At the age of 33, Nthabeleng Likotsi is the executive chairperson of the Young Women in Business Network (YWBN), which she and nine other board members started in 2009. The company, managed by women from different professions and industries, is connected by one goal: to provide economic empowerment for all female professionals and entrepreneurs.

On the formation of YWBN, Likotsi said, “I asked myself what it meant to be a black young woman in South Africa. And the truth of the matter was that not much is happening for black women,” she said.

She did research and found that stokvels (community-based informal saving groups) contributed billions to the economy yet had no way of harnessing this financial power. Likotsi saw that these groups could be elevated into the investment space, if they were given the opportunity and support, and so could become a much-needed resource for many households across the country.

This gives an insight into Likotsi’s overarching goal: to create black wealth. She realised that this could only be achieved through a bank that understood and was dedicated to a black entrepreneurial clientele. This led to the formation of a YWBN cooperative financial institution, which currently has 420 shareholders from age 16 to 75 and has collectively generated R4,2 million in investment.

In the past year, and as the chairperson of the YWBN Co-operative Bank, Likotsi has furthered the cause by working to meet South African Reserve Bank requirements in order to propel YWBN from being a cooperative to a mutual bank. On Friday, 15 June 2018, she and veterans of the 1956 Women’s March trooped from the Union Buildings to the South African Reserve Bank to submit their application.

On the march, Likotsi told Huffington Post that they were taking a public stance against the lack of access for black women in the financial sector.

“There is a lot of preparation that goes into getting a licence to run a mutual bank. The requirement is that you should have between R10 million to R15 million, just for the application – excluding the capital expenditure and operational costs, among others,” she said.

“Our theme is built around the women of 1956, who fought for political freedom. We can’t expect them to still fight for us. They are handing over the baton to us, the younger generation.”

She also stated that she is confident that the YWBN Mutual Bank will be fully operational in 2019. “There is no space for negativity. We will not fail.”

The economic might of stokvel saving groups

To understand why Likotsi sees potential where many others have not, it is important to understand the market she seeks to tap into and represent.

Stokvels are about “the power of a collective”. This collective comes together to pool money for a common aim, thus mobilising like-minded individuals towards achieving financial and social goals. Historically these short-term to medium-term goals included debt repayment (43%), emergency savings (44%), education (25%), groceries (31%), clothing (18%) and other (16%), according to the 2017 Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor.

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However, stokvels have evolved: According to National Treasury Economist Olano Makhubela, 60% of stokvels are investment-driven, while 18% are investment clubs. Furthermore, stokvels are popular even with high income earners: 42% of households with incomes of R40 000 and above belong to one or more stokvels, according to the same Old Mutual survey.

With these investment groups going into areas such as property and equity, the financial sector cannot underestimate this growing informal sector but would have to find avenues to service it differently from traditional formal investments.

With these investment groups going into areas such as property and equity, the financial sector cannot underestimate this growing informal sector.

Who is Nthabeleng Likotsi?

Born in Botshabelo, Free State province into a family of businesspeople, Likotsi gained her leadership and community service capabilities from her parents and siblings. This spirit is what bolstered her as she shunned a career in accounting to venture into business and change the country’s economic outlook. She has a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship from Wits Business School, a post-graduate Certificate in Accounting from the University of Johannesburg, and a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from the Centre of Entrepreneurship at Wits Business School.

Likotsi is recognised in the international business community and she was awarded the 2013/2014 Women Leadership Award at the third Africa-India Partnership Summit in 2013. She is also an independent non-executive director of various companies, such as Apex Valves and Ubuntu Plastics, among others.