Delivering Fulfilling Business Mentorship throughout South Africa- Renay  van der Berg

Renay is an eminent and distinguished strategist, entrepreneurial mentor and business advisor, facilitator and assessor based in Welkom, South Africa. She has 34 years of experience in her own business – PRoComm, a firm that specializes in enterprise development and entrepreneurial coaching and mentorship. Her clear competitive edge has brought her professional respect in business, from both competitors and clients. The level of experience and proficiency that she brings to a client’s business growth path and strategic needs have been key factors for her success.  After more than 30 years in her own business, Renay made the conscious decision in 2013 to shift the focus more towards imparting business knowledge gained over the years, inspiring and empowering young, upcoming entrepreneurs through holistic business, personal development and mentorship.

“Let my hindsight become your foresight” – says Renay van der Berg.

Renay studied journalism and with her long-term vision in mind, she ventured into starting public relations consultancy and gradually moved into integrated consultancy business development services. There was a dire need to support entrepreneurs in South Africa. Though she was skeptical about her own mentoring skills, she realized that there was an immediate need for assistance if someone planned to start a business. Her passion for mentoring increased more from the business development skills acquired in her early ventures. 

Renay is passionate about sharing knowledge, skills and expertise gained over three decades in business.  She has been very goal oriented, and target driven all her life. One of her goals was at the age of 50, to become a mentor to assist other upcoming businesses, and to share her experience. But she lacked the confidence in her own qualifications. 

In 2014, the year she turned 50, she was selected by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as one of the 10 finalists of the Empretec Women in Business Awards (WBA), whose ceremony took place in Geneva, Switzerland. Before UNCTAD’s Empretec training, her business was known as an Integrated Marketing Communication Consultancy and later it turned into Business Development. Back from Geneva, Renay realized that her confidence had boosted being a finalist in the WBA. She thought that if she ranked amongst the top 10 in the world, then surely, she possessed enough experience to help others to take their business to the next level. 

Through mentorship she could brew all her passions in one pot: empowering others, traveling and landscape photography. 

Renay works across South Africa, unleashing potential, and opportunities for young people. More than 1000 business owners have benefitted from her interventions, since 2014. Through mentorship she has changed behaviors, perceptions, and habits to fast-track purposeful impact. This is done by empowering entrepreneurs to become more effective, efficient, productive, and eventually more profitable and sustainable. 

Most of them stay in contact, as they become part of the PRoComm family. Every now and then she receives an update from them, sharing their success stories. “To get a “thank you” call late at night because the founder delivered machinery, or a message with a success story, is the best reward ever “, says Renay. “Mentoring is truly fulfilling”, says Renay, as she too gets to learn from different perspectives, see wonderful places, experience diverse cultures, get to meet interesting people, and most importantly be able to combine her personal hobbies, traveling and photography, with business.

Her mentees all survived Covid, some of them used lockdown to develop new products, or identified new markets. Covid lockdown was a valuable time to get systems and action plans in place, to hit the ground running post-lockdown.

Many entrepreneurs only draw a salary for the first time after they went through a mentorship programme. One of her success stories reflecting impact, was the Woman Enterprise Coaching Programme – a 10-month coaching programme for 18 experienced businesswomen. Renay shares her own experience about this. As many start-up businesses operate without a budget, and as money comes in, they cover priority expenses. Some of them never take a formal salary, but rather use business money from the business account as needed to subsidize personal needs. That has a direct impact on not having a healthy cash flow. Once they discover the importance of budgeting during a mentorship intervention, they will draw a salary in line with their personal needs and re-invest profit to grow the business.

Challenges in Renay’s life:

Renay firmly believes that the only challenge is the individual or the woman herself. Nothing and nobody else.  She has always cultivated a positive mindset and attitude during her mentorship sessions. Challenges and obstacles are always treated as a weakness to address or an opportunity to explore and implement. Internally she had to work harder on herself than on her business, for gaining the necessary confidence, as she is actually an introvert. She counts her blessings every day, as she takes pride in having a wonderful husband who supports her all the way. Due to her positive mindset and approach to life, she never encountered any other external challenges. Today she is at a very fortunate stage in her life where her passion meets purpose.

