WINNERS of the 2017 Ithala’s Imbokodo Iyazenzela Women in Business competition are reaping the benefits of their prize — a business management mentorship programme specifically designed for the needs of their business. Learning to apply for funding has been important for some; others have learnt to use social media to successfully market their businesses; while others have expanded their offerings to remain sustainable. “I had no idea that I could advertise my business on social media. My mentor showed me how to upload my business on Facebook and I am now receiving client leads from it,” said Philisiwe Sibiya, owner of Bless Us Catering and Accommodation in Manguzi. Her two cottages are rented and there is demand for more accommodation from contractors working in the area. She also wants to start a restaurant. For Hlaleleni Buthelezi, her Ixhiba Co-operative, which grows hydroponic tomatoes and other vegetables in Mbali, Pietermaritzburg, is progressing with the help of their mentor. “She has assisted with our business plan for the Agricultural Development Agency and we are receiving assistance with record keeping and better understanding our profit and loss situation,” said Buthelezi. On advice of the mentor, the co-operative is installing signage to ensure visibility of their business and the mentor has secured a laptop which is set up to be user friendly by all the cooperative members. They have also received help with their branding. Buthelezi said they were confident that they would be able to make a success of the growing project and would like to be able to buy a cold room and a van to supply local villagers or rural areas. Imbokodo Iyazenzela, or “Women doing it for themselves”, is a flagship programme of Ithala Development Finance Corporation which aims to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurs who require access to finance and the resources to grow. “The programme is a pillar of support to women entrepreneurs. The purpose of the mentorship is not to go out and get contracts or funding for the mentees, but rather to capacitate them on business operation processes so that they can do these things for themselves,” said Sitandiwe Dimba, Ithala Group Reputation Manager. “We had 568 entries, which is a 25.8% increase on last year’s 421 entries and more than double the 201 entries received in 2016. The popularity of the competition is an indication of many women wanting to improve and grow their businesses and realising that they need business knowledge. “The business women are nominated by their peers in their social circle and have been through a rigorous judging process. We have identified the top 20 winners who will be celebrated at a gala dinner in Durban on November 24. “Over the past three years, we have noted the involvement of women in new sectors such as agro-processing and chemical manufacturing producing new brands of cleaning materials. “Women are also participating in previously male-dominated sectors, such as transportation and logistics, and it is encouraging to also see participation and passion in the growing hospitality industry, including B&B’s. “Within our mandate, Ithala continues to recognise and reward business success in the SMME sector, emphasising its commitment to the continued development of entrepreneurship in KwaZulu-Natal,” said Dimba. She said the mentorship programme was a way of giving back to the community, especially to those previously disadvantaged. The programme was designed to offer guidance and advisory services on business plans; cash flow management; tax compliance documents; starting and or register a business and compliance; among other things. Jabulile Khambule, owner of development project Come Again Phindubuye in Umlazi, said her mentor had assisted her in applying for funding by breaking the application into step-by-step assignments which she would complete. Come Again looks after 46 children, aged 18 months to five years, daily. Many of the toddlers are the children of school-going learners and the project provides social behaviour change programmes for these young parents. It has been assigned a permanent social worker to look after the children as well as assigned a permanent Care Youth Community worker; it is in partnership with three schools in the area; has been appointed by the Department of Social Development to distribute dried fruit to the needy; and it works with a local radio station on various social programmes. “My mentor then corrected any errors, and so we went until the application was complete and ready to be submitted. When I have problems I contact her and she is willing to help me all the time,” said Khambule. The Maqhanene Co - operative in Kwa-Dlangezwa, Empangeni, is extremely excited about being part of the year-long mentorship programme. Their business has grown substantially by improving the way they advertise their business and keeping track of new trends, among other mentorship assistance. By the end of the programme, the co-operative had catered for five weddings, decorated a number of tents, provided food for a tribal unveiling, catered for birthday events and hundreds of students and various functions at the University of Zululand. — Supplied.