Success lies in holistic approach

Business Award

What does it take to create a legend? The answer is simple: a ­commitment to “changing lives for the better, ­forever”. That is the message of Fetola’s Legends ­programme, which nurtures small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

Fetola, a Cape Town-based enterprise development agency, designed the Legends programme to help the Old Mutual Foundation meet its ­corporate social investment ­mandate of empowerment, ­economic ­development and building ­sustainable communities. The programme was launched in 2007 and focuses on rural businesses that are black-owned, ­community-based and led by women.

Fetola’s managing director, Catherine Wijnberg, described it as a “virtual support programme” — a “business incubator without borders” because it reaches people in all parts of South Africa. “We help people ­succeed through workshops, e-learning, mentoring and a host of other ­tailored business support services and innovations,” Wijnberg said.

Fetola believes the Legends initiative has a unique selling point: it aims to be holistic and always looks at the “bigger picture”, said Wijnberg. “Interventions in the SMME arena tend to focus on isolated areas of operation, such as product development or sales. This silo approach neglects the other crucial areas needed for sustainable growth,” Wijnberg said. “With Legends, we address all the issues and challenges an organisation may face across the value chain.”

Fetola uses smart technology, such as text messaging, to reach people in the most remote areas in the ­country. As long as there is a cellphone ­signal, the programme can ­mentor even the most rural beneficiaries, from “Whittlesea in the Eastern Cape to Skukuza in Mpumulanga”, Wijnberg said.

The Legends initiative is linked to the Business Big Brother programme, which puts together rural businesses with their more advanced urban ­partners, allowing mentorship and the placement of interns. It “helps to build a sense of community throughout the country and upholds the ethos of nation-building”, said Wijnberg. It results in spin-offs such as skills training, market access and the sharing of knowledge. The results speak for themselves.

The programme’s turnover increased by 290% between 2007 and 2009 and job creation rose by 76%. And 75% of the participants are women. Legends supports 67 organisations, 1?670 employees, 8?196 family and community members and 8?000 secondary network beneficiaries. The programme expanded into all nine provinces this year, across a wide range of sectors, including tourism and small-scale manufacturing.

Fetola plans to expand the ­programme further and to develop “strategic partnerships” with the ­government and other stakeholders to increase its influence. Next year the focus will be on communities that rely on agriculture and mining. Wijnberg said Legends prides itself on not being a “hand-out” ­programme: it does not offer direct financial support to participants because it aims to create sustainability and self-reliance.

True empowerment happens when you equip people with self-belief, knowledge and access to the support structures they need to create their own success,” she said. “As a nation we need to move beyond the cycle of dependency ­created by many other enterprise development initiatives, well meaning though these may be. The time has come for people to step up and take control of their own destinies.”

The judges praised Fetola’s innovative and holistic approach to development and said it has made great strides in improving the livelihoods of people in impoverished communities and accelerating the success of women-owned and rural enterprises.

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