Almost 12 years ago, Sanna Sebone was a newly qualified quantity surveyor, managing contractual and financial matters in the male-dominated world of construction. Today, her 100% female-owned construction company, Sebongi Construction, is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Northern Cape of South Africa.
Sanna started the company in 2018 using her own funds, and the business has grown to the point where it provides jobs for 179 people. She aims to grow this business even further as she pursues her vision of becoming a leading general building and civic works resource in the province, winning what she calls high-value projects.
She won her first project in 2019, and has since successfully completed projects in the mining industry and working on roads and earthworks. The company is currently partnering on a solar tower project in the region.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Sanna initially struggled to attract new clients in a highly competitive industry, and while her technical knowledge is strong, she admits she needed help with her financial management skills. To achieve her business’s full potential, she had to first unlock her own potential.
How a Business Owner in South Africa Secured Her Dream
TechnoServe is collaborating with international mining company Anglo American to provide enterprise development training to members of the mining communities in response to South Africa’s national priority of reducing unemployment and poverty. Despite being one of the strongest economies on the continent, nearly one in three South Africans are formally unemployed, and the youth unemployment rate is far worse, hovering above 60%.
The mining sector is critical to the country’s GDP, and TechnoServe has been working with Anglo American to stimulate local economies and jobs in South African mining communities. Anglo American has been the leading supporter of small business in the country over the past 30 years, funding more than 2,300 small and medium enterprises and supporting more than 50,000 jobs over this period.
A new approach in 2020 enhanced mentorship of entrepreneurs (a key factor in small business success), while focusing on youth training and supplier and enterprise development, as well as broader partnerships.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anglo American and TechnoServe worked to develop a crisis toolkit to support enterprises through the economic hardship. Through this collaboration, called Zimele, participating businesses recorded a 97% survival rate. By the end of December 2022, the program had helped to strengthen 12,834 jobs.
How a Woman Created a Thriving Business
Sanna was one of the entrepreneurs eager to see her business survive and even thrive. “When we started, I was so energetic and active,” she says. “We had online classes. I was always the one giving answers and participating the most.”
The support from this collaboration has been a major factor in the development of Sanna’s business. “We received intensive training and support in financial management, marketing, and growth strategies,” says Sanna. “They have helped us improve our business management skills immeasurably, and set a blueprint for future growth.”
How a Business Owner Found Success While Balancing Work and an MBA
Sanna’s business experienced 187% growth in revenue during the nine-month training program at a time when she was also juggling an intensive graduate school program.
“I was a full-time MBA student also, so it became a challenge,” says Sanna. “Towards the end, I was the one behind in class. Our facilitator [from TechnoServe] had to come to my house to sit down and submit [the modules]. So that really shows you the kind of people who are running Zimele [and] how supportive they are.”
How the Zimele Team Helped a Determined Businesswoman
Zimele – which means ‘Stand on your own’ in the Nguni languages – was established in 1989 to develop emerging black-owned businesses, empower entrepreneurs, and support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with the right tools, skills and networks to grow their businesses. Its model is constantly developing and improving as the SME landscape in South Africa constantly evolves, says Anglo American’s Head of Zimele Larisha Naidoo.
“We’re fiercely committed to stepping up the pace of change in the SME sectors in which we operate,” says Naidoo. “Sebongi’s success is a great example of how entrepreneur development can drive sustainable local procurement activity – and more importantly, create a lasting impact through skills development, job creation, thriving businesses, and more prosperous communities.”
Sanna says that ultimately, Zimele’s intervention has opened her eyes to new opportunities she would never have thought possible. “It has been absolutely wonderful,” says Sanna. “Through the program, we experienced exponential growth. We attracted new clients for the first time. So I would really say it has been really beneficial to be on the program. With Zimele, I can grow the business into what I’ve always dreamed of.”
Sanna Sebone’s journey from a newly qualified quantity surveyor to the founder and owner of Sebongi Construction is truly inspiring. Her success story showcases the immense potential of women-led small businesses in South Africa and the vital role TechnoServe plays in supporting them. Through collaborations with industry leaders like Anglo American, TechnoServe provides enterprise development training, mentorship, and crisis support to entrepreneurs like Sanna, enabling them to unlock their full potential and contribute to their communities’ prosperity. You too can help women-led small businesses realize their full potential by donating to TechnoServe. Join us in empowering entrepreneurs like Sanna to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities.