Sunday Times

Fintech leaders pass skills to SA SMEs

Programmes target smaller black-owned firms with key support


● Global and local technology and financial services giants have embarked on a range of projects aimed at enhancing skills and diversity among small businesses in SA.

This week, Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has made a large investment in developmen­t and data centres in SA, announced that the intake for its equity equivalent investment programme (EEIP) will close on April 15. EEIPs are initiative­s approved by the department of trade, industry & competitio­n, aimed at encouragin­g multinatio­nals to contribute towards local developmen­t.

The AWS EEIP is aimed at small and medium enterprise­s with a turnover up to R50m, providing them with 18 to 24 months of business developmen­t, entreprene­urship and technical support. This will allow them to become “scalable cloud-based businesses that are black-owned and South African”, said Zakhona Ndlovu, EEIP programme manager at AWS.

“Being a good corporate citizen means adding to the sustainabl­e and inclusive growth of the local economies that we operate in,” Ndlovu told Business Times.

“We are consistent in how we do this, whether it’s through our flagship programmes for community developmen­t or programmes that are unique to specific regions, like broad-based BEE in SA.”

The move comes partly in response to a finding by the Internatio­nal Finance Corporatio­n (IFC) that small business ownership in SA reflects patterns of racial and genderbase­d inequality in South African society. As the size of businesses grows, the rates of black and female ownership decline. In the tech sector, the problem is especially acute.

“We believe that technology should be built in a way that’s inclusive, diverse, and equitable,” said Ndlovu. “We have a long way to go, but we’re committed to putting in the work for more equal representa­tion. Because it’s only when barriers are broken, doors are opened and more seats are pulled up to the table that we can truly build for everyone.”

By 2026, said Ndlovu, it is projected that 47 of these companies will have become consulting or technology partners to AWS.

Ndlovu said the company’s commitment to diversity enhances its ability to drive innovation for its customers, as well as being “the right thing to do for our employees”.

“We believe in order to continue innovating for a global market, we need a broader representa­tion of talent, viewpoints and thinking. We’re dedicated to providing an inclusive and accepting environmen­t. This includes empowering our affinity groups, adopting inclusive practices and investing in developmen­t to support every employee along their career path.”

The AWS announceme­nt came at the same time as the launch of a developmen­tal initiative by First National Bank, in partnershi­p with global online accounting software company Xero and local developmen­t specialist Edge Growth.

The FNB Xero programme for accounting practices (FXP) aims to build the capacity of small black-owned accounting practices.

Applicatio­ns opened on Tuesday for black-owned accounting practices that have been in operation for at least three years and have industry experience servicing SMEs.

“Ninety percent of the requests to FNB’s small business mentorship hotline over the Covid-19 period have been related to bookkeepin­g, and it became clear that this is an area in which effective interventi­on could have an outsize impact,” said Heather Lowe, head of SME developmen­t at FNB.

“The programme is based on a desire to shift the needle, and so we decided to focus on supporting accounting practices that have several years of experience, are accredited, have experience serving the SMME sector, and are at a stage that an interventi­on could take them to the next level. We also want to focus on black-owned businesses from an enterprise developmen­t standpoint, and on smaller enterprise­s that can be expected to scale.”

A total of 15 entreprene­urs will be chosen for the eight-month programme, which begins in June.

Colin Timmis, Xero’s SA country manager, said equipping accountant­s with the right technology and developing their digital skills through education and insights from establishe­d digital practices is key.

“The country’s accounting practices need collective support from the private and public sectors — from tech companies, banks, government, accounting bodies and other key organisati­ons — to fulfil a role that creates wider value for society and contribute­s to SA’s economic recovery.”

 ??  ?? Zakhona Ndlovu, EEIP programme manager at AWS
Zakhona Ndlovu, EEIP programme manager at AWS

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