Ithala leads in women empowerment

Ithala Development Finance Corporation believes equal opportunities for women in the workplace will result in greater economic growth – and is leading by example. At least 53% of Ithala’s total staff complement is female – with 29% in executive management positions; 42% in top management and 35% in middle management.


The KwaZulu-Natal provincial development agency whose mandate is to promote development within the province, has six strategic business units that are headed by women – Group Chief Financial Officer; Group Finance; Group Communications and Marketing; Group Risk; Group Audit and Group Company Secretary.

The Corporation Board of Directors comprises 25% women while 61% of Ithala’s banking services branches are headed by women.  Of the R878,600,000 disbursed by Ithala to nearly 700 businesses over the past three years, 28% are women-owned businesses. That South African women still hold less than a quarter (23%) of senior management positions and 39% of local businesses do not have any women at all in leadership positions, according to a Grant Thornton 2016 Women in Business survey, remains a concern.


Despite gender diversity ranking high on government’s leadership agenda, the level of women in senior roles has risen just three percentage points in recent years, moving the goal post for the achievement of gender parity. This points to the critical role of public-private partnerships in removing the obstacles that preclude women from breaking the glass ceiling and the increasing importance of women empowerment initiatives that create an enabling environment for women to prosper.


“We are as serious about developing people in the outside world as we are internally within the organisation. Hence, approximately two thirds of our training spend is allocated to developing our women employees,” said Thuli Galelekile, acting Communications, Marketing and HR Executive at Ithala.


“In supporting government’s call for transformation, we believe women contribute significantly to the mainstream economy and must, therefore, be exposed to all the resources and opportunities required to advance in their respective careers.”


Funding for government’s Schools Nutrition Scheme contracts are aimed primarily, although not exclusively, at women-owned co-operatives.To date, Ithala is supporting 378 school feeding schemes within KZN; has approved over R105m and disbursed R59m in funding. Ithala also provides opportunities for female learners and graduates to progress through learning and skills development programmes.  Females comprise 27% of Ithala’s bursary recipients with one female candidate having just completed her BCom Accounting degree. The percentage of female interns with the agency is 67%.


Internships and in-service training are offered to students and provide them with a golden opportunity to experience the working world in their chosen field of study.


Ithala’s internship programmes include the National Certificate in Bank Credit Learnership – jointly funded by Bankseta whereby Ithala takes on graduates from Mangosuthu Univeristy of Technology (MUT) and Durban University of Technology (DUT); an 18-month Information Technology Internship programme for IT Graduates; and a Human Resources Internship Programme with interns from MUT who are placed for 12 months. Ithala’s bursary scheme assists previously disadvantaged learners in KZN to acquire tertiary qualifications in specified fields of study at certain recognised tertiary educational institutions in South Africa.


The scheme has grown since inception, starting with just one student, who has since graduated from the University of Cape Town and is now a Chartered Accountant, to 11 students from across the province currently studying under the bursary scheme.  In addition, 25 interns have been placed at Ithala Trade Centre on Durban’s Point Waterfront with the aim of developing their workplace experience and enhancing candidate employability. Imbokodo Iyazenzela is a flagship programme of Ithala to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurs who require access to finance and the resources to grow.


Since the programme was launched in 2015, over 3,000 women from mostly KZN rural communities have been reached. The top 20 finalists in the Imbokodo Women in Business Awards are currently receiving further support through a formal business mentorship programme. Endorsing Imbokodo Iyazenzela, which this year formed part of Ithala’s “My Business Indaba” roadshow, were Nongcebo Vukile McKenzie, renowned businesswoman and media personality, and Dr Gcina Mhlophe, actress, story-teller, freedom fighter, poet, playwright, author and motivational speaker.


McKenzie has a long and special association with Ithala. More recently she was involved as a programme director for Ithala’s “My Business Indaba” roadshows to develop township enterprises, co-operatives and SMMEs. “Ithala has a strong development ethos that resonates with me. The workshops have exposed me to various women entrepreneurs that I have been able to profile on either my social media platforms or on the show that I host on Ukhozi FM called Sithakela Isizwe.”

She commended Ithala for the opportunity to meet inspiring women from all walks of life and believes the good work that the agency is doing will go a long way towards uplifting ordinary South Africans.  Mhlophe said she was thrilled to be part of the “My Business Indaba” roadshow as a motivational guest speaker and inspire upcoming entrepreneurs through her success stories. “My persistence and inspiration talks straight from the heart and I am a tangible example of success which will hopefully inspire women to put their hearts into everything they do,” she said.


“Open your eyes, dream big and achieve big. Networking is imperative for growing a business as it provides a platform to promote your product, business or service to diverse audiences.

“The need for capital, a dedicated workforce and financial literacy cannot be emphasized to elevate women towards business success.”

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