A group of 18 local entrepreneurs were able to acquire vital digital skills recently thanks to a collaboration between Stellenbosch Municipality, Stellenbosch Network, and the MiDO Foundation.

Funding received from the Stellenbosch Municipality made it possible for the entrepreneurs, who run small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMME), to complete a free Google Workspace training course presented by the MiDO Foundation. The training consisted of five sessions focused on, amongst others, setting up an e-mail account, using the calendar app to better manage a diary, setting up task lists and reminders for projects, and client feedback surveys. It was presented over a five-week period at the CoCreate Hub in Stellenbosch.

One of the entrepreneurs who attended the training is Vlottenburg resident Sonia Bell, who co-owns a rabbitry.

“Before I only used Google for e-mails and for its calendar [function]. The training made me more proficient in other Google apps and will also increase efficiency in my business,” said Bell.

She also learnt how to collaborate with others on projects by using Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides.

“I no longer have to use PowerPoint if I want to create a presentation and collaborate with others. The mere fact that I now know how to share documents with others and collaborate with them, has made it so much easier for me to work with people across the world,” says Bell, who also works on a part-time basis as an assessor for the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, and as an administrator for the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations.

She has used the knowledge she gained to also experiment with Google Sheets and Google Forms, which will be useful to help her manage and keep track of financial information and stock, as well as create client enquiry forms and get feedback on the products she sells.

According to Nadine Farao, Stakeholder Relations Manager at the MiDO Foundation, the training provides entrepreneurs with a solid understanding of how to use technology effectively in their business in order to support business growth.

“In today’s digitally driven society it has become essential that we remain digitally engaged and connected, and more so for entrepreneurs. We see digital engagement and connection as burning needs for our clients and beneficiaries. This is why the foundation focuses on providing beneficiaries with the means to take the first steps towards digital literacy, which consists of mastering a few key skills,” explained Farao.

These skills include learning how to use an electronic device like a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet.

“Thereafter, we move on to the meat, if you will, of our programme which is how to use Google apps. The focus here is to familiarise participants with the platform and teach them core skills that include but are not limited to, Gmail, Forms, Slides, Docs and more. The training concludes with exercises that the participants must complete using the apps to reinforce what they have learnt.”

Reon King, who owns A1 Auto Body Repairs which is based in Cloetesville industrial area, said that when the training kicked off, he was convinced that he knew everything there was to know about Google Workspace.

“At the beginning I really thought I knew everything we were learning about, but as we went along, I realised that there was a lot that I did not know and could still learn about Google [Workspace],” he explained.

While King had been using Gmail before, he was not using other apps like the calendar function. This caused problems as he sometimes found himself rushing to an appointment he remembered at the last minute, not having enough time to prepare before seeing a client, or forgetting about admin work he needed to do, which impacted on how fast quotes were sent out.

“I didn’t really think about how the calendar could help me become better organised. I also did not use Google Forms, but now I know how useful it can be in my business. Going forward, I can do work on a client’s vehicle and set up a Google Form that I can automate to go out to that same client six months later to find out if they are still satisfied with the work I did.”

By engaging with his clients in this manner, King will also remain top of mind.

“I am really chuffed that I can use Google Forms to get more information from my clients so that I know what kinds of services they are interested in and ensure I market those services to them. I will also be able to streamline my operations. So, this training was definitely worth attending.”

Hanli Brink, Operations Director of Stellenbosch Network, said that the network decided to partner with the MiDO Foundation because of the incredible work they do to digitise businesses and learners in the greater Stellenbosch area.

“The MiDO Foundation is also a Stellenbosch Network member and we love to collaborate with our members. By doing this we can work together to grow stronger SMMEs and entrepreneurs,” added Brink.

According to Mayor Gesie van Deventer, Stellenbosch Municipality makes a point of investing in local entrepreneurs because of the contribution they make to the local economy.

“Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises are the heartbeat of our municipality’s local economy. These businesses, be they established companies, spaza shops or start-ups, employ thousands of residents and stimulate the local economy. As a responsible and caring local government, we continuously work to create a conducive environment that is safe, clean, and attractive to business and investment,” she said.

According to Crusade Malgas, Office Administrator at Bergzicht Training in Stellenbosch, she is grateful that the training she underwent has helped her to resolve the NGO’s challenge with collecting beneficiary data. Before Malgas became aware that Google Forms could be set up to collect beneficiary data, the organisation had to gather data by asking students to visit its office and complete forms in person. However, she can now create application forms online and distribute the links to students, making it more convenient for them and for her to collect information.

Now that the training has been completed, Farao is looking to local donors to help those entrepreneurs without electronic devices to acquire a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet so they can continue to apply and practice their digital skills.

“Now that the training is done, entrepreneurs will be able to test themselves and what they’ve learnt through a portfolio of evidence and follow-up examinations that they need to complete. This will ensure that the information they acquired remains top of mind and allow them to apply that information in real life after they’ve left the training environment.”

Any businesses or individuals who are able to contribute to the costs of an electronic device, donate one that is still in working order, or wish to donate a new one to help some of the entrepreneurs who do not own a device can contact Nadine Farao at 067 068 1977 or nadine@mido.org.za.