

‘We hope to involve state SME support agencies but are not hopeful of any help or cooperation, due to politics. The attitude of the bureaucracy towards non-state entities leaves much to be desired.”

Wednesday at the A2K centre is entrepreneurship day. SMEs are required to register on the NCF’s database and they will be informed by text messages of training programmes available.

Plans are under way to expand the project to other provinces, starting with the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

The NCF’s A2K project is sponsored by Nestlé and Metropolitan

Access to knowledge ‘essential’ for empowerment
A2K (Access to Knowledge) is a campaign launched by the National Consumer Forum (NCF) for knowledge distribution in previously disadvantaged areas.

Globally, the A2K movement is a loose collection of civil society groups, governments and individuals who share the idea that access to knowledge should be linked to fundamental principles of justice, freedom and economic development.

The forum is focusing largely on citizen empowerment and economic development with its A2K project. Kenyan copyright lawyer Marisella Ouma defines A2K as ‘an essential component of economic progress, cultural growth and individual fulfilment”.

The forum’s chairperson, Thami Bolani, said its intention with the establishment of A2K centres is to ensure that poor and vulnerable consumers have access to knowledge that will help them participate fully in the economy of the country.

The forum’s first project under the A2K is a viral online campaign that will use social media platforms and email to spread awareness about the need for copyright reform.

The final phase of the campaign will be a petition to government about the need to review the current copyright legislation.

The second project is the survey of schools in the Thembisile Hani local municipality in Mpumalanga to establish how many schools in the area have access to computers, the internet and libraries.

The survey will also seek to establish whether teachers are equipped with the skills to teach computer courses or internet-based courses.

The NCF’s A2K project will also provide courses in financial literacy and debt counselling, entrepreneurship, health and nutrition, as well as information and communication technology.

The forum has roped in the University of Kwa-Zulu in Pietermaritzburg to conduct research into the policies of the country’s major supermarkets to establish their impact on, or support of, local economic development.

The goals of A2K are embodied in a treaty emerging from a call from Brazil and Argentina for a development agenda for the World Intellectual Property Organisation.


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