Eskom Development Foundation sowing the seeds of hope

Eskom has always been committed to doing more than just keeping the lights on in South Africa. Since its establishment in 1998, the Eskom Development Foundation has been running various programmes and forming strategic partnerships with the sole purpose of helping to enhance the quality of life for as many South Africans as possible. 

The South African economy escaped from the clutches of a three-month technical recession when its gross domestic product rebounded with 2.5% growth in the second quarter of 2017. This improvement followed consecutive economic contractions in the previous two quarters. While this was news worth celebrating at the time, the economy is still not in the clear and there is continued concern about the GDP growth not being strong enough to sustain the momentum.

Small victories such as these are overshadowed by the stark realities of poverty and unemployment, which many citizens live with on a daily basis. In August 2017, Statistics SA revealed that more than 50% of South Africans live in poverty. Even more worrying is that poverty contributes to the heightening of other social ills, like drug abuse, crime and domestic violence.

For real improvement, the South African economy requires a collective approach in which individuals, government and business creatively contribute to boosting economic activity. The sum of many small actions from different sections of society will make a noticeable difference.

When Eskom started getting involved in community development back in 1989, it began with a project that provided talented black students who excelled in mathematics and science with bursaries to study engineering. This focus grew to include early childhood development and school food gardens, culminating in a competition called Eduplant, which was run in partnership with non-profit organisation, Food & Trees for Africa. The competition aimed to promote permaculture gardens and the role of food security in schools across the country.

Eskom continued its involvement in similar projects and got involved in new social developmental initiatives until 1998, when the organisation officially registered and established the Eskom Development Foundation. This non-profit, wholly Eskom-owned subsidiary was mandated with implementing the organisation’s corporate social investment (CSI) strategy in sectors including enterprise development, education, healthcare and social and community development.

Contractor Academy

Through the Contractor Academy, the Eskom Development Foundation aims to equip small business owners with the necessary skills required to build sustainable businesses. The academy combines both theoretical and practical work, and students attend a residential study school for a week every month. By using the eight-month course to empower small businesses, Eskom is contributing towards addressing the country’s socioeconomic challenges.

GUGULETHU MAKHANYA

One small business owner who has benefited from the academy is Gugulethu Makhanya, who graduated earlier this year and considers enrolling for the academy as one of her best decisions ever. Despite registering her company, Yeyeye Mnguni Trading & Projects, in 2012, it was not operational until Makhanya started attending classes at the academy. Due to the course’s study content and the skills she attained, she was inspired to start seeking opportunities for her company.

Three months after completing the course, Makhanya tendered for a supply chain management contract with the Department of Basic Education and was successful. The three-year contract, worth R1.8 million, is for her eThekwini- based company to run a feeding scheme for schools in and around the city.

“The academy gave me invaluable skills and was just the tonic my business needed. These include financial, people and project management skills, and perhaps most tellingly for me, how to put together a proper tender document. I will forever cherish the impact the Academy has had on me.”

Simama Ranta

Another flagship initiative by the Foundation is the Simama Ranta School Entrepreneurship Education competition, which is run in collaboration with Education with Enterprise Trust (EWET). The competition was established to stimulate entrepreneurship education in high schools across the country. It identifies and celebrates schools that are doing excellent work in teaching their learners how to become entrepreneurs using practical enterprise clubs within their schools.

The Foundation believes that one of the best ways to fight underdevelopment in our communities is to teach and encourage the youth, at school level, to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. To qualify for the competition, schools must run an enterprise club that teaches learners the basics of business through practical application, while responding to their respective communities’ socioeconomic needs.

The competition rewards the top school from each province with a R50 000 cash prize, runners-up receive R25 000, while second runners-up get R10 000. The 2017 overall winner of the competition, which took home a R100 000 prize, was Harrismith Senior Secondary School from the Free State.

The school’s learners started a plastic recycling initiative in March 2017, through which they transform plastic waste into decorative and other usable items.

The school’s Youth Enterprise Society (YES) club, which has 60 members, recycles plastic bottles (mostly two-litre soft drink bottles), and uses them to manufacture functional items such as bird houses, flower vases, cellphone charger holders, pencil cases and holders, as well as bracelets.

“When we had to come up with an idea for a business, it was easy to see how we could create a variety of goods from used plastic bottles as these are readily available at dumping sites near our school and we could also get them from ours and other homes in the community. Our club was started as a means to train ourselves to become entrepreneurs and gain first-hand experience in operating a business. We also chose to make the products we make because we wanted to contribute positively to our area by reducing littering and cleaning it up through the collection of the plastic bottle,” explains Katleho Dahile (16), club president and grade 10 learner.

