I found entrepreneurship – especially social entrepreneurship – to be a very interesting and inspiring topic in South Africa.
Social entrepreneurship is driven by civil society and is very grassroots, because people can’t leave societal needs to the government or business sectors. Our Global Immersion Elective class talked with a lot of South Africans who see themselves as resources for their country and are in tune with the needs of their communities.
Leading with purpose
Our first day in Johannesburg was spent at the African Leadership Academy (ALA). The school has about 200 students – ranging from 16-19 years old – and is highly selective. The Huffington Post once described the ALA as the “Hogwarts for Entrepreneurs.” After spending the entire afternoon at the Academy, I would agree. Students from 44 countries across the continent come to ALA to study, and they are required to launch a business on campus or an innovative social venture in the community before they graduate.
I spoke with Thokozile (Thoko) Zimba from Zambia, who told me about the BUILD model – believe, understand, invest, listen, and deliver – which guides students as they create a meaningful project.
The ALA really blew me away – sometimes I forgot I was speaking with teenagers. The students are so motivated and passionate about meeting their goals. This group of young Africans is also extremely mature. Thoko was very open and honest about the problems facing Africa and her eagerness to play a role in the transformation of the continent. At the ALA, she manages the student-run radio station, Radio Skika. The mission of the project is to use radio to influence and shape the mindsets of students and faculty at the Academy through discussions about controversial African affairs.
Upon graduation, Thoko will be attending UNC as a Morehead-Cain scholar and then return home to Africa to work for at least 10 years. Her return aligns with the ALA’s mission to promote a peaceful and prosperous continent.
Spending time with these students forces you to ask yourself: Am I leading a purposeful life?
Making an impact
At the Clico House in Johannesburg, we hosted a small group of African social entrepreneurs. After introductions, we were able hear their full stories in small group discussions. I chose to meet with Khanyisile (Khanyi) Motsa first because I wanted to hear more about the 8,000 children she has helped.
The more Khanyi began to talk, the quieter I became – it was one of those conversations where you don’t really know what to say and just have to listen. She told us that the streets of the Hillbrow, Berea areas of Johannesburg are home to many sexually exploited, trafficked and vulnerable girls – most of them orphaned. Khanyi discovered these children weren’t from Johannesburg – they were from rural areas and were being brought in to the city.
In 2000, Khanyi rescued five girls from a brothel and took them into her home. As word got out, more girls began to escape into her care. Consequently, she started to receive death threats from the pimps and drug lords. Going to the police was not an option because a lot of officers were on their payroll. Her organization had to remain undercover, so to speak, and she always had to be skeptical about those who claimed they wanted to help her.
Fast-forward through the years, Khanyi is now the founder and coordinator of the Berea Hillbrow Home of Hope, where she provides interim housing for these girls and gives them the tools and guidance to not merely survive, but thrive. Khanyi told us that seeing how the children turn their life around is what keeps her going.
Creating innovative solutions
In Cape Town, we met up with Mark Gamble, director of Aspire Youth, and some of the program’s participants. Aspire Youth was founded in 2014 with the vision to create sustainable business opportunities for young South Africans from historically disadvantaged communities.
On our first day, we met at the Ubuntu Centre to learn about the program and to meet the students. Then on the second day, we went into the Mfuleni township to work on a solar project at the Mfuleni Afrika Tikkun Centre.
Aspire Youth has partnered with Sundance Solar – a U.S.-based company that provides alternative energy solutions – to launch a business selling solar peace lamps made from jars. Each lamp collects sunlight via a solar panel during the day, which in turn provides a light source at night. The business was still in the development phase when we visited, and Mark was eager to ask our group for opinions and feedback. Through this experience, we were able to see the challenges involved with launching a business in an emerging economy.
The program really wants to create successful business solutions, and we saw first-hand the impact that a product like the solar peace lamp can make in South African communities. Safety is a major concern in the townships, especially at night. The solar peace jars provide a light source for people living in rural communities – as well as those impacted by load shedding – who otherwise rely on candlelight after dark. The business will also help the local economy by creating jobs in assembly work for people living in the townships.
One of Mark’s comments stuck with me “At some point, our economy can’t keep being built on charitable acts.”
By Alexis Boyle (BSBA ’16)