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Margaret Hirsch is passionate about helping to empower female entrepreneurs

Business woman puts the 'teach a man to fish' philosophy to work


For new startups looking to get their businesses off the ground, their first port of call is usually to look for external funding.

"Getting funded is probably the worst thing you can do because the more you borrow the more you have to pay back with interest," says Margaret Hirsch, CEO of Hirsch’s Homestore, an appliance retailer that she launched in 1979. Hirsch is a respected business person and was the 2011 winner of Most Influential Woman in 'Business and Government' in the retail category. 

Gaining access 

Instead, Hirsch believes entrepreneurs should be given access to markets.

Limited market access is one of the biggest barriers faced by South African SMEs with many entrepreneurs struggling to gain customers and suppliers, or to become part of major retailers' supply chains. 

"If you get access to markets, you have a way of accelerating your income which will accelerate your business and then you can keep all the money that you make instead of paying it to people that you would have borrowed it from," Hirsch says.

To this end, Hirsch made the decision to invest her extensive knowledge and network to launch a programme to help empower grassroots female entrepreneurs. 

"[It] started in 2012 after I won Business Woman South Africa. I decided that it was all very well to help businesses when they were doing well, but what about when people wanted to start businesses?" Hirsch says.

Working together with Anna Mahlanga, a former housewife and a talented baker, they set up Bonaria Baking School as a way of empowering women to start their own businesses.  

The training and skills the students learn during the six week course, enables them to generate an income through baking and cake decoration.

They are each taught to bake, and perhaps more importantly, how to market and sell their cakes and to keep the business going with the resulting profit. The graduates are encouraged to go into their communities and in turn teach what they have learnt to others.

From humble beginnings with just five ladies, the school now has recruits graduating every six weeks. 

"We have opened a second school which is in my Brakpan store, and on a normal day if everything goes according to plan you can go there and meet Anna and her little band of merry ladies who are now still learning to bake and go out to sell the cakes and generate themselves a lot of money," Hirsch says.

"We have huge successes and all of these successes have come about by word of mouth," Hirsch says.

Hirsch has also formed a partnership with Lizelle Coombs, project manager, facilitator, and entrepreneur who helps deal with some of the businesses' red tape. Coombs is the founder and chairperson of Angels Resource Centres NPO and a social anthropologist working with micro, survivalist and rural entrepreneurs around South Africa.

See also:  How big business partnerships can help your SME gain access to markets


"We get them registered. Get their bank accounts registered. Get the CC or PTY Ltd registered and then we help the businesses to grow."

They have also partnered with the Standard Bank Incubator programme to help accelerate the businesses. 

"As soon as the embryo is ready to be born, we take the business woman to the Standard Bank incubator with Jayshree Naidoo and Melanie Hawken from Lionesses of Africa and they incubate the business until it can stand on its own two feet,"  Hirsch said in an interview with News24

Access enables growth

For Hirsch the efforts to support entrepreneurs will be ongoing. 

"At Hirsch’s we are committed to starting young entrepreneurial businesses in this country because I believe that if we have enough good, strong entrepreneurs in this country we can take them and help them grow - from strength to strength.

As part of her efforts to empower female entrepreneurs Hirsch also launched Women In Business Networking events – and the Margaret Hirsch Woman In Business Achiever of the Year competition.

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