Meet Slindile Mthembu
Shining the light of the Hustle Economy
In Africa’s rural communities, formal sector work opportunities are limited; the informal business sector, otherwise known as the “hustle” economy, holds the key to building the community from within.
Africa Foundation’s Hustle Economy programme taps into the inherent potential of the existing hustle economy happening in every rural community, and develops it through focused training and support into a viable income stream for all participating aspirant micro-entrepreneurs, irrespective of age or gender.
With women of all ages being one of the anchor points of this informal economy, the success of “hustle-preneurs” like Slindile Mthembu sends an inspirational message of promise.
The position of women in these rural communities is particularly disadvantaged. While Slindile’s story is universal to the many challenges rural women face, it is also a living testimony of hope.
- Rural women are constrained by socially imposed childcare and other family care obligations, and it is often not practical to suggest ‘going back to school’, or ‘get a degree’, to help them secure formal and permanent employment
- With many men leaving their small communities for job opportunities elsewhere, rural households are often headed solely by women, who in turn, support many dependents
When Slindile was still a young child, her mother abandoned the family. With high rates of unemployment within their community, her father worked away in another province, and her grandmother became the sole breadwinner for the family.
Slindile was not only caring for herself at the age of 10, but also for her two younger sisters, aged 6 and 8. In her role as a mother figure, Slindile was responsible for housekeeping tasks, helping her siblings with their homework, fetching water and cooking for the family, while still continuing her own schooling.
When her father moved the family to live with him and subsequently lost his job, she started a small side-hustle selling cosmetics to fund her school studies and provide for the family. This generated ZAR 350 (approximately USD 25) in commission per month – the family’s only income.
My childhood was not pleasant, but despite all the challenges I faced, I valued education highly.
3. Many rural women lack the confidence of their male counterparts and are less likely to complete school
The unrelenting pressure of being the sole breadwinner while still trying to complete her schooling resulted in Slindile having to abandon her studies and dream of becoming an agriculturalist.
I saw the dream of becoming an agriculturalist shatter, but I refused to give up hope for the sake of my siblings.
With this window of opportunity closed, Slindile enrolled in a sewing school instead, and now runs her fashion micro-enterprise from a rented space in her community. Her creations include self-designed wedding dresses and gowns, together with traditional attire, school uniforms and masks.
Skills and support
Like most of the hustle-preneurs that were selected for the pilot Hustle Economy training programme, Slindile didn’t view her enterprise as a source of income that was stable or profitable. All that was about to change.
I was in the midst of my hustling struggles when Africa Foundation’s programme came to my rescue.
Slindile was one of a core group of 30 hustle-preneurs that started and completed the intensive pilot programme that ran from April to June 2021.
Key training and support elements included:
● Sound understanding of key business skills
● Powerbase network of peer-to-peer support created by the pilot-programme participants
● User-friendly financial monitoring system
● Financial injection of capital grant funding based on each participant’s engagement
● Continued support by the programme facilitators
The programme facilitators are recruited from the local communities, and selected on the basis of their own successful hustle enterprises and mentorship abilities.
A perfect example of a facilitator with rich learnings to share, Khetiwe Mblazi has developed her bakery side-hustle, started in 2016, into Mduku Bakery, which is now servicing a growing number of clients in the region.
In addition to the moral and practical support of connecting with other hustle-preneurs who were experiencing similar business-building challenges, Slindile’s new-found expertise in marketing strategy, lead generation through community mapping, and financial management through the discipline of daily record keeping, have been instrumental to consolidating her micro-enterprise.
She is now safely banking 40% more profit than when she started the training course, which has enabled her to grow her enterprise, support her family and provide for her sisters’ schooling.
In looking to the future, Slindile is shining her light beyond her circle of care, as she makes it her mission to provide employment opportunities for other young people within the community.
This initiative is transforming a “by-the-way” sporadic income source into something reliable and life-changing, planting the seeds of growth and hope for future generations.
– Nonhlanhla Ambrose, Africa Foundation Programme Manager.