The Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries is engaging in the planning of two significant initiatives to support Italian small, medium-sized and microenterprises (SMMEs) to create jobs and make rehabilitated land previously used for mining available to establish commercial farming.
The first project involves the chamber’s being an implementation partner for the Small and Medium Italian League of Enterprises (Smile) initiative of the Committees of the Italians Living Abroad (Comites).
The purpose of the initiative, which is being proposed as a project to the South African government, is to encourage economic activities between SMMEs of the Italian community living in the country, explains Italian-South African Chamber of Trade and Industries secretary-general Pamina Bohrer.
“The idea is to create a directory, as there is no comprehensive record of all Italian business activities. We have a lot of professionals, self-employed individuals and small businesses among the SMMEs that would like to register their businesses.”
The initiative would be able to offer subsidised services to these companies, such as business mentorship, through creating a network of retired professionals who have a lot of working experience and would still like to contribute in a meaningful way, Bohrer explains.
The initiative would connect those professionals with younger professionals who would be looking for mentors.
“This would create more opportunities for Italian youths to gain work experience, possibly in exchange programmes where Italian-South Africans could work in Italy, and vice versa,” she points out.
The project is still in the proposal phase and would need to be approved by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, Italy.
“You can have the greatest message, but if you don’t really know where the people are that you want to engage and connect with, it won’t work. We first need to identify them and have a channel through which we can communicate with these important stakeholders. The implementation of this project, subject to its approval, will only begin in 2020, so it’s still early days.”
The second project involves cooperation between mining, agriculture and water purification businesses to make rehabilitated mining land available for the establishment of sustainable commercial farming.
Bohrer explains that the concept for the project was inspired by the Italian Chamber in Argentina, which engaged in a social enterprise development project after being allocated funds by the European Union (EU) for its social development goals.
With local partners, Italian technicians assisted in training women in rural areas on how to use Italian machinery to produce chocolates.
The initiative also offered assistance with branding and created a chocolate fair to allow for access to local and international markets.
“It’s an ideal link where you have Italian expertise and machinery, skills transfer and coordination and project management through a locally rooted nonprofit company, such as a chamber of commerce with its strong local and international network and support structures. It is our mandate to increase opportunities for bilateral trade, which should benefit gross domestic product in both countries in a sustainable way. Enterprise development provides a perfect opportunity to meet these objectives, and this is the kind of language that South Africa speaks,” Bohrer states.
However, she emphasises that the chamber did not require funding from the EU, owing to the availability of funds in South Africa for enterprise development, local economic development and within the social and labour plans of large mining companies.
“With many mines retrenching locally, it would make a lot of sense to reinvest some of these social and labour plan funds in agriculture projects. Mining companies also have access to land and water that can be cleaned and purified before being used for agriculture.”
As mines encounter significant problems with sustainability of the used mining land, and with no clear plan of action regarding land use once a mine has reached the end of its life, this presents an opportunity for collaboration to determine efficient use of this land, says Bohrer.
“The idea is that the Italian Chamber will have a coordinating and facilitating role in putting this project together. It’s a similar model to the one in Argentina, where we would bring in, where required, Italian machines and expertise.
“Where machines and expertise exist locally, preference should be given to locally manufactured machinery. However, where local machinery and skills are insufficient, we will leverage our network to ensure the project is successful, with a strong collaborative approach and a focus on skills transfer and sustainability.” Bohrer suggests.
She also points out that agriculture was chosen because Italy produces a lot of machinery used for agriculture, ranging from water purification and irrigation to agricultural equipment, packaging and transporting produce and processing of agri products.
Bohrer adds that the majority of the people who will be employed in these projects will be local. This will comprise positions that can be filled with low-skilled workers, with a requirement for upskilling that would allow for their using the technology provided.
“The possibilities with agriculture are endless. The response so far, and the interest and willingness to participate, have been amazing. The project is still in the stage where the Chamber is engaging with industry stakeholders, but anyone who is interested in finding out more should get hold of us, as we are looking for more engagement,” she concludes.