Despite what has been a year of unprecedented change and challenge, 2020 has also proven to be a year of opportunity. The Innovator Trust took full grasp of the chance to innovate, hosting a virtual experience like no other to celebrate the outstanding achievements of female entrepreneurs with businesses in the information and communications technology sector for the 2019/2020 period.
Instead of postponing what has become an annual celebration on the calendar, to recognise top achieving female beneficiaries on the Innovator Trust Enterprise Development Programme, the organisation closed off October hosting the 2020 edition of their Women In Tech event.
The #WIT2020 Virtual Appreciation Experience was streamed live to invited viewers across the country and featured the first of its kind, all-female esteemed speaker panel which included the likes of Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft South Africa, Lynda Marthinus, Executive Head of Vodacom’s BBBEE division, author, businesswoman and former Miss South Africa, Basetsana Kumalo, as well as the former Public Protector of South Africa, esteemed Professor Thuli Madonsela.
Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown restrictions on physical gatherings and events around the world, companies have had to adjust their methods of communication and engagement with customers, peers and industry stakeholders. The #WIT2020 virtual experience was a stellar example of the new offering and style of live events in the age of ‘lockdown’ and the new normal, utilising digital communication technologies to broadcast a livestream of the exclusive in-studio activity.
“The businesses that succeeded during lockdown were those that were digitally ready,” shared Lillian Barnard in her keynote address on the future of digital for SMME’s. For an entity like the Innovator Trust which is focussed on supporting South African SMME’s in the ICT sector, the team has witnessed first-hand this year what digital transformation and resilience looks like. A major shift was seen amongst the 2019/2020 cohort of SMME’s, from manual processes to a reliance on online based technologies within the Enterprise Development programme, causing these businesses to pivot in order to cope, innovate and continue business operations under the constraints that arose out of the global COVID-19 pandemic. “Resilience is underpinned by having a strong culture, one that allows business leaders to constantly learn and adapt,” echoed Barnard.
Another exciting segment of the #WIT2020 line-up was one that highlighted the topic of gender-based violence, a pressing issue in South Africa particularly during this year, evident in the alarming statistics on the reports of violence against women and children during the lockdown. Media mogul and iconic South African businesswoman, Basetsana Kumalo shared these sentiments on #GBV, “It starts with three simple words: I believe you.” In an exclusive sit-down Masterclass at the event, hosted by seasoned TV presenter Leigh-Anne Williams, Kumalo expressed that “South African women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The very fact that movements such as #aminext and #metoo have grown, just goes to show that the battle of inequality that women have been facing in our country and our world.”
The takeaway from the conversation was one of hope, that despite the hardships experienced during this time, women should be encouraged to band together and “surround yourself with other women who are positive and want you to win.”
Undoubtedly a highlight of the event was having the opportunity to host Professor Thuli Madonsela for a keynote address on A Reflective Look at 2020 Through the Eyes of Women.
“Congratulations to the Women In Tech we are celebrating today. Congratulations on not letting invisible gender, race and other ceilings, imprison you in your comfort zone.”
The former Public Protector described 2020 as “the great reset,” encouraging the virtual audience of women in business to stay true to themselves, to take up the responsibility to lead themselves and applauded them for their outstanding performance throughout this year, illustrating that “entrepreneurship thrives in chaos.” Sharing from her personal journey and moments throughout her career, Madonsela reminded viewers in a quote from Oprah Winfrey that, “the most effective antidote against criticism is excellence. You just have to keep striving to do better so that when unreasonable people start to criticise you, reasonable people don’t agree with them,” she said.
More elation could not be expressed than by the top achieving female entrepreneurs for whom the #WIT2020 event was in honour of, and who each walked away with an award and cash grant prize to be utilised for their businesses. Lufuno Ndou, owner of Elephante Trading based in Gauteng was awarded the 1st Prize Overall Top Achiever for 2019/2020 Winner. In sharing on her experience, she had this to say, “I’ve always had a dream of being an entrepreneur. From my first job at 14, I wanted to make my own money. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. It’s not easy as you grow. Being a small company comes with its own challenges, being a woman even more so because the world is not very accommodating, especially in business.”
Ndou has been a beneficiary of the Innovator Trust Enterprise Development Programme for the 2019/2020 period but has walked a journey with the team since the onset of her business. “The Innovator Trust has been like a big sister to me. They have always been there, whatever the issues I’ve experienced, and they are an entity that understands the realities of what small businesses go through and how to navigate your way through the ICT industry. There were many times where I wanted to quit the ED programme, where I felt things were just becoming a bit too much, but I persevered through and the experience with them has forced me to grow much quicker than I would have on my own.”
Glynn Mashonga, owner of Globescope Security, ICT and security installation service provider based in Stikland in the Western Cape, was overjoyed as she took first prize for the Top Achiever in the First Quarter of 2020 award category. “My journey has been tough. I started trading back in 2009 with one technician who left after the first job. After being disappointed, I vowed to upskill myself so I would be both administratively and technically qualified to deliver the service my business provides. In the beginning, I was the business. The Innovator Trust helped me realise that you can’t do it all by yourself; you have to build your business to be sustainable, to stand strong and operate without you. They’ve helped me formalise the structure and operations of Globescope. Being an entrepreneur and a female is a lonely road. The Innovator Trust team has been like a family to me in terms of support,” remarked Mashonga.
The Women In Tech event marked the end of the 2-year SMME Enterprise Development Programme and for many of the beneficiaries, the sentiment was a wish for the relationship to continue. “I felt like a celebrity. I was blown away by the panel of speakers and the amount of effort that was put in just for us. It was really a special experience,” said Mashonga. “The WIT event was beyond my expectations. I was shocked. They went all out for us. The event was well planned, well executed and soo enjoyable. I loved the networking. I was one of the last to leave,” added Ndou.
The importance of belonging to a network was a vital message expressed by the SMMEs and reiterated by Professor Thuli Madonsela in her keynote address, “It’s not enough to be taught – seeing people doing things helps. You bring what you know as a woman entrepreneur, but you become a part of a network that teaches you too,” shared Madonsela. “Once you speak to other women who are small business owners, you realise that we all face the same challenges. The Innovator Trust brought us together and made us see that. Thank you,” said Mashonga.