Top Empowerment Conference Might Want To Highlight The Achievements Of Younger, Black-Owned Companies in South Africa Even More Thoroughly in 2023…
A little bit earlier this year, we posted about the ‘Top Empowerment Conference’, which was organized by Topco Media, and held in Cape Town from 20th-21st July 2022. This article will provide a more in-depth look into the winners of the conference such as Ithuba, Nedbank, Sanlam, Masslift Africa, Modern Centric and Sigma Connected Group. As was widely emphasized during the beginning of the conference, “People must change their mentality now – not to look for jobs, but also to create their own jobs. Not just for themselves, but even for other people”.
- Nedbank – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Empowered Company, Enterprise and Supplier Development”
Among others, Nedbank may be known through the reputable Nedbank Integrated Marketing Conference (IMC), which took place on 29th July virtually to bring together an expected amount of 1,000 African marketing professionals under the theme ‘Marketing Relevance’ after attracting 1,300 delegates from 14 countries in 2021, when speakers such as Pepe Marais appealed to “[get] back to [their] basic instincts” as “we are in the business in the heart and the head, the magic and the logic”. In 1888, Nedbank was founded as the ‘Nederlandsche Bank en Creditvereeniging voor Zuid-Afrika’, which changed its name multiple times until 1971, when it became known as Nedbank. Having received multiple awards aside from the ‘Top Empowerment Award’ by Topco Media, and having been ranked 2nd in the Intellidex ‘Top Investor Relations (IR) Awards’ in South Africa, Nedbank has been praised for its achievements many times.
Whereas Nedbank’s CEO Mike Brown was awarded with the title of the ‘Best Banking CEO’ in 2018, it has been highlighted during the Top Empowerment Conference 2022, that Anél Bosman, Group Managing Executive For Nedbank Corporate And Investment Banking, is “the first woman to run an investment bank in South Africa” after she graduated in disciplines such as econometrics, commerce and economic philosophy from the University of Johannesburg, the University of Cambridge and from Harvard University. Next to the praise for Nedbank’s management and its IR team, which was highlighted to “[be] knowledgeable and ‘respond timely to queries’”, Nedbank also promotes its engagement for diversity and inclusion (D&I) and sustainable development. The ‘Nedbank Sustainable Development Framework’ orients itself at nine priority of the seventeen SDGs, whereby the latter are aimed at through three particular modes: corporate social investment (i.e. SDG 1-3, 14), sustainable development finance (i.e. SDG 4, 6-12, 15) and operations (i.e. SGD 5, 10, 13-14, 16-17).
- Ithuba – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Company, Socio-Economic Development”
Ithuba National Lottery “is a privately owned South African company founded by the Zamani Equity Fund “, whereby it has been mentioned that its leadership by Zamani Gaming, respectively Zamani Holdings, has been preferential, among others, based on “its strong management philosophy”. Ithuba’s CEO, Charmaine Mabuza, is also one of the heads of the Mabuza Foundation, which has been actively working towards creating an impact in the domain of socio-economic development and education in South Africa, precisely by awarding various students with university tuition fees respectively a compensation for housing and living expenses. As Newzroom Afrika said in 2021 in an interview with Charmaine Mabuza, which was published on its YouTube channel, Mabuza is an active advocate for gender equality and a role model championing her work in the male-oriented gaming industry and as Mabuza emphasized in ICE London’s ‘CEO question time’ show, it matters a lot to Ithuba to see its customers thrive on their product.
As the CEO continued to explain, in South Africa, playing the lottery can be done while youth are taking care of their finances and banking. Alongside their activities in this regard, they may order a lottery ticket and hopefully gain a resource that can contribute to their socio-economic well-being. And yet, that is not all. Ithuba actively engages itself through socio-economic projects and spreads the Ubuntu culture and mentality within its own organization at all levels. Next to Ubuntu culture, Ithuba also puts an emphasis on the empowerment and equality of women within the gaming industry and business. As Mabuza told ICE London, “in [her] organization, there’s more than 65% of women that work in executive leadership positions, so we practice what we preach”. Rather than ignoring how mobility functions inside a company for women, Mabuza has operationalized this knowledge to actively push women, where they (deserve to) belong. Next to standing up for women leadership at the company level, Mabuza finally remarked that designing gaming products that keep women in mind matters as career mobility in the gaming industry is tied to their representation.
