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MTO Forestry’s contractor incubation programme has started to deliver its first alums. Meet Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD, an entrepreneur who already employs 25 people.

They say teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. But teach a woman to run a business, and she will create a vast company that employs dozens of people. This is the story of Lilian Ndhlovu, who owns and operates a forestry contractor business in Mpumalanga’s White River/Nelspruit area.

Her journey started from humble beginnings, initially working alongside her husband as he offered silviculture, harvesting and transportation services to MTO Forestry in the region. This introduced her to the relevant skills and experience, not to mention a love for forestry. Soon, though, she spotted a larger opportunity:

“Looking at the lack of black women in the forestry industry, I then decided to register my own company and explore available opportunities. I approached MTO Forestry management and was awarded a short-term contract of six months on a trial basis. Based on excellent performance, relationships and my willingness to learn, the contract was then extended to a longer-term basis.”

But this was just the beginning. Her diligence and professionalism helped Ndhlovu qualify for MTO’s new incubation program to help develop its contractors. The program was created in 2016 after a leadership change in the previous year. MTO Group CEO Lawrence Polkinghorne saw room to help develop the large community of businesses that work with MTO Forestry and invited forestry development veteran Parmas Chetty to help establish the MTO Contractor Development Programme.

Many of the programme’s students hail as forestry workers who are active in the industry, sometimes as part of family businesses. The goal is to teach them the peripheral business skills that will help them expand and improve their companies. For Ndhlovu, this was a unique opportunity to enhance her business skills:

“I wanted to learn and get improvement from my weaknesses. I’ve learned about improved financial management, the importance of record keeping, statutory and legal compliance as well as the benefit of being actively involved in the daily running of the business. I am still learning more on business communication in terms of protocols, etiquettes and presentations, and also the importance of monitoring and measuring the performance of each employee.”

She added that the program gave her chance to interact with fellow contractors, helping her realise the importance of those relationships, learning from each other instead of just competing.

Today Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD employs 25 people and operates MTO contracts in the Bergvliet, White River, area for silviculture – forest growth and management – services. It’s a tremendous testament to the MTO Contractor Development Programme, which was established with the explicit goal of enriching and galvanising MTO’s supply chain. The program aims to develop 36 contractors at any given time and is currently home to 24 contractors who, over a three to five year period, will learn valuable business skills and relationships.

People like Lilian are the beneficiaries, but so is MTO. Instead of a development initiative made to bolster BBBEE and empowerment credentials, this programme was established with the explicit goal of improving MTO Forestry as an enterprise. By giving contractors, who serve vital roles across the forestry landscape for MTO and its peers, business-elevating skills, everyone wins. Employment is generated at a grassroots level and MTO gets to enhance its most important asset: its people.

“Our contractors have always been loyal to MTO, especially through some of our most testing times,” said Polkinghorne. “During the fires across our Cape region, all of the programme’s contractors put their teams and their own lives on the line to save the plantations that they build their livelihoods on. This programme is not for BBBEE purposes. It’s the right thing to do, for communities and for MTO’s business. Supporting our locally owned business and communities adds massive value to us, we are privileged to be able to empower and grow with our partners.”

Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD, is part of that community and proudly growing her own business every day with the support of MTO.

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