‘While manufacturing remains important for a growing and developing economy, I believe equal energy must be invested in the services sector,” said National Empowerment Fund (NEF) CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa at Sun City this week when the African Women Chartered Accountants celebrated its 15th anniversary on the day after Women’s Day. “As the leading sector, services account for 57% of India’s economy and have been instrumental in catapulting the country’s growth as the sixth largest in the world measured by nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity,” she said, adding: “Even though the NEF also encourages black entry and participation in the productive economy, we believe this must not be at the expense of growth and investment opportunities in services, which could play a vital role in growing the economy, creating jobs, reducing poverty and inequality, and driving the economic participation of black women.”Since operational inception in 2005, the NEF has approved more than R8.6 million for 852 black enterprises countrywide, supporting in excess of 90 000 jobs. Three years ago, the development financier established the Women Empowerment Fund, which has been instrumental in facilitating approval of R3.2 billion for businesses that are owned and managed by black women.She said the NEF’s funding threshold is up to R75 million per transaction; however, NEF support has been able to unlock third-party funding in order to enable feasibility studies and the roll-out of industrial projects.“These are capital-intensive projects that have the potential to enable entry into minerals beneficiation, infrastructure development, renewable energy, agroprocessing, business process outsourcing, information and communication technology and tourism, among others.” Encouraging black women entrepreneurs to approach the NEF, Industrial Development Corporation, the Public Investment Corporation and the department of trade and industry for industrial funding under the Black Industrialist Programme, she said the concept of black industrialists refers to black people directly involved in the origination, creation, significant ownership, management and operation of industrial enterprises that derive value from the manufacturing of goods and services at a large scale; acting to unlock the productive potential of our country’s capital assets for massive employment, locally. Government research has revealed that about 45% of active businesses in South Africa are owned and managed by women. The figure, however, is skewed towards the informal sector, where 52% of business owners were found to be female-owned, compared with 31% in the formal sector.“I can bear testimony to the fact that our best investees are women entrepreneurs. We can attest to the fact that to fund a woman is to fund a nation. "This is so because women entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed in business because they are focused, driven and disciplined."They service their loans with far greater diligence, and have been known to do so in record time,” said Mthethwa.