Dahile says the club hopes to expand its project by creating a bottle renewal initiative that will further reduce littering and pollution. “We are following the triple bottom line principle that states ‘in the pursuit of profit, an entrepreneur must not harm the planet and the people’. Our project fully follows this principle.”

Over and above the plastic bottle recycling business, the club also hosts cinema days every week to give many of their economically disadvantaged learners an opportunity to enjoy movies at R5 per head. They have a tuck shop at the school premises, where they sell refreshments and their manufactured products. The ambitious youngsters, who are proving to be serial entrepreneurs already, also run a carwash at school, where they wash their teachers’ cars for a fee. They are looking at expanding the car wash business to serve the rest of their community. The club’s members remain optimistic despite facing many challenges, and they believe their projects will not only yield good profits for the club, but also great benefits for the community at large. They plan to reinvest their prize money and channel it towards growing their projects.

Business Investment Competition

The annual Eskom Business Investment Competition (BIC), which was launched in 2008 by the Foundation, is aimed at recognising, rewarding and inspiring small and medium enterprises (SME) that are significantly contributing to the fight against unemployment and poverty. These are businesses that are spearheading the country’s economic development, by creating job opportunities in their local economies.

The competition is open to South African, black-owned and registered enterprises that have been operating for more than 24 months in the manufacturing, engineering and construction, trade and services, as well as agriculture and agri-processing sectors. Over the years, the competition has helped small enterprises move to the next level with not only the financial rewards, but also the business skills, training and networking opportunities provided as part of their prizes. Each sector winner takes home a cash prize of R100 000, runners-up get R50 000, and second runners-up get R25 000. The overall winner of the competition walks away with R150 000, which they can reinvest into their business.

One of the star performers in the 2017 competition was Cape Town-based firm, Eden All Natural. The company was named as the winner in the agriculture and agri-processing category of the BIC. The black woman-owned and run company manufactures natural peanut butter with 100% peanuts, no additives, preservatives or sugar. The peanut butter is produced using grade-A peanuts, which are slowly roasted in a conventional oven to retain important nutrients. After failing to find a natural peanut butter on the market, managing director Debbie Matake and her husband Brighton Matake decided to create their own in 2013. Their tasty peanut butter is available in a number of flavours, including cinnamon and raisin, crunchy, smooth, choc chip and seeded/nutty and honey.

The couple started marketing and selling their product among friends and family. Following that, the demand for their delicious product instantly grew, which led them to look for more opportunities at trade fairs and malls. As fate would have it, one day while displaying the product at a mall in Cape Town, two gentlemen approached them and tasted the peanut butter. The men loved it and turned out to be regional buyers for Pick n Pay retailer.

“We experienced similar struggles that many small businesses do, including lack of resources. But as soon as we found a production plant, we approached the municipality for compliance and got a licence. We’ve never looked back and have been seeing great results. In April 2016, we started supplying our product to Pick n Pay here in Cape Town. We also supply to Spar and Wellness Warehouse and are looking at securing other big retailers,” says Matake.

Eden All Natural wants to expand beyond the Cape Town market and will be using the R100 000 prize money from the BIC to set up a manufacturing plant in Johannesburg as a start.

Small Business Expo

In 2002, the Eskom Development Foundation partnered with Reed Exhibitions to present the annual Small Business Expo (SBE). The SBE has grown to become one of the biggest events on the Foundation’s calendar.

SBE is considered a fitting conclusion to the Foundation’s enterprise development initiatives in a calendar year, where finalists from the BIC and Simama Ranta competition are given an opportunity to exhibit their enterprises and projects. The annual three-day expo is held at the TicketPro Dome in Johannesburg, and the 2017 expo was held from 31 August to 2 September.

The expo gives entrepreneurs a unique platform to showcase their small businesses and network with other like-minded people. It also aims to stimulate entrepreneurship and contribute to the development of small and medium enterprises with a view to enhancing the country’s future economic growth and employment opportunities.

The expo provides a versatile marketing platform which brings representatives from various markets under one roof and thus provides an ideal opportunity for exhibitors to launch new products, generate media coverage, build brand awareness, generate leads and interact with customers and potential investors.

One of the main objectives of the SBE was to provide an opportunity for SMEs from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to showcase their goods and services with a view to forming linkages with big business.

Continued commitment to lighting up South African lives

While Eskom is committed to keeping the lights on in homes and businesses to drive the country’s economy, it has dedicated some of its attention to lighting up the lives of people across South Africa and has been doing exactly that through the Eskom Development Foundation. Eskom’s key measure of its success lies in the value that it brings or adds to the lives of South Africans as it ensures that every rand spent on CSI is put to good use.

The Foundation is run and guided by sustainability as its core principle and all its programmes highlight its commitment to touching and brightening the lives of the people in the communities where it operates. 

Business in Society Handbook, 2017

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