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.”