Blanketing Unemployment: Sam Manning and the SARCS

By Rachel Shaheen 

After a team of nine SEI field study stu­dents engaged in busi­ness con­sul­ta­tion with the South African Red Cross Soci­ety (SARCS) last sum­mer, one stu­dent returned this year to trans­form what was sim­ply a stu­dent pro­posal into a tan­gi­ble, full-functioning pro­gram. Sam Man­ning, a ris­ing junior and inter­na­tional affairs major, arrived in Cape Town to man­age a project that would secure sus­tain­able incomes for a group of women liv­ing with HIV/AIDS and being served by SARCS.

 With the goal of “blan­ket­ing” unem­ploy­ment, Man­ning imple­mented a sys­tem by which SARCS employed these women to sew blan­kets that were to be sold to the SARCS Dis­as­ter Relief Depart­ment. Pre­vi­ously, the blan­kets were pur­chased from a large national retailer, PEP, thus Man­ning and his team dis­cov­ered a cru­cial oppor­tu­nity for these women to earn a liv­ing wage to sup­port their fam­i­lies and their con­tin­ued treatment.

The pilot, financed in part by the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute (R20,000 or $2,240) and Fos­chini (R100,000 or $11,200) was launched in Feb­ru­ary and cur­rently employs nine women. Under the super­vi­sion of Sepati Nyelele-Rantai, who man­ages the SARCS Nyanga site, Man­ning began the imple­men­ta­tion process by set­ting up the sewing venue in the town of Wyn­berg — clean­ing and orga­niz­ing the space, order­ing tables and sewing mate­ri­als, and repair­ing the machines.

As the phys­i­cal aspects were being man­i­fested, Man­ning rec­og­nized a need to adjust the busi­ness model within the orig­i­nal pro­posal as well as deter­mine proper pric­ing, trans­port of goods, and method of pay­ment for the women. It was his respon­si­bil­ity to con­fig­ure the proper logis­tics in order to ensure suf­fi­cient prof­its for the women as well as a sus­tain­able and lucra­tive pro­gram over­all. Fur­ther, Man­ning con­ducted train­ings for the ladies that became employed by the sewing pro­gram on account­ing, pric­ing, orga­ni­za­tional and busi­ness prin­ci­pals, and the dif­fer­ence between rev­enue and profit since the women would need to know this essen­tial infor­ma­tion in order to run the busi­ness themselves.

Per­haps the great­est chal­lenge Man­ning endured was the lack of resources to coin­cide with his ded­i­cated efforts. He expressed, “I came with a really strong desire to get this pro­gram run­ning suc­cess­fully to empower the women, but I think my desire was unmatched even by some of the women who it was sup­posed to ben­e­fit. Some of the Red Cross staff were too busy with other projects that our needs often were sec­ondary. This caused major delays in the imple­men­ta­tion process.”

Some admin­is­tra­tive bar­ri­ers includ­ing a freeze in the SARCS accounts as well as dif­fi­culty in col­lab­o­rat­ing with the SARCS office proved to be most bur­den­some to his efforts. Although it took a sub­stan­tial amount of time to work out the defects, and the women that had been employed were not bring­ing in the rev­enue that had ini­tially been pro­jected, Man­ning was reas­sured that it was a start and that the pro­gram was cer­tainly underway.

 “I think the biggest suc­cess was get­ting the women to take own­er­ship of the pro­gram,” says Man­ning. “They under­stood that they were going to get out of the project what­ever they put into it. Pre­vi­ously many of them relied on hand-outs from the gov­ern­ment as their income, but this was an oppor­tu­nity for them to work for their own liveli­hood and that was a rare oppor­tu­nity for them.”           

While in Cape Town, Man­ning also assisted a cloth­ing pro­gram for Trash­Back — a social busi­ness that incen­tivizes recy­cling by reward­ing peo­ple for their rub­bish. Each of the projects Man­ning tack­led in South Africa speak to the incred­i­ble value of social enter­prise and that busi­ness is a truly effec­tive means for ensur­ing global prosperity.