Cleola Kunene, 42, is the executive head of small and medium enterprise (SME) development at the JSE. She has helped hundreds of companies get funding and helped them more than double their revenue.
Cleola started the SME Development solution, putting the weight of the largest exchange in Africa behind the country’s entrepreneurs and SMEs. The programme Cleola runs focuses on acceleration, capital readiness, capital access and supporting the eco-system to improve ease of doing business in South Africa through legislative enhancements. The programme has achieved more than 53% revenue growth, on average, for the companies accelerated, and a 32% increase in job creation.
From 2021 to 2022 alone, Cleola supported more than 8 000 companies and accelerated 16 companies internationally. The focus on SMEs has expanded the strategic market opportunity for the JSE, leading to the acquisition of a private market capital matching platform, a first for the exchange and the private capital market.
Cleola also helps hundreds of SMEs in her personal capacity. One of the companies she supported has grown by more than 200%. “The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is that I can make a difference. Even when circumstances make you feel powerless, there is always something that is within your control and the best way to make a difference is to simply get up and do what’s within your power,” she says.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
It’s important to be kind to yourself. We can be incredibly hard on ourselves, given the challenges we face, but being kind to yourself is a form of self-care and also resilience.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
I’ve spent most of my life empowering and supporting women, whether it’s as a sister, in my career, as a mentor or a business woman. One of the most effective ways I have supported women is by teaching them how to manage their financial well-being. Helping women build financial resilience is an integral component of helping them be truly empowered.
In addition, I coach women of all ages, career stages, etc, how to build self-trust. Without the ability to trust ourselves, we cannot make the decisions that enable the futures we want. Self-trust is empowering and accelerates equality by helping women better develop their ability to make decisions that are meaningful for their growth.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
I want every single South African to feel empowered to make a difference in their own communities.