Committed to Success

by Valdi Pereira


Following the fall of apartheid and encouraged by the Grameen Bank microcredit strategies, Zanele Mbeki started WDB in 1991 to alleviate poverty and empower the marginalised rural poor. Starting with R20,000, Zanele gathered together female colleagues with business, financial, and banking skills and set out to change the world little by little starting with a pilot program to meet the needs of 50 enterprising rural women in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. 


The first WDB clients received R300 for their initial loans – a huge sum for women who had rarely had access to more than R10. After three months, the women repaid 100% of their loans, launching WDB into its original operations with three divisions, WDB Microfinance, WDB Trust, and WDB Investment Holdings. Since its inception up to 2012 when the Micro Finance operation

closed, WDB Microfinance had disbursed R100 million to 76 000 women, meaning 380 000 benefitted – assuming an average five-member household.


Zanele points out that erroneous conflation of pay-day commercial lenders with pro-poor developmental micro finance institutions can endanger the work done by developmental microfinance institutions. 


“Our objective is to enable poor people to pull themselves out of poverty by their own actions. In this way under-resourced poor people are afforded financial inclusion for productive activities. Importantly, micro-solutions can never substitute macro interventions such as provided by the state – poverty eradication requires much more than simply access to credit.”

The initial 50 women formed lending groups that were accountable for the collective repayment of the loans. No additional loans would be disbursed until all the initial loans in the group had been repaid. The women worked together to reach success. WDB taught them basic literacy, book-keeping skills and computer training. The women improved their lives as a collective unit rather than as individuals. 

These women weren’t content with just one or two loans to get by, they took out larger loans, diversified, pooled their resources, and built business as families – recruiting their children, husbands, and relatives into the businesses. Neighbours were encouraged to do the same.

This growing loan base is one of the most gratifying aspects for Zanele: “It shows that our model to grow women’s enterprises, improve quality of life for families and build on women’s own managerial skills, works.”

While the WDB Trust has done impressive work, there is still a lot to be done in the future. “The challenges we face in meeting our own and the women’s objectives are both old and new,” Zanele reveals. “Critical among these is developing local expertise in rural micro finance management as well as innovating in and implementation of effective poverty eradication strategies.”

WDB Microfinance gave these women access to microcredit, training, and education, and improved their living conditions. Women who participated in their developmental microcredit progams gained self-esteem, respect and improved status in the family, better access to nutrition and education for their children, improved home life and lower morbidity rates.

Zanele observes that much more can be achieved in the future if we develop skills that recognise and utilise capacities that reside within communities and investigate models for genuine financial inclusion and linkage to development resources of marginalised rural communities.

Success Despite the Odds

by Valdi Pereira


Daphne Mashile-Nkosi may have many accolades to her name, including recognition as  ‘CEO of the Year’ at the Africa CEO Forum, held in Geneva, Switzerland in 2014, but one thing is certain, she remains deeply committed to the people of South Africa and using resources available to her to improve the lives of the average South Africans, in particular women.


She is the non-executive chairperson of WDB Investment Holdings and the Deputy Chair of WDB Trust. Her involvement with WDB stretches back over many years and reflects her desire to help those that have helped her.

“My lifelong interest has been in the empowerment of women and I thank the organisation for

helping me to recognise my own potential, for nurturing me, and enabling me to study development economics in japan and to eventually become one of the most powerful women in South Africa’s mining sector,” she shares.


The relationship she has with WDB over the past two decades is one that is reciprocal in nature and she notes that as much as she may have supported the WDB, the women and men of the organisation have supported her.

Daphne believes the organisation has taught her a lot about life and not in the least about matters such as profit and loss and the importance of paying back loans. The discipline WDB helped instil in her, eventually led to her borrowing R360mil to buy four collieries in Mpumalanga and start Eyesizwe Coal with her partners.

Exxaro as the company is now know listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2005, currently has a market capitalisation running in billions of Rands and employs many people.

“My story shows that where there is a will, there is a way,” says Daphne. “WDB is focused on transforming lives and giving people the opportunity to move forward. Therefore I believe that if we continue to work hard, support our children, stand on our own, and urge other successful women to lift up others, we will continue to go forward.”  


after almost two decades of investing in companies, the team has become adept at helping companies identify levers that can be used to build shareholder value.


“We don’t subscribe to the private equity approach, which sees investors in and out of companies in 5 to 7 years. We are committed to adding value and the investments we make in high growth businesses means there is often the need for investors to provide guidance as business opportunities unfold,” shares Faith.

