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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown, FNB, partnered with enterprise and supplier-development experts Fetola, in launching the Mentor Hotline, a free[1], rapid response platform that gives entrepreneurs easy access to a variety of industry experts.

The Mentor Hotline quickly pairs entrepreneurs with a network of volunteer specialists, based on the required skill set for the entrepreneur’s specific challenge. The Mentor Hotline aims to help entrepreneurs to stabilise, identify new growth opportunities and rebuild in the context of radical uncertainty and a challenging economy. With over 600 businesses onboarded onto the Mentor Hotline requesting business advice, it is clear the programme has gained the interest of businesses who need assistance during these uncertain times.

According to StatsSA[2], South Africa saw the number of employed persons decrease by 2.2 million in the second quarter. There is a desperate need in South Africa to encourage and support individuals in embarking on the entrepreneurial journey and become job creators. The Mentor Hotline allows young entrepreneurs to access technical or specialist advice, draw their attention to common mistakes or pitfalls, or simply act as a sounding board for new ideas.

Mentor Hotline is a simple-to-use online platform that provides support to all business types across South Africa, from small start-ups to established concerns. The Mentor Hotline is a complementary service to Fetola’s traditional mentorship service, which focuses on longer-term relationships between entrepreneur and mentor.

The Mentor Hotline is owned and fully administered by Fetola, who have also worked with FNB to roll out the FNB Social Entrepreneur Impact Lab (SEIL), which supports South African entrepreneurs tackling pressing social, environmental, and economic issues in South Africa.

Heather Lowe, SME Development Head for FNB Business, describes the pressing need that led to the creation of the Mentor Hotline: “During the initial COVID-19 lockdown we found that most entrepreneurs were simply overwhelmed by the circumstances they found themselves in.

We also found that many experienced entrepreneurs and mentors who were not able to work during the lockdown period were very willing to assist on a pro bono basis to help these other entrepreneurs navigate the direct impact the pandemic had on their businesses. Together with Fetola and other partners we found that we could work collectively to get a very relevant form of help to SMEs during a time when quick actions were of the essence.”

As the first wave of the pandemic in South Africa begins to recede, the future of the Mentor Hotline will evolve to play a lasting role, as Catherine Wijnberg, Fetola’s Founder and Director, explains: “The Mentor Hotline is currently in what we’re calling a ‘beta phase’. Its longevity will be dependent on crafting a model that doesn’t depend entirely on volunteers, and which addresses ongoing needs post-COVID-19. We have been blown away by the sense of wanting to contribute to help others succeed, especially in this time of crisis. Truly shows the incredibly heart-warming quality of our society.”

At present 185 mentors have been onboarded sourced from various avenues. One such example, is a campaign through which SAICA and ABASA have channelled their members to the platform to volunteer. Annie McWalter, CEO of SAICA Enterprise Development says ‘South Africa has had some of the strictest lock down measures in the world due to the COVID pandemic, which has not only severely impacted our broader economy but has had the greatest negative impact on our SMMEs. Accountants have been the lifeline for small businesses during this time all around the world. We are so proud that so many SAICA members here in SA and elsewhere have put their hands up and volunteered to give their time and expertise for free for such a needed and valuable intervention.’

The current phase of the Mentor Hotline will run until the end of December 2020. For more details, and to access the Mentor Hotline, visit the Fetola website and select “Mentor Hotline” from the top navigation bar.

[1] Fetola’s T&Cs apply

[2] www.statssa.gov.za/?p=13633

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