Old Mutual Insure backs unemployed youth

Thirty-two unemployed youth have been given a hand up to either start their own ventures or get a foot in the door to the world of work, through an initiative by Old Mutual Insure. Thanks to the company’s incubation and mentorship programme spanning a two-year period, 40% of these black entrepreneurs are now ready to take their business idea from the classroom to the boardroom in a bid to secure funding from investors and launch their businesses into the marketplace.

On the rationale for the initiative – dubbed the Greenhouse Project – Sungeetha Sewpersad, executive for human capital at Old Mutual Insure, says cultivating entrepreneurs will help stop the “ticking time bomb” that is the youth unemployment crisis in SA.

“Corporate jobs are becoming fewer given the impact of COVID-19, the new ways of work, and the vast amount of restructuring activities taking place,” she says. “The only avenue outside of the public sector we can explore in solving the youth unemployment crisis is making sure we grow and groom entrepreneurs, who are far more nimble and agile in thinking, and can pivot their businesses when necessary.”

The latest Statistics SA figures paint a grim picture of the significant increase in business insolvencies – showing a 129.7% increase in the three months ended July 2021 compared to June 2020. According other figures, nearly two-thirds (64.4%) of those aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, while 42.9% of those aged 25 to 34 are without jobs. It is clear from these stats that initiatives to increase entrepreneurship are sorely needed.

“We recognise the need to make a dent in the in dire youth unemployment rate, so that we have more people who can ultimately create employment and livelihoods for their communities,” says Sewpersad.

The Greenhouse Project – more than your average incubation programme

“Essentially the programme allows black unemployed youth to be mentored and incubated by Old Mutual Insure and other partners to become successful entrepreneurs,” explains Desiree Vilakazi, the project’s leader at Old Mutual Insure.

The Greenhouse Project was launched in 2019 by Old Mutual Insure as it recognised a gap in the market for unemployed TVET learners to get work exposure in broker firms.

“We also wanted to create a pipeline of talented black youth not only to help grow and transform our broker community, but also to get more youth to choose insurance as a way to make a living,” says Vilakazi.

During year 1, candidates completed learning-based activities in areas such as entrepreneurial skills for growth orientated businesses, insurance modules, financial numeracy, critical thinking, communicating for leadership success and how to make high quality decisions. 

“COVID-19 threatened the success of the programme, but we were determined not to let the candidates down, so we had to be innovative in how we kept it going. We asked partners to donate laptops to candidates who had limited resources at home, and we had to reinvent the programme quickly to ensure they still met their deliverables, but in a home-learning environment,” says Vilakazi.

Year two gave candidates more exposure to the short-term insurance industry through direct work placement with host employers as well as a learning-based curriculum. This culminated in 32 candidates graduating with a qualification in short-term insurance (Further Education and Training Certificate in Short Term Insurance NQF Level 4) as aligned to the INSETA requirements. Old Mutual Insure has helped 13 of these candidates secure employment contracts in the industry, while the remaining candidates have decided to start their own businesses.

How you can invest in these qualified, black entrepreneurs

These 19 candidates will now go on to pitch their business ideas – which range from insurance brokerages and broker administration to internet cafes, gaming stations and mobile kitchens – to the Old Mutual Insure Trust and other investors in the hope of securing funding to launch their businesses.

“Candidate entrepreneurs have been mentored and coached by qualified individuals and are now ready to ‘sell’ their service/product to potential investors in a lion’s den type of pitching process,” explains Vilakazi.

She says many of the entrepreneurs are not only looking for funding from investors, but also resources such as laptops, generators, kitchen appliances and other equipment.

All details of the pitching process – which will be conducted online – are currently being finalised, with the final pitching round to happen during October 2021.

If you are an investor with a keen interest to back one of these qualified youth, whether through once-off donations or through an investment – contact Desiree Vilakazi at Desiree.Vilakazi@ominsure.co.za.