LEADING EDGE | SAWEN
by Shalane van Rensburg
South African Women Entrepreneurs' Network (SAWEN) is a forum for individuals and organisations committed to the promotion and advancement of female entrepreneurs. A Department of Trade and Industry (dti) project for the representation and articulation of the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in the small, medium and micro-enterprise (SMME) sectors. In its 12th year of existence, SAWEN has board members who are totally committed to the values of the organisation and give of their free time to empower others. CEO features Nana Ditodi, President of SAWEN and Gail Downing, Chairperson of SAWEN.
Nana Ditodi, a dynamic, determined and successful businesswoman, who initially started her career as a nurse, is now President of the organisation. This mother of three, a grandmother and wife, certainly wears all these hats with confidence and true ability. She obtained a hairdressing and beautician's diploma to
ensure flexible hours so as to be with her second-eldest son who had a learning problem. The beauty industry enabled Nana to take her first steps into the business world. She shares her wisdom with young entrepreneurs and points to the pitfalls and strengths to develop in order to ensure success.
“I do not believe entrepreneurship comes as naturally as some people may think. Maybe if your parents were entrepreneurs, but you need to understand how business works down to the last detail and that you have to be taught,” says Nana. She believes one needs to understand the sector you are in: the financial aspect, how to do feasibility studies, human resources and how to market your business. “I had to do course, fter course after course. Networking also provides knowledge, which is a powerful tooil. Even though I did my business management course 30-odd years ago and a lot has changed, the fundamentals are still the same,” she says. Nana insists that one should keep updated as to what is happening in the business arena.
In 1990, she opened a beauty salon and a gym in Mabopane and later in Pretoria’s central business district. She completed diplomas in Business Management and Public Relations when post-1994 opportunities became available for women. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) supported Ditodi’s Chocolate Manufacturing project and it was funded by the dti when Competitiveness Fund opportunities became available for women. At a later stage, she enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and completed a mining course. Nana is now holding seats on various mining boards. Other qualifications include Mining Qualifications Authourity (MQA) and Executive Preparatory Programme (EPP), offered by Department of Energy, Wits and University of South Africa. From nursing to beauty to chocolates, and finally mining, it has been a diverse and rewarding career for Nana.
SAWEN is a facilitator monitoring how women and other stakeholders manage their respective ventures. These women are trained and SAWEN sources information to ensure entrepreneurs are kept abreast of changes and developments in the industry. It also monitors their progress and finds appropriate ways of dispersing its funds. “The board is made up of an astute set of women who give of their time and expertise free of charge for the greater good of SAWEN’s vision,” says Nana.
Ligugu Lami Awards
The first Ligugu Lami Awards ceremony was held by SAWEN in October last year at which the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Ms Elizabeth Thabethe, delivered the keynote address and announced the winners, who took home cash prizes.
The purpose of the awards is to encourage women, operating their micro-businesses, to take pride in their efforts and nurture their enterprises in order to eventually enter the mainstream South African economy.
The awards were initiated with the aim of acknowledging women entrepreneurs for their contribution to the economy of this country, extending a helping hand to deserving women and raising the profile of SAWEN as a key player in the female economic empowerment space.
The awards have been made possible by a grant of R1-million by Nana Ditodi and her family. She says her contribution was inspired by a desire to give back to the country, something her mother taught her from a really young age.
Ligugu translated means ‘My precious’ and that is what a business is to anyone – a precious gift, explains Nana. Nominations for 2014 opened in May for what will become an annual competition. Nana truly believes the winners are deserving of the accolades and she is proud of what awards have become.
Nana is passionate about entrepreneurs and giving and sharing, which she explains is “the Christian way.” For her it means it does not always have to be money, even a smile or a pat on the back of someone who may need it.
Nana says anyone hoping to be successful business owner, requires honesty and integrity, qualities which cannot be bought. She says that there are no shortcuts in life and that one needs to study hard, read and just be ‘smart’ about certain choices. Finally, she says, be curious about things and share what you have learnt.
“You cannot go wrong with having a mentor. I have mentors and mentees all over the world. They may not be formally recognised as ‘mentors’, but I communicate with various people and consult on many levels,” explains Nana.