- Sanlam – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Company Business of the Year, Education and Skills Development”
As Sanlam announces on its website, it is proud of its long history, which started in 1917 with a gathering between “Afrikaners and a Scotsman […] in the Royal Hotel in Cape Town” respectively the registration of the company as ‘Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Lewens Assuransie Maatskappij Beperk’ in 1918. And as Grietije Verhoef, Professor in Economic and Business History at the University of Johannesburg, writes in her book ‘The Power of Your Life: The Sanlam Century of Insurance Empowerment, 1918-2018’, Sanlam had…
“[a] close connection between Afrikaner cultural and political leadership […and] used this nationalist allegiance to grow its business, and to develop a presence for Afrikaners outside of insurance in other sectors of the economy”Grietije Verhoef (2018) ‘The Power of Your Life: The Sanlam Century of Insurance Empowerment, 1918-2018’
And similar to the past, Sanlam also has an interest in promoting inclusion today. Promoting the view that “financial confidence starts today”, Sanlam has worked towards educating young people in engaging manners about taking responsibility for their finances and socio-economic well-being, at least, as far as it is in their control. As Nozizwe Vundla, Head of Sanlam Foundation, underlines in a press release from February 2022, “Financial education tends to be dull and, all too often, irrelevant”. Rather than confronting young people only with financial and/or economic skills that are not important in real life, they need to be confronted with practical knowledge, for instance, in relation to taxes and “drawing up a budget in school”. Through the ‘Saver WayaWaya WageWise Programme’, Sanlam Foundation has attempted and succeeded to make a conscious change by providing lessons, including through creative modules, to 10,000 black individuals in 2021, majorly “women, [who] earn R250,000 or less and are based in rural regions”.
With the Sanlam Foundation having made investments amounting to R630 million over the course of the last decade, particularly “in the education sector, financial literacy initiatives, health (HIV/AIDS), enterprise and supplier development initiatives and employee volunteerism” and working towards financial skills development through initiatives, which value transformation at all levels, it is no surprise that it was awarded the top empowerment title in the education and skills development area. Earlier, in 2020, it collaborated with the Germiston-based learning center Avocado Vision carrying out face-to-face and WhatsApp webinars and equipping 8,332 individuals, most of whom were youth (73%) and black (98%), with financial literacy skills. Whether individuals seek support about managing their finances with children, are interested in investing or scared of financial risks and taxes, Sanlam’s ‘Live Confidently’ online videos certainly might have some of the answers.
- Masslift Africa – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Company, Customer Focus”
As it declares on its website, Masslift Africa is “the sole distributor of Mitsubishi forklifts in Southern Africa”. Focusing on the needs of its customers, Masslift Africa, which is headquartered in Johannesburg, offers a broad variety of 170 models for rent and sale at a flexible price with the awareness that its products are needed in a variety of sectors and thus relevant for the growth of the South African economy. What it promises its customers beyond a flexible price, is a “3-year service and preventative maintenance plan […] along with [an] 8 Year/12000 Hour Powertrain Warranty”. While the company, which started to sell Mitsubishi Forklifts in 1972, was founded by Marco Caverni and is not strictly a black-founded business, its finance section is headed by a black power woman, Thembi Mazibuko, who has also worked at Deloitte as Auditor in Charge and at DHL as Finance Manager. Next to the latter, Masslift Africa possesses a 71% black ownership, “allowing [its] customers to claim 270% on procurement spend”.
Having achieved its ‘Level 1 BBBEE accreditation’ in February 2022, Masslift Africa’s enterprise development programme has been revealed to additionally support black-owned businesses with funding. As CFO Africa highlighted in an article in January 2022, Thembi Mazibuko made a statement about Masslift Africa’s commitment to support black economic empowerment. “‘We are proud of not giving black economic empowerment lip service by sustainably supporting initiatives that uplift the communities within which we operate’”, she told Fourie, while expressing her sincere concern for the socio-economic conditions of previously disadvantaged communities and individuals. Having additionally supported the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and the Durbanville Children’s Home in 2021, Masslift Africa has shown that it cares about customers and non-customers. Next to its social engagement, it also achieved a milestone with regard to the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (MerSETA) accreditation, which it received in March 2022.
