Ray-Ann Sedres, Chief Transformation Officer at Sanlam

Over the last few years, inflation has caused the cost of debt to skyrocket, making financing inaccessible to many SMMEs. This has major implications in South Africa, where about 34% of total GDP comes from the small business sector. Recognising this, Sanlam and SANParks joined forces to launch their Kruger National Park-focused R10 million SMME funding and support programme, implemented by I Am An Entrepreneur. Six months on, the pilot programme’s promising results show the ripple effect that the impact fund, based on a zero-interest loan, can have for entrepreneurs and their communities.

Many small-scale suppliers have excellent ideas. However, they don’t have the resources, experience, or reputation to compete with established incumbents. Sanlam, SANParks and I Am An Entrepreneur launched their programme to build sustainable businesses by providing purchase order financing at the lowest possible cost.

Ray-Ann Sedres, Chief Transformation Officer at Sanlam, says, “According to a joint study by the University of Florida and South African National Parks (SANParks), the Greater Kruger National Park contributes some R2.6 billion (2016/2017 figures) to the nation’s annual GDP. However, the unemployment rate in Mpumalanga remains high, at 36% (Q4 2022). Kick-starting sustainable SMMEs in the area is one of the surest ways to generate jobs. Above anything, their soaring business confidence and optimism for the future attest to the programme’s success.”

The programme is a case study showing how interest-free funds could unlock SMME growth.

A unique model

The fund is aimed at SMMEs that operate in a 50km radius of Kruger National Park and are awarded purchase orders from SANParks.  Thus far, the programme has had 23 approved and funded applications, comprising 57% youth and 43% women, with total tranche received of R5.4 million.

Keitumetse Lekaba, MD at I Am An Entrepreneur says the fund is unique as it’somnichannel, language friendly, and extremely easy to apply for and access. “It’s been a pleasure seeing the impact this has had on entrepreneurs’ lives and the Kruger National Park.” By championing smaller service providers, the fund additionally provides SANParks with access to efficient supply. SMMEs can operate nimbly and at speed, while adeptly accessing local products. This empowers SANParks to offer outstanding services and products to its clients, while directly benefitting the local communities it operates in.

The Mpumalanga Province’s 2023 Socio-economic Review outlined an ambitious target of generating 447 000 additional jobs by 2024, with the aim to drop the unemployment rate from 36% (2022) to 25% by year end. It believes the best way to positively impact poverty is through job creation. SANParks and Sanlam are contributing to this by supporting SMMEs to scale sustainably.

Sedres adds that as a corporate, Sanlam has a vested interest in growing the economy, “An economically active society means a thriving economy, which has a direct bearing on the relevancy and need for financial solutions.  It also ties deeply into our purpose to empower all Africans to be financially confident, secure, and prosperous.”

Overcoming SMMEs’ biggest barrier

Sanlam, SANParks and I Am An Entrepreneur recently visited the beneficiaries in Kruger to chat about their progress in the programme. Many made mention of how the fund has helped them overcome their greatest challenge – accessing financing.

Lebogang Gondwe, fund beneficiary and founder of Yellow Sauce, which specialises in insecticide, said that lenders had previously charged him between 25% to 50%, which ate up most of his profit. “They are the ones who are benefitting, not us. But with this fund, the team behind this programme have really helped us.”

Fellow beneficiary Vuyani Ngcani, the founder of Lusando Trading, echoed this. “When you get tenders or supply and delivery work, and you get the money to do the job, some lenders put on too much interest. No capital caps business growth, with SMMEs scrambling just to pay back the high interest they owe.”

Sedres adds, “Interest-free loans are game changers for SMMEs in the country, so that entrepreneurs can use the profits they gain from their contracts. This programme has shown that helping one SMME has a ripple down the chain of impacted beneficiaries in their lives.”


Looking to the future

The fund beneficiaries have their sights set on expansion. Sindi Mathebule, founder of Mamapre, said she is determined to see her business grow, “My dream is to get more people employed, expand to other provinces and just to be involved in the economy.”

Lerato Simelane, another beneficiary and founder of Leratolwandle, said her business success has inspired others, “My friends wish me well and they want to start their own businesses because they can see how my business is growing.”

Sedres says Sanlam and SANParks are hoping more partners will join them, “SMMEs are forecast to generate 90% of the 11 million jobs our nation needs, according to the National Development Plan. We want to create more funds so we can have an even greater impact in this country and fund more SMMEs. We need more corporates to join us, along with government departments, so we can help our small business sector grow and flourish. To avoid the unemployment rate increasing even further, we need to act swiftly and collectively.”

Click here to watch the interviews with individual beneficiaries sharing what this initiative means to them.