Staff Reporter - December 13, 2022

A R220 million development fund to empower small business in the Astron Energy value chain has been announced by the fuel giant situated in Milnerton near Dunoon.

Astron Energy Chief Executive Officer Thabiet Booley said the Astron Energy Development Fund (AEDF) was a “milestone in our transformation journey as an organisation”.

Astron Energy operates the second largest petroleum retail network in South Africa, with over 800 Caltex retail service stations which are in the process of being rebranded to Astron Energy. The company recently completed the rebranding of its 24th site as it continues with the mammoth project.

“This has been an incredibly exciting year for Astron Energy as we launched the roll-out of our new brand across the country, while our refinery in Milnerton is in the process of being restarted,” Booley said at the launch of the Fund in Cape Town on Wednesday evening (7 December).

“The launch of the AEDF is the next major step for us as a company which is committed to making a meaningful difference in the communities in which we operate.”

Booley says the AEDF was established in line with commitments made to the Department of Trade Industry and Competition.

He said Astron Energy recently achieved Level 1 BBBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) for the fourth straight year, but the company’s aims extend far beyond transformation scorecards.

“For us, this is about seeking to create sustainable and meaningful change and prosperity for small businesses in the Astron Energy value chain and in under-resourced communities around our facilities. 

“We understand that the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (SMME) sector is crucial to economic growth, job creation and shared prosperity in South Africa and we are committed to playing our role in this regard,” he added.

Head of the AEDF, Debbie Parker, said the aim of the fund is to support the establishment and/or growth of existing or potential local SMMEs that will create employment as they grow.

Parker says the AEDF also supports inclusive economic growth and employment through the development of digital and business skills for unemployed youth and by developing high school students to become ethical and economically independent leaders of tomorrow.

Astron Energy Development Fund Head Debbie Parker said the aim of the Fund is to support local SMMEs as well as community development initiatives. Photo: Paul Reichle

The AEDF’s three flagship programmes

Growing Emerging Businesses

Astron Energy will support new or existing small businesses in the fuel and lubricants value chain through the provision of preferential rate development loans and/or business development support*.

Priority is given to beneficiaries from disadvantaged groups, e.g., as a result of race, gender, disability, youth and rural location, but no race group will be excluded. Black owned businesses in the refinery by-products (LPG & bitumen) and retail sectors of the liquid fuel value chain are a focus area.
Small Business Support

Distress or bridging finance together with business development support for key small business suppliers and retailers from disadvantaged groups.

Business development support extends to training and mentoring in the areas of leadership, strategy, marketing, safety standards, as well as the provision of finance, tax, legal and other services to help establish a firm foundation for each business.
Growing our communities

This programme is focused on the communities in and around Astron Energy facilities and those of key customers. The AEDF has partnered with NGO organisations ORT SA and gold Youth Development Agency to develop life, digital and entrepreneurial skills among targeted high school students and unemployed youth, to empower them towards a sustainable future through greater employability and business ownership skills. A further aspect of the programme is supporting micro business incubation through grants, the development of business skills for micro and small business owners, and the formalisation of micro and small businesses so they can compete for funding or investment.

Booley said the AEDF is over and above the R100 million in interest-free loans granted to small black-owned enterprises through the company’s Enterprise & Supplier Development Fund which was established in 2015 and remains a priority programme for the company. 

Earlier in 2022, Astron Energy launched its innovative SMME Portal to assist small businesses to access procurement and funding opportunities at Astron Energy.

“The Astron Energy Development Fund is a key part of our efforts to help create a better, more prosperous and inclusive future for all our people and the communities in which we are invested,” said Booley.

The ORT SA Programme

ORT SA runs digital skills programmes for unemployed youth to equip them with critical skills needed in the workplace today and enables them to obtain the certifications required to prove their competencies. The second level of the programme identifies potential entrepreneurs and equips them with training and mentoring to formalise their ideas into CIPC registered businesses with formal business plans. Level three of the programme assists small and micro businesses to formalise and prepare to be “funding ready”. This includes specialised boot camps and online individual mentorship focusing on various aspects of business: financial planning and management, growth strategy, business modelling and sales. The outcome is that these micro/small enterprises are compliant, equipped and can qualify for credit, loans, grants and other financing opportunities.

The gold Youth Programme

This is a peer education solution which seeks to develop enterprise skills and improve STEM outcomes for the world of work, turning young people from passive recipients of negative norms to proactive social and economic change agents. gold Youth believes that disenfranchised youth are not the problem, but the solution to their own problems. The programme further assists participants to support themselves and foster greater economic activity within their communities via micro enterprise incubation initiatives.

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