Students explore social entrepreneurship in post-apartheid South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa— Tak­ing the class­room beyond Boston, forty stu­dents from North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity con­sulted with local entre­pre­neurs and busi­ness stu­dents in Cape Town, South Africa on a four week Field Study Pro­gram. Led by the Col­lege of Busi­ness Administration’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute (SEI), the trip pro­vided stu­dents the oppor­tu­nity to see first­hand the emerg­ing econ­omy of South Africa and effec­tive ways for busi­ness to end poverty.

The four week trip began with a glimpse into South Africa’s apartheid past through a tour of Robben Island with anti-apartheid activist and for­mer polit­i­cal pris­oner, Ahmed Kathrada. On the tiny island, the soft spo­ken for­mer pris­oner led stu­dents on a per­son­al­ized tour around Robben Island where Kathrada was jailed with for­mer South African Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela for almost three decades.

Kathrada was one of the youngest mem­bers of the Rivo­nia 8 who were tried dur­ing apartheid South Africa for the free­dom efforts on behalf of mil­lions of black and col­ored cit­i­zens. Kathrada began fight­ing for equal­ity at the age of 12 and spent more than 25 years in prison with Nel­son Man­dela. He is also cred­ited for writ­ing Mandela’s man­u­script “Long Walk to Free­dom” by hand while in prison. Kathrada also taught stu­dents about the apartheid era and called them to actively par­tic­i­pate in the devel­op­ment of post-apartheid South Africa. “Igno­rance was one of the biggest prob­lems my coun­try had to suf­fer from and it remains the most chal­leng­ing obsta­cles for South Africa,” said Kathrada as he implored stu­dents to edu­cate them­selves against injus­tice, inequal­ity and poverty.

This call to action was met by stu­dents who were inspired by Kathrada’s words. “Lis­ten­ing to Mr. Kathrada really gave me per­spec­tive on what South Africa has gone through. More impor­tantly, though, it encour­aged me to work in a place with so much poten­tial” said stu­dent Alyssa Arnold. In con­junc­tion with stu­dents from TSiBA, a pri­vate provider of busi­ness edu­ca­tion in Cape Town, North­east­ern stu­dents explored the grow­ing field of social entrepreneurship.

Social entre­pre­neur­ship is an emerg­ing, inno­v­a­tive way to alle­vi­ate poverty by apply­ing busi­ness prac­tices to solve social prob­lems around the world.  Stu­dents joined in lec­tures by Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaugh­nessy, who led the trip, which cov­ered such top­ics as social enter­prise devel­op­ment, micro-finance, and small busi­ness man­age­ment. Classes were sup­ple­mented with site vis­its to social businesses.

Lessons learned from these classes, aca­d­e­mic site vis­its to social busi­nesses and enter­prises around Cape Town, and classes at TSiBA cul­mi­nated into a final con­sul­ta­tion project work­ing with local, urban town­ship entre­pre­neurs. Act­ing as con­sul­tants, stu­dents gained field expe­ri­ence by devel­op­ing busi­ness plans and prepar­ing var­i­ous other deliv­er­ables for their entre­pre­neur. Both TSiBA and North­east­ern stu­dents were able to crit­i­cally apply their knowl­edge and inno­v­a­tive­ness in a real world set­ting where they could make a dif­fer­ence in a person’s life. 

Our main goal was to meet with local entre­pre­neurs to offer assis­tance to help jump­start their busi­nesses. It’s amaz­ing to see how such sim­ple tasks such as mak­ing a proper busi­ness card or a cost­ing struc­ture can ensure that these busi­nesses will be suc­cess­ful ones”, recalled North­east­ern Entre­pre­neur­ship senior Michael Shearer.

These con­sul­ta­tion projects gave many of the entre­pre­neurs a start­ing point to expand their busi­ness. Beyond deliv­er­ables, though, stu­dents pre­sented their work to their peers and judges from the TSiBA Entre­pre­neur­ship Cen­tre, whom later deter­mined whether or not the busi­ness is eli­gi­ble for an equity invest­ment from the NU-TSiBA MicroVen­ture Fund. The Ven­ture Fund is a pri­vately funded micro-equity fund for small busi­ness own­ers or entre­pre­neurs from town­ship com­mu­ni­ties which is ever impor­tant in a devel­op­ing econ­omy like South Africa’s. To date, the Ven­ture Fund has R500,000 made pos­si­ble by the NU Social Enter­prise Fund and Deut­she Bank, and has made sev­eral invest­ments in South Africa includ­ing an inter­net café called Silulo Tech­nolo­gies in Khayelit­sha. The emerg­ing busi­ness started as a sin­gle café in Khayelit­sha with three employ­ees has now grown to eight loca­tions with 34 employ­ees and over R1,000,000 in revenue.

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