Business Partners – which according to its website is a “specialist risk finance company that provides customised financial solutions, sectoral knowledge, mentorship, business premises and other value added services for formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa and selected African countries” – will be administering the Rupert family’s R1 billion donation in support of small businesses impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa.
The entity’s roots go back to 1979 when the late Dr Anton Rupert, encouraged by his son Johann (now chairman of Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont and SA-based Remgro), proposed the idea for a joint venture between the public and private sectors to finance and support SMEs.
The Small Business Development Corporation was established in 1981, and later renamed Business Partners.
Since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in SA early this month, the flow of goods and services has been interrupted as companies, shops and schools have closed. Small businesses have been the most hard-hit.
The Rupert family donation aims to mitigate the risk faced by these companies, and thus the economy as a whole. Business Partners announced on Sunday evening that it is the official administrator of the donation, and that it will be ready to take applications from small businesses by the end of the week.
This announcement follows President Cyril Ramaphoa’s acknowledgement during his 21-day lockdown speech that the Rupert and Oppenheimer family were donating R1 billion each to assist small businesses whose operations have been disrupted by the pandemic.
“We can confirm that Business Partners, one of Africa’s leading risk finance companies for SMEs, has been selected as the administrator of the R1 billion funding and are truly honoured to have been provided the opportunity to serve our country in this manner,” says Ben Bierman, managing director at Business Partners.
Business Partners has experience managing and disbursing funds on scale, having financed over 71 000 SME transactions over its 39 years in operation.
It has previously managed funds for the South African government as well as international development finance institutions such as the International Finance Corporation and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.
Aiming to reach those most in need
To ensure that SMEs’ financing needs are met during these unprecedented times, Bierman says the Business Partners team has been working around the clock to put guidelines and systems in place to ensure that the funding reaches businesses that need it most.
“We will have distinct and separate financing programmes available for both sole proprietors and formalised SMEs to ensure widespread support,” says Bierman.
“We expect to make an announcement regarding the criteria, repayment terms and how to apply for the finance this week.”
Bierman says the unfortunate reality is that Covid-19 will lead to the demise of many SMEs across the world.
“We believe that through the funding made possible by the Rupert family and Remgro Limited, together with other initiatives being implemented by both the public and private sector in South Africa, we can help sustain many of the affected businesses and protect jobs for years to come,” Bierman says.
It has not yet been confirmed who will administer the Oppenheimer family donation of R1 billion, while the Motsepe Foundation and partners – including Sanlam and African Rainbow Minerals – have now also collectively pledged R1 billion to support individuals, communities and small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Listen to Melitta Ngalonkulu’s interview with Kim Polley of Instinctif Partners Africa: