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Positive Impact Positive Reward

Women entrepreneurs seldom focus only on the growth of their businesses, writes Georgina Guedes. As these three women show, they also make positive change in their industries and uplift those around them.
Image: Dr Thandi Ndlovu Image: Dr Thandi Ndlovu

When Dr Thandi Ndlovu started her business facilitating sustainable housing development in 1996, she was accused of corruption and of being a front. “There was a general scepticism and disbelief that I would succeed,” she says.

She made it her business to show the world that women can succeed in the property industry – even exceeding the outcomes of men working in the same field. “I have demonstrated that as a woman I can do better – better quality, on time, on spec and on budget. I believe this, more than words, has earned my company and me the reputation in the marketplace that commands the respect of men and women alike.”

In 1996, she returned from political exile, and ran a private medical practice in Orange Farm, an informal settlement south of Johannesburg. When the South African government instated the Housing Act of 1996, and then established the Housing Development Board, she started a side business, “as a hobby”, to facilitate sustainable housing development.

Over the next two years, her initial six projects grew into further opportunities, and her “hobby” business demanded more of her attention. So, in 1998, she entered into a joint venture with Chris Cudmore and Tim Potter, who likewise had an interest in social housing. She sold her medical practice to her partner, to focus on this new venture, and in 2007, Motheo Construction Group was formed.

Today, Motheo is one of the country’s leading companies majority-owned and managed by black women. The company is a leading provider of social housing; to date it has created 80 000 homes, and counting, and has a total of  R5.5-billion in book orders. Ndlovu is now speaking of expanding into private construction, and into the rest of Africa.

Her greatest moment in this 20-year journey was when Motheo attained a Grade 9 on the Civil Engineering Register of Contractors, graded by the Construction Industry Development Board. “Grade 9 is the highest echelon in the industry, indicating that Motheo could then compete against ‘the big boys’,” she says.

From the outset, Ndlovu specifically targeted the upliftment of women, ignoring industry excuses that “there were none”. She identified those graduates with potential, and “twinned” them with skilled white men, with, she says, “phenomenal” results.

“I have demonstrated to the sceptics that my model of housing the poor, delivering infrastructure to marginalised communities, while empowering them with skills, is doable,” she says.   ›

Swept up in the business

Aisha Pandor, award-winning tech entrepreneur with a PhD in human genetics, says the boy’s-club culture in the tech industry can be tough on a woman, but she believes women have an enormous contribution to make to the industry.

Aisha Pandor

“Women entering the tech space will solve problems differently, solve them in a way that is relevant to women, and solve specific problems that women have.”

Her journey to entrepreneurship bears this out. In 2014, when she was working in business management, she and her husband, Alen Ribic, needed the services of a part-time domestic cleaner over the holidays. When they struggled to find one, they realised there was a gap in the market for an online portal for finding part-time cleaning services, so they launched SweepSouth, to provide a hassle-free experience to customers, with Pandor as the CEO.

“I had been feeling frustrated with the corporate environment, and I had thought that I wanted to do something for myself, but I didn’t have an idea what, until I needed these sorts of services in my home,” she says.

When she started to investigate the feasibility of implementing her idea, she realised how tough domestic workers in South Africa really have it. “I spoke to domestic workers and they told me about being paid badly, about racism from customers, about the assumption that they were going to steal. I came to understand that their industry was one that was really broken and hadn’t moved forward from a pre-1994 mentality.”

SweepSouth calls the domestic workers who register on their platform “SweepStars”. The company started out with three registered SweepStars.

She and Ribic cashed in their life savings and pension to fund the business for the first year – which Pandor describes as “terrifying” – and then brought in equity investment to grow the business. Pandor says it is growing in double-digit percentages from month to month.

They both work full-time in the business, employ 20 full-time staff, and have around 3 000 SweepStars on the system. While there is a great deal of satisfaction in growing a business, Pandor says the positive impact they are having on the lives of the SweepStars is a real reward.

In 2015, they were accepted into a Silicon Valley programme called 500 Startups, and spent four months learning about the tech startup environment. This year, SweepSouth placed second in the FNB Business Innovation Awards, supported by Endeavor South Africa. Pandor was the only woman CEO to have been nominated.

The accidental entrepreneur 

Ipeleng Mkhari believes that women can’t be ignored – “not just in our numbers but in the excellence that women bring”. Mkhari is an expert in making her voice heard and creating opportunities for women. She started out as a marketing manager at a CCTV company, and then launched Motseng Investment Holdings, a professional property management company that today provides an integrated service across the commercial, industrial and retail property markets, and employs around 600 people.

Ipeleng Mkhari
Ipeleng Mkhari

In 2007,  as part of her journey of personal growth and empowering other women, she was appointed chairperson of the Women’s Property Network (WPN), with a significant part of her focus on education and mentorship. In 2008, she launched an education trust and mentorship programme to support women entering the industry, and to encourage junior and middle-management women to take their place in the male-dominated industry. She remains a trustee of this education trust.

Mkhari’s vision, from the very beginning, has been about empowering women. Her career started when she saw an opportunity to establish the first black-owned CCTV company in South Africa. Her schoolfriend, Sandile Nomvete, shared her vision, and together they secured a large contract, which provided the seed capital for the investment company.

When the company launched in 1998, it was a holding company for security services, and by 2002, Nomvete and Mkhari were approached by Marriott Corporate Property Services to form a joint venture. From then, the company developed and diversified until, in 2005, they achieved a turnover of more than R100-million, which put them in a position to buy back Marriott Corporate Services’ 50% stake in the business. “We achieved 100% ownership of our organisation and renamed it Motseng Property Services,” says Mkhari.

In 2008, the team set its sights on becoming landlords, and began to acquire commercial assets with long-term government leases.

Within three years, the company held around R1-billion in assets with capital off its own balance sheet, and in 2012, Mkhari listed the Delta Property Fund and sold the Motseng-owned assets into a special-purpose entity.

The exco of Motseng is 50% female, and Mkhari believes it is vital that organisations such as hers continue to focus on the upliftment of women.  “In almost 20 years, we’ve seen that when you give women opportunities, with a woman leader in their midst, you really do bring out the best in them.”

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