Bridgit Evans, Executive Director at the SAB Foundation, is a leading figure in the efforts to promote business development and entrepreneurship in South Africa. As a former entrepreneur, she is a firm believer in a future, which incorporates women-owned and led businesses in South Africa.
“Women must take advantage of the opportunities available to them today. I always tell women I mentor that they are more powerful than they think,” asserts Evans. On the challenges facing women business owners, “there are instances where women are caregivers and play multiple roles beyond their business leadership role,” she explains. In her time at the SAB Foundation, she has seen many women find the right balance between the various roles they play to become successful entrepreneurs.
Evans recognised the day-to-day challenges of being an entrepreneur first-hand when she ran her own business over a four year period with 14 employees. “My journey of entrepreneurship provided me with invaluable real-life experiences. I fully understand the challenges entrepreneurs have, especially women; therefore; I am sensitive to the dynamics that must be navigated. This insight significantly contributed to the structure of SAB Foundation programmes that meaningfully support women-owned or led businesses,” she explains.
Reflecting on C4G’s contribution to the small business sector: “I have huge respect for the work that C4G is doing to support business development in the country.” Evans feels that the C4G programme supports sustainability in the small business sector, which directly feeds the South African economy. “C4G’s input provides a benchmark for monitoring remedial interventions then provide substance to determine which interventions work or do not work. Essentially, the trends identified by C4G provide the framework necessary to elevate the success of SMMEs and industry role players alike,” declares Evans.
The SAB Foundation was established in 2010, with an entrepreneurial focus, specifically on women, the youth and people in semi-urban and rural areas. Women run half the businesses under the SAB Foundation. “The Foundation has a number of key projects and initiatives, such as the Tholoana Enterprise Support Programme, which supports small businesses through seed funding and coaching. Another project is the Social Innovation Awards, which were introduced in 2011, with the objective of encouraging business solutions that address social challenges. There is an annual grand prize of R1.3 million for the winning entry. From these awards, over the years, we have undertaken outstanding innovative projects that have made a positive social impact,” elaborates Evans.
The Disability Empowerment Awards centres around empowering people with disabilities. Evans adds, “Over 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed. We hope that these awards will draw attention to this issue and make significant inroads to reducing the very high unemployment statistics of people living with disabilities.”
Taking a holistic look at our country’s policy framework entrepreneurship, Evans is positive about the outcome: “Pieces of legislation such as the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act play a pivotal role in redressing the imbalances of the past by encouraging greater participation by entrepreneurs, specifically that of women, in our economy. I believe that our government has created an enabling environment to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs that will support them to establish thriving and sustainable businesses.” While acknowledging the framework could improve through continuous engagement between government, business and civil society, Evans adds: “Ultimately it comes down to an entrepreneur taking action and doing their best to succeed in business.”
The SAB Foundation continuously strives towards having a broader representation of women-owned and led businesses active in the SAB supply chain. “This is one avenue we use to encourage the development of women entrepreneurs so they can enter industries which are traditionally male-dominated,” states Evans.
Confidence and self-belief are vital ingredients to business success; applies not only to women but all business owners. “For me, a key learning curve as a business owner is the power of women. Women should be careful not to undersell their businesses or their capabilities. I have seen brilliant business women with insecurities when they are, in fact, highly competent and running solid businesses,” concludes Evans.