The List: Purpose-Driven And Proudly African

Published 7 days ago
By Forbes Africa | Chanel Retief, Nicole Pillay and Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
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From fintech to foodtech solutions; from beauty brands to biotech infusions, FORBES AFRICA’s inaugural list of Small Giants across Africa showcases the tenacity of homegrown businesses and their impact on the communities they serve. Their pan-African CEO-founders and leaders are making giant strides in progressing Africa’s growth narrative, prioritizing ideas and innovation.

By Chanel Retief, Nicole Pillay and Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
Art Direction: Manelisi Dabata
Photography: Katlego Mokubyane ; Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi | Studio: NewKatz Studio, Johannesburg Styling: Deneal Van Wyk
Hair & Makeup: SnehhOnline Beauty

The mark of a good business often relies on three Ps: profit, people and planet. It’s hard to say which ‘P’ should be prioritized but as the companies on our first cohort of impactful Small Giants will attest, people, be they employees, managers or customers, can make all the difference. Second to that is the ‘proudly African’ thread that has been woven through each of these businesses. The Small Giants are the businesses that believe small is better, and purpose as important as profit, and most times, even more. They are drawn from the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector in Africa that’s a sizeable mass, incorporated in the formal and informal economies.

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In the 2023 Mastercard SME Confidence Index, the World Bank notes that SMEs account for 60% of jobs in Africa. However, they operate in cash-based economies and face a $330 billion financing gap. A 2022 African Union Development Agency report supports this, indicating that SMEs account for closer to 80% of jobs in Africa. These statistics reinforce SMEs as a significant mechanism for socio-economic growth.

StatsSA reported that industries in South Africa’s formal business sector, in particular, generated ZAR10.5 trillion ($677.42 billion) in total turnover in the 2019 financial year. The report further stipulated that the breakdown of turnover by business size shows that small businesses were responsible for generating ZAR2.3 trillion ($148.39 billion) of the ZAR10.5 trillion.

To complement our research in compiling this list, we spoke to several of these small businesses, and a significant aspect of the discussion to determine scale revolved around financial revenues, but unsurprisingly, there was a common reluctance among the majority of the firms to share this data.

Carl Wazen, co-founder and Chief Business Officer at Yoco, a growing fintech company in South Africa, reasons that this could have to do with companies “keeping their heads down and focusing, and not having a lot of time to make a noise”, whilst the other aspect is cultural.

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“You have different cultural nuances [in Africa],” Wazen says, also alluding to the more mature markets such as the United States (U.S.) where this may not be so. “The U.S. is a lot more comfortable talking about money or talking about milestones, whereas, in Europe, money is maybe more taboo there than it is in the U.S.”

Andrew Amoils, Head of Research at New World Wealth, a South Africa-based global wealth intelligence firm, offers another view, indicating that most of the time, no matter where, people are not quite open about speaking about their billions or millions.

“It’s not unique to Africa,” Amoils says. “I guess some people feel like you’re kind of putting a target on [their] back and [that] can affect the way they [talk about money]… only a few countries (the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia) have pretty transparent information.”

For those looking, there are enough studies and reports indicating the actual picture of wealth on the African continent. The total investable wealth currently held in Africa amounts to $2.5 trillion and its millionaire population is set to rise by 65% over the next 10 years, ac-cording to the 2024 Africa Wealth Report, published by international wealth advisory firm, Henley & Partners.

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“Future growth should [be] fueled by strong growth in fast-growing sectors such as fintech, eco-tourism, business process outsourcing, software development, rare metals mining, green tech, media and entertainment, and wealth management,” Amoils adds.

There has been global advancement in fostering gender diversity within leadership roles. However, when determining and understanding the spaces taken up by the titans in small business, FORBES AFRICA’s research led to more male founders, leaders, and C-suite executives, hence the preponderance of one gender over the other in our list of Africa’s Small Giants. This shows that progress comes with caveats. LinkedIn’s 2024 data indicates that the representation of women drops to 25% in C-suite positions on average, compared to 46% in entry-level positions.

The World Economic Forum reported in 2023 that women constitute 58% of self-employment across Africa, and contribute approximately 13% of Africa’s total GDP. However, many women still find themselves working a lot harder to be heard or seen by potential investors as well as colleagues. The female powerhouses on our inaugural Small Giants list attest to this reality, hands down.

“Being a woman in business, in general, is quite difficult,” says Tasneem Karodia, the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Newform Foods. “I come from a career in corporate, and that has its own challenges. I started quite young working in consulting, and had to be faced with a lot of top executives from big companies.”

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“I’m an entrepreneur, and I don’t really take no for an answer,” offers Delia Stirling, founder of Grove and Meadow and Commercial Director at Brown’s Food Company. “I just wouldn’t tolerate somebody not working with me because I [am] a woman. I think it’s that perseverance that you have to have… When I work with anybody, they can feel the passion and understand where I’m coming from.”

“I was very used to being the only woman at the table,” Claire Blanckenberg, founder and CEO, Reel Gardening, tells FORBES AFRICA. “And I just kind of put my head down and claimed my seat at the table without asking for permission.” What remains steadfast as a theme on this list is the priority to showcase businesses that are African, with a proudly African mindset.

From a community-focused food-processing company or a sneaker brand that is uniquely recognizable for its mesh material to a female-led enterprise known globally as a pioneer in the tea industry, these businesses are small in scale but big on ideas and impact. For these businesses, it’s not about reaching three-comma numbers when it comes to revenues or fortunes, but rather, about honoring their unflinching belief that success can have a whole different definition in creating meaningful futures, for all.

METHODOLOGY

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Africa is rich with opportunities and possibilities, as evidenced by this list, which is but only a small representation or subset of the growing, thriving small business sector on the continent. From across Africa, the FORBES AFRICA editorial team looked at businesses that were at least five years old this year, were privately-held, had sound business models and were profitable. Our research led us to finding the local heroes in their communities. We called for nominations, which gave founders an opportunity to put forth the names of their enterprises. To gain deeper insight into their impact-driven models, we interviewed the founders/directors/CEOs with one key question: what makes your business homegrown and proudly African? To determine their scale of success, we looked at metrics such as self-preservation, sustainability, community engagement, innovation and value-creation. While this unranked list of 25 local businesses captures the versatility of industries on the continent, purpose remains a common priority for each of these Small Giants.

Editor’s Note: The list on these pages follows no particular order.

Download your copy now to find out who is on our #SmallGiants List by clicking here