WDBIH has proved itself adept at investing in areas and companies that have produced strong growth over the years. In the financial services sector their investments in the First Rand Group and Discovery, both companies known for their innovative approach to business, has proved to be very successful. Similarly its investment in unlisted Assupol, reflects the solid returns that the right business in the financial services sector can provide astute investors.

Its investments also extend to holdings in diversified industrial company Bidvest and more recently in the health and pharmaceutical sector through Ascendis Health.

WDBIH has set itself the objective of doubling the net value of its assets to R6bn and in order to achieve this Faith states that they will be looking at investments in consumer driven business sectors and property. In the future they will also be considering infrastructure investments with a particular focus on renewable energy and water solutions.

“An important consideration for us going forward will be to look at companies, which have a continental business focus. There is a growing middle class across the continent and they are powering strong growth in consumer businesses that we see as an opportunity.”

The holdings company has already signalled its intent to capitalise on rising consumer demand through its stake in Safari Investments, a listed property investment company, which amongst others focuses on building shopping malls in previously disadvantaged areas.

“While the investments we make are ultimately about generating profits and adding to the R175mil we have already repatriated to the WDB Trust. We are also conscious, when we invest, of the need to strike a balance between making a decent return and positively impacting communities.

“We started out with little more than a grand vision and a R20 000.00 personal loan in 1991. Eventually reaching the point where the microfinance loan book was R100mil at its peak, with over 70 000 rural women utilising loans to a start a journey that would free them from poverty. If nothing else, it bears testimony to the fact that entrepreneurship can play a powerful role in shaping the destiny of Africa’s women,” Faith concludes.

A Long-term Partner

by Valdi Pereira


As one of the founding members, non-executive director and Chief Executive Officer of WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH), Faith Khanyile has enjoyed a front row seat to many of the developments that have seen the investment company grow its net asset value to a shade under R3bn.


“While our ultimate goal is to ensure that the dividend flow to the WDB Trust is consistent and allows it to achieve its development goals,” reveals Faith. “We also view ourselves as long-term partners within the companies we choose to invest in.” 

She notes that adding value at a strategic level is very important to the WDBIH team and that

household as well to provide holistic support.  


The Trust’s two main programmes cater to the financial and non-financial needs of their clientele. The Siyakhula programme provides financial solutions, access to credit to support women owned micro-enterprises, and the Zenzele programme, the non-financial aspect, evaluates the dynamics of poverty and the specific needs of individual households and facilitates access to services ranging from healthcare to infrastructure. “The Zenzele programme is doing really well working with 2400 families right now recognising that poverty is a multi-dimensional challenge and so trying to come up with multidimensional solutions in collaboration with the communities and with the individual households,” she explains.


“There are thousands of women that have benefited from the Trust’s programmes since inception in the early 90s, but for us every day brings new successes and how we measure this is in terms of factors such as: when a child is able to go to school or is immunised, when a family has access to clean water, or can have at least one meal a day, where previously they may have gone without food for days . Those are the daily successes. And that is thanks to the hard work of the families themselves and our field staff who live and work out in those areas,” says Tania. Tania has every faith that in the next ten years the Trust will go from strength to strength and they intend to further their reach to provide stronger support for women’s micro-enterprises in rural areas.

 For Tania the reward is “Every time you see the power that rural women realise that they have through their ability to access information and the resources that have been mentioned, and then to see how concretely they are able to strengthen and improve their quality of life, and in many instances become role models in their communities.” 

One of WDB’s very first clients, was selling meat-off-cuts in her community and with her first loan she purchased a freezer to store her stock. After five or so years she had a few thriving businesses in her community and has exponentially improved her quality of life. This is just one of many success stories experienced by the Trust.

An Investment in Africa's Future

by Lydia Bundred


As the CEO of WDB Trust, Tania Slabbert and her team have been instrumental in empowering poor rural women in South Africa. “The Trust believes that poverty can be beaten when people are provided with the right financial and non-financial resources to lift themselves out of poverty,” she expresses.


“In the Trust’s case the focus has always been on the most marginalised people in our society, being poor rural women, and that has been the targeted constituency. The Trust sees itself as a change agent and a facilitator, in a sense a catalyst that provides rural women with access to resources. And as a result they are able to empower themselves both socially and economically.” As the Trust has grown, its focus has expanded to include the dependents of the head of the 



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