The SAWEN board will be attending a female diversity global summit in Malaysia later this year. SAWEN is taking big strides globally for the benefit of its members. On a final note, Nana says: “If you are considering a new venture as an entrepreneur, hang in there; it will not be easy initially. But the country needs you, for unemployment is rife. Speak to your business managers, banks and partners grow your business – it is a collaborative effort and you should know that there are organisations to assist you.”
“There are three simple things entrepreneurs need and should have, or be willing to develop when starting or running a business. The desire, willingness and ability to learn new skills and habits can contribute to any woman’s success,” explains Gail Downing, Chairperson of SAWEN and owner of the Acorn Group of companies. One of these things, she explains, is an attitude, a skill that can be learned and a personality trait few of us come by naturally, but which, with a little practice, can be successfully managed:
The best business attitude? A refusal to quit when things get tough.
The most valuable skill is networking, networking, networking.
Strongest personality trait is having a thick skin and being objective.
“I have been involved with SAWEN for over 10 years, first as Secretary to Gauteng Province and then as Chairperson. I am a hard worker who gets things done. As Chairperson, I am very ethical, I work well with people and I stimulate people rather than browbeat them,” says Gail on how she developed into her role as Chairperson. “I try to help other members of the Board to use their abilities and experience in order to work together to grow the organisation. I believe 150% in SAWEN, as it is what women entrepreneurs in this country need.” Women entrepreneurs are becoming an increasingly important component of the world economy, whether it is in Dubai or Ireland and not just in South Africa – it is SAWEN’s way of trying to fight against the struggle of poverty.
Gail explains that one of SAWEN’s objectives as an organisation is to provide a networking platform linking women to business opportunities. By networking businesses and people, people benefit educationally and create beneficial relationships. Networking also improves one’s credentials and professional stature, whilst boosting one’s confidence and sense of pride.
“To become a successful entrepreneur, you need to believe in yourself. Have a strong mission and prepare your mindset whilst still be willing to fail,” she says. Gail emphasises that one needs to increase one’s business skills and understand business to the core. “The greatest advice I can give is that you have to learn how to manage your time effectively. Also take care of your customer,” she says. To be an entrepreneur, you must have the drive and dedication to pursue a dream or a goal. Also, you need to be generous and give back where you can. Any venture requires extensive research to find the product or service that would meet the needs or demands of the economy. She further explains that one must have a business plan and model for running your company. “When you step outside your area of expertise, seek help from others. It takes time to start up a business, no matter how small and you need to be dedicated, passionate and willing to be educated and embrace change.”
Gail summarises below why one needs a mentor and gives her opinion as to which traits are required to become a successful entrepreneur.
You can learn from past successes and mistakes.
Experience is priceless and can save you time.
Mentors can provide emotional support.
Mentors may become a confidant.
Mentoring provides you with stability when things get rough.
A lifelong friendship can be built.
Mentors understand what is involved in running a business.
A mentor can help you develop skills you need.
Mentors share a great deal of business experience which is needed.
If you are unsure of which direction to take, a mentor navigates and assists with choosing a better road to take.
Mentors are guides.a guide for you.
Lots of energy and passion.
A persuasive personality.
Resourcefulness (thinking of novel ways to solve problems that others cannot see – ideas flow naturally to them).
A winning attitude and remaining calm throughout the storm.
A personality which thrives under uncertain circumstances.
Readiness to grasp opportunities.
Ability to learn from one’s mistakes.
A thinker who cannot turn off he ideas.
A strong communicator who is assertive, direct and to the point and
A fighter who doesn’t give up.
About the Acorn Group of Companies
Acorn is the owner of a number of South Africa’s leading Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) brands such as Tabard Insect Repellents, Carbro Specialised Cleaning and Home Care Products, Teepol Dishwashing Liquid, Teepol Industrial Detergents, Stingose Gel and Spray, Wallis & Sayers Camphor Cream and Vapona Insecticide.
The group of companies was born in 1996 and is independently owned by Gail and her husband, who is a strong and successful player in an arena dominated by large corporations. Acorn supplies to national retail, wholesale and pharmaceutical trade across Southern Africa and export globally. Acorn also offers contract manufacturing, as well as marketing and sales representation for profitable brand exposure and ongoing brand development.