Empowering and Uplifting Women:

Renay says that sometimes she plays the role of an older sister: guiding, directing or lending a shoulder when needed. Young women need a trusted, reliable confidante to bounce off their ideas as well. Women are particularly close to Renay’s heart, and she likes to see when they realize that with the right attitude and mind-set, they can make their dreams come true.  One thing she realized over the years is that young people in South Africa do not have role models to look up to, to guide them or to inspire them. Lack of inspiration leads to “aspirations”. They aspire to be who they are not, or to do something that is not realistic. If only she could play a role in assisting young women to realize that… “Knowledge is power”. 

Hailing from remote rural areas should never be a drawback; and that is why she is so passionate to work in areas where she knows they do not have access to information, opportunities and resources, like their counterparts in urban areas.

Renay shares how she mentors young women or leads a mentorship programme: across Africa she mostly works on projects related to mentoring different types of entrepreneurs, it is seldom that she works with an individual mentee. She customizes her approach as per the requirement, for instance: one mentee would need assistance in marketing whereas another one in operations. Renay’s approach towards them is very flexible and informal, allowing the mentee to steer the process. She helps the entrepreneur have the right mind-set and right energy to seize opportunities as they come.

PRoComm is an extension of Renay’s life. She says that she is surrounded by youth and she enjoys looking at things from the youth’s perspective.

Renay’s Vision for the coming years:

To hand over the torch to the next generation. To play an influential role in the development of young entrepreneurs, even on a voluntary basis, especially those in remote rural areas, a small contribution can make a lasting impact. Even in her personal time she chooses her voluntary work to benefit youth, such as serving on the Board of a College for Higher Education, or as a board member of an orphanage.

Golden advice to young women entrepreneurs:

“Start with what you have, where you are. If you need funding to start your new venture, you might not yet be ready to become an entrepreneur. Wait for nobody and nothing, as in entrepreneurship you have to make things happen for yourself. Groot is nog nie grootnie (Big, is still not big enough). Be humble, keep growing, as you are never on top. Check, check and check again. Do not do things haphazardly”, repeats Renay.  Never assume; a businessperson is not allowed to think, he/she needs to ask questions: “where is the evidence, proof or data to make an informed decision?”, asks Renay.

Resilience during this pandemic period:

In Renay’s books there are no challenges or threats. Everything is just a building block, helping one to prepare for better days to come. She is always on the lookout for the positives. Covid was extremely good to her, given that she had to assist other smaller businesses applying for funding and put measures in place to survive the pandemic. ” For many people Covid came as a nightmare, but honestly, one day we would either be thankful that we did put in efforts, or disappointed that we did not. Try to use lockdown to our benefit and seize the hidden opportunities like introspection, discovering a new skill, new product development, etc”.

Contribution towards economic development: 

Renay wishes to address unemployment and encourage skills development, because a person with an income has a purpose: he/she can take care of their family with dignity. “55% of youth in South Africa are unemployed or have never worked in their first 35 years of their life.  In South Africa, one income sustains an extended family of 11 people”, says Renay.

That is where small businesses come in: if each business can create 10 jobs, the assumption is that 110 people (extended family members benefitting from one income) will benefit from only one business. One salary becomes part of the economic chain. Currently Renay’s mandate is to ensure enterprises are sustainable and able to play an active role in stimulating the local economic chain, to the benefit of the broader community.  

Renay’s philosophy is that when we follow our passion, money will automatically follow. As someone who strongly believes in community participation and upliftment, she prefers to empower a woman, especially youth. There is an African philosophy of Ubuntu I am, because you are. “We depend on support, community, connections. There should be a synergy in picking each other up, building a stronger, healthier society”, says Renay. 

“Empower a woman, and you empower a nation”. 

“Investing in the betterment of others’ living conditions is actually enriching yourself (without any transfer of money). Giving HOPE and improving quality of life for others. Isn’t that the legacy we should leave behind?”, exclaims Renay.

She has become a truly inspiring, motivating and a perfect role model for all those young entrepreneurs looking forward to valuable lessons in their entrepreneurial journey.

This article was originally published by UNCTAD Empretec Social Media Team. SheSight acknowledges the contribution of Ms. Annie Jaison towards this article.

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