WATCH: How Barloworld is planting the seed of rural socio-economic growth

Published Aug 19, 2022


South Africa is confronted with extremely high unemployment rates, and people who live in rural areas are increasingly marginalised and underserved. Social enterprises that can create jobs where few prospects exist, provide a unique opportunity to shift the socio-economic outlook of rural environments.

Unlocking rural economies

Developing local skills and creating the value chain that supports more resilient and self-sufficient rural communities is imperative in South Africa today. Barloworld’s Mbewu programme is designed to do just that.

With an emphasis on incubating social entrepreneurs operating in rural landscapes, the programme places a significant emphasis on both environmental stewardship and social impact, while at the same time driving growth, scalability and sustainable revenue models of predominantly women-owned enterprises.

SAINC got to meet some of these remarkable women and see how their businesses operate on the ground.

Lerato Motale started Zekhala Charcoal to create a business that would not only serve her needs, but also create opportunities where there previously were none. Black Wattle is a water thirsty invasive alien that causes significant issues for the ecosystems in which it is found. Clearing it provides the perfect resources for the high-grade charcoal Motale produces; the quality of which speaks for itself as her business continues to expand and create jobs, and as she works to keep up with the ever-growing demand.

From trees to bees, enterprises that make a positive impact on people and the planet are making their mark - and Lesego Holzapfel’s Bokomoso Impact Investment is no exception. With more than 600 beehives manufactured and distributed, young community members are reaping the dividends of bringing the honey from their hives to the rural facility, where it is processed into its beautiful craft packaging for sale across the country and further afield.

Mbewu means seed, and the programme focuses on holistically nurturing these seeds to grow and flourish through incubation, mentoring and coaching, grants and loans as well as emotional capacity building and the support needed to create the optimal ground for long-term impact and success.


Having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, Lerato Motale is passionate about creating businesses that solve social issues, nurture people and develop talent along the way.

In Hogsback Eastern Cape, over a thousand hectares of farmland have been taken over by Black Wattle - a water thirsty invasive alien that causes significant issues for the ecosystems in which it is found. It was there that Motale saw an opportunity to create a business that would both contribute to conservation and create opportunities where there previously were none. And so, Zekhala Charcoal was born, with a simple plan of clearing the trees and turning them into high-grade charcoal.

By participating in the Barloworld Mbewu Fund, Motale found the financial and emotional capacity to take the next step in her business. And with her growing team she is creating more jobs, developing more skills and clearing the environment of harmful aliens to gather the perfect resource for her much sought-after charcoal. It also significantly improves water supply in the area, providing a virtuous circle of progress for this once-isolated community.

Lesego Holzapfel is acutely aware of how many young people in rural communities rely on social welfare to survive. There aren’t any significant companies operating in these communities - and therefore very few employment opportunities exist.

Determined to create change, she started Bokomoso Impact Investment. Encompassing an agricultural incubation hub, scaled support for enterprise development and market access facilitation, the objective is to integrate farmers into agricultural value chains and agro-food markets with a direct off-take and profit-sharing agreement.

Manufacturing more than 600 beehives and distributing them to young rural South Africans was one such initiative, where farmers have been paid significant dividends for the honey procured with the promise of annuity income over the life of the hive. Holzapfel’s participation in the Mbewu fund secured the construction of a rural honey processing facility - enabling her to expand this incredible impact, to reach and train more bee farmers, and to improve the socio-economic outlook of rural communities at scale.

Noluvo Ngcwabe is passionate about her job - and feels excited and privileged to empower, enable and work with the social entrepreneurs who are changing the landscape of rural economies across the country.

As Barloworld’s Head of Corporate Citizenship and Stakeholder Engagement, the Mbewu programme is Ngcwabe’s “baby”. Targeting social entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses operating in rural communities, the programme is designed to support those businesses that solve for environmental stewardship, conversation, women empowerment and social impact.

Incubating them into a business leadership course, these entities are offered financial support through grant funding and soft loans, mentoring and capacity building, as well emotional support and coaching in order to optimise their success of growth, scale and rural job creation.

Ngcwabe relays with pride that, to date, Barloworld Mbewu has incubated 29 businesses, and that they in turn have created job opportunities for more than 250 people - changing lives, creating impact and ensuring that rural communities begin to thrive.