Jambo Africa Online‘s newly appointed Associate Editor, Ofentse Nthite, profiles Nthabeleng Likotsi who has made history in the financial services sector as the first black woman to own a Mutual Bank.

The inception of the Youth Empowerment in Jambo Africa Online section kickstarts its journey with a remarkable woman by the name of Nthabeleng Likotsi who hails from the Free State, South Africa. An accountant by profession and equally an entrepreneur and a businesswoman. Her passion for saving and woman empowerment created a mind map to the historic milestone of being the first black woman to lead a Mutual Bank. Nthabeleng equally values education as she holds a Master’s in Entrepreneurship degree from the University of the Witwatersrand. In 2013/2014 she received a women leadership award at the third Africa India Partnership Summit. It is evident that hard work does pay and her inspirational story for Africa’s youth at large should serve as a reminder that we are powerful beyond measure.

Post founding the Young Women Business Network in 2009, along with other great minds, she registered a cooperative financial institution. This brought paradigm shift in how cooperatives are conceptualised in South Africa. Here at home, co-ops are seen as barely surviving vehicles for semi-literate women often in rural areas producing art and craft or subsistence farming. Nthabiseng adopted a model similar to Italy’s city of Reggio Emilia when cooperatives are established by professionals in all sectors such as construction; agriculture and agro-processing; and manufacturing. These co-ops are highly sustainable and profitable to an extent that in 2015 they collectively grossed over €5 billion. Although Reggio Emilia has signed twinning agreements with the City of Polokwane in Limpopo Province and Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in the Gauteng City Region, the progress is generally slow in the South African government embracing this approach to co-operative development.
Embracing this world class model of cooperative development meant the soil of economic emancipation became fertile for Nthabeleng and her team. 

They made history in 2018. After the South African Reserve Bank had received their application in 2018, it disrupted the status quo by granting Nthabeleng and her women team the platform to spearhead a mutual bank. For women, this is the kind of economic representation that gallant women such as Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke had fought for. They have been longing for such opportunities in a male dominated sector – this groundbreaking and unconventional.

The Mutual Bank will target the unbanked market (those who are not in possession of a bank account); underserved (individual customers who are unhappy with the services offered by their respective banks); and the previously disadvantaged and those without access to information regarding their financial future.

As stipulated in in their “Own the Bank” brochure, members of the YWBN voted on the name and adopted it. The NL Mutual Bank hopes to shed light on the plight of youth and women empowerment; equally put emphasis on the fact that young black women are well equipped to attain economic freedom and prosperity; and, generate and accumulate generational wealth. The NL MUTUAL Bank is set to embrace the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) by operating in the digital space instead of taking the traditional brick-and-mortar route. Secondly, to bring forth financial inclusion to the marginalised micro, small and medium sector (MSMS) in the rural areas. Lastly, to introduce a banking system that resonates with the country’s demographics and benefit the majority, which are primarily black consumers and the informal sectors. This will help to bring many disadvantaged sectors of our economy into the mainstream economy and thereby contribute to combating youth unemployment in South Africa – which is at an ultimate rise. 

June is dubbed the Youth Month in South Africa. Lest we forget the sacrifices made by the youth of 1976. The NL Mutual Bank’s opening of buying off shades on 1 June testified that the sacrifices by the youth in the midst of apartheid’s brutal tyranny aimed at containing the 16 June 1976 uprisings did not go in vain. The baton is in safe hands. As the first black woman to own a mutual bank in South Africa, Nthabeleng proves that economic transformation is possible and attainable, and her journey dismisses the culture of instant gratification. Indeed, goals are never too big, not too far. To be reached, all that is needed is hard work and dedication.