- Modern Centric – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Company, Fast-Growth Black-Owned SMME”
“Welcome to the Modern Side”, it states on Modern Centric’s website. And while the latter is probably a positive welcome, it needs to be explored what this ethos actually means. As Zakhele Mgobhozi, Modern Centric’s CEO who was also awarded the title ‘Top Empowerment Young Achiever under 40’, emphasized in an interview with SABC News, his drive to support people with disabilities goes back to his own experience of struggling with his health after a life-threatening experience. Having had to relearn to walk and having faced South Africa’s business world from a new perspective after going from being able-bodied to disabled, Mgobhozi told SABC News with total honesty that South Africa is not yet ready to claim that it proactively supports disabled employees well. Trying to make a change and create an impact for disabled workers, Modern Centric offers a variety of B2B services including a skills and training advisory, project management, a B-BBEE advisory, 360° recruitment and business process outsourcing.
Thereby, one part of the skills and training advisory is a ‘specialised persons with a dis-Ability training’. Attempting to “unother the other”, as Modern Centric says, it also offers to help companies with regard to their B-BBEE compliance quota, precisely through an “evaluation of scorecard performance, identifying gaps and possible opportunities that can be improved and exploited”. Whether intended or unintended, Modern Centric grasps the impact that South African businesses can achieve, when they deploy an intersectional lens to analyze the impact and the gaps of their work. Having created and pushed 999 individuals in employment and the pathways to their full potential, build up a pool with 2432 resumes and checked 189 positions filled, Modern Centric is not hesitant, when it comes to starting a more equal and competent future today. And although the range of services, which Modern Centric offers may be a little broader, its work in South Africa partially reminds of the work of Black In Tech in Germany based on the mission to push for black inclusion in the workplace.
- Sigma Connected Group – Awarded as “Top Empowerment Company, Job Creation”
The Birmingham-based company Sigma Connected opened a new branch in South Africa in May 2022 and has been praised for creating new jobs in South Africa, a country which has been struggling with high rates of unemployment. Having recently “opened a new multimillion-rand contact centre”, as it states on iTWeb, Sigma Connected has been told to have created around 500 additional jobs and taken efforts to train the local population within the facilities of a training centre, which was established in Mitchells Plain, a township within the City of Cape Town. As the article on iTWeb underlines, the new office is actually already the third office in South Africa and Sigma Connected plans to stay committed to create more jobs in the upcoming year in South Africa. Having been founded by Gary Gilburd in 2011, Sigma currently employs around 4,000 people in the three regions, wherein it operates – the UK, South Africa and Australia.
Operating in six industries in particular (i.e. travel and tourism, retail and ecommerce, telecommunications; financial, water and energy services), but across all sectors (i.e. private and public), Sigma Connected provides its clients assistance with customer acquisition, problem debt, contact centre training, complaint management, customer services, offshoring solutions and the collection of payments. As Sigma Connected told BusinessLive, “‘Being part of the Digicall Group gives us a unique position in the market and will allow us to hit the ground running’”. Since both companies sharing a vision for growth based on technological innovation in South Africa, it is probably not a surprising announcement that six Digicall businesses will soon be part of the Sigma Connected South Africa branch. Whereas Sigma Connected did not directly address how it will contribute to black economic empowerment, its new partner Shadow Careers, whose vision is to build “sustainable human-centric careers that enable people to help others”, emphasized its goal to “uplift youth employment in […] previously excluded communities”.
A Final Remark
The ‘Top Empowerment Conference’ and the work of its awardees might lead to inspire one or the other entrepreneur to think a little bit more broadly about diversity and inclusion, ESG, black economic empowerment, the empowerment of women, youth and workers with disabilities, and the potential necessity of an intersectional form of monitoring their operations. Entrepreneurs such as Zakhele Mgobhozi, CEO of Modern Centric, prove that having a mission as an entrepreneur can increase success for both businesses and clients. Experiences in life, no matter of which nature, can help us to understand the gaps in society, the business scene and the services industry. In addition, entrepreneurs such as Charmaine Mabuza show that it is perfectly possible to conquer previously male-dominated sectors as a woman and that there is a need to rethink how businesses aim to achieve socio-economic development. There is not always a conventional way to success and change, which is certainly one take-away from this year’s ‘Top Empowerment Conference’ by Topco Media.
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