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By 26 March 2012 | Categories: news

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Since its launch back in January, the Woza Online initiative has apparently enabled 11 200 South African small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to set up websites easily and for free, it was announced at the Woza Online roadshow in Durban..
 
Additionally, thousands more are expected to sign up in the coming months.

The initiative is a joint venture involving Google, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Vodacom and the Human Resources Development Council to enable South African SMEs to create their own websites.

Growth spurt

Its purpose may be simple but its potential is far-reaching: boost SME turnovers, job creation and economic growth.

“With 11 200 websites already published since launch, there is clearly a strong appetite among SMEs to get online and take advantage of what the web has to offer,” commented Luke Mckend, Google SA country manager at the event.

“A wide variety of businesses from caterers and nursery schools, to plumbers and bakers, now have websites and are already seeing more customers requesting their services as a result - it goes to show any business can have a website,” he added.

Good to go

Businesses participating in the Woza Online initiative get a free easy-to-build professional website, a free sub-domain name and hosting, an automatic listing on Google Places, which reflects in Google Maps, access to training material and workshops, free online support available via Google Chat and email and one year free top-level .co.za domain name for the first 10 000 applicants.

Mckend announced at the roadshow that Durban will be the first city to help SMEs without their own computers by making computers available at SmartXchange in Durban Central. The computers were donated by the eThekwini council and the SmartXchange centre will offer this free service, allowing SMEs who don’t have access to the internet to be able to create their own websites.

“Empowering entrepreneurs to increase their turnovers, raise their business profiles and ultimately create jobs for more citizens is vital to economic change in South Africa,” commented KwaZulu-Natal First Lady, Dr May Mashego-Mkhize.

“The Woza initiative also helps us to achieve provincial goals such as boosting the tourism industry, creating and supporting sustainable enterprises and strengthening the culture of entrepreneurship,” she added.

Encouraging feedback

Already the feedback from business owners has been encouraging. Lizelle Comfort, owner of Durban based Zephyr Hair Design has seen a dramatic change since creating a Woza Online site for her business.

“We tried to use social media to promote our business, but the next step was definitely to create our own website,” she explained. “With Woza Online it was so quick and easy that we now have customers phoning us saying, ‘We got your number off the internet.’ This is great to experience and of course business is booming,” she continued.
 
Google has launched similar initiatives in 23 other countries around the world from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia to Brazil, Indonesia, France, and Poland; bringing 400 000 businesses online over two years.
 
In Africa, the programme was launched in Kenya and Nigeria last year, with both countries experiencing more than 20 000 businesses going online within the first two months.

To the point

Given the current economic climate globally, and South Africa’s pressing need to create employment opportunities, any progress that answers both concerns is good news.

That is exactly what the Woza Online initiative appears to be delivering, and with it, potentially some hope for the country’s jobless. 

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