Social enterprise in South Africa

Alice Chan Sau-yuk, Year 3 student, Department of Marketing

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This summer 18 of us from the College of Business attended classes on social entrepreneurship and took internships through the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
 
This unforgettable programme showed us how local social enterprises in South Africa are developing programmes that genuinely help the underprivileged.  
 
During the classes in UCT I learnt about South Africa’s political and historical background, especially the old system of apartheid which denied black people the social welfare, education opportunities and careers that white people enjoyed.
 
I was also able to visit the underdeveloped urban living areas called townships that were reserved for black people. I saw that years of discrimination had left some black people antagonistic towards government, resulting in numerous social problems and a high crime rate.
 
In response, social enterprises have been set up to help people on low incomes and in need of help. In order to help disadvantaged people become more self-sustainable, SHAWCO established the Rags to Riches charity shop in 2011. The shop runs on its own income rather than relying on donations. I was very fortunate to have interned there for six weeks, and consequently I acquired a better understanding of social enterprises. 
 
The shop collects clothes from UCT students and the public which are then sold on at an affordable price. What impressed me was that the delivery company DHL and Stormers, a local rugby team, supported Rags to Riches, encouraging their customers and fans respectively to donate clothes.
 
The Rags to Riches shop run by SHAWCO not only generates funds for itself, it also helps the township’s women build up their own businesses. This project is known as the Siyaya programme in which Rag to Riches sells clothes to women at a relatively low wholesale price and offers loans to help women start their own businesses.
 
Unfortunately, some of these projects do not work very well because there is a lack of education and knowledge about business among the participants. Nevertheless, SHAWCO’s attempts to train the women how to run businesses in the township are really impressive.
 
As a marketing student, I shared some of my business knowledge with the people working at Rags to Riches. In addition to designing promotional material, I was given valuable opportunities by the managers to translate my ideas into action. Since Rags to Riches collected clothing only from the public, I went to the local China Town to search for potential partnerships and successfully received donations of clothing and bags from the community. I also prepared a business report and partnership agreement for the shop.
 
This internship not only inspired me to become a social entrepreneur, it also provided me with numerous opportunities to implement my own ideas. I gained a deeper understanding of social enterprises in our fast changing world through the classes and internship, and I had the chance to travel and make friends with people in South Africa.
 
This beautiful country has left a deep impression on my mind. It was an amazing experience, one that has inspired me to engage in social entrepreneurship in the future in order to help people in need. I will continue to help generate positive social outcomes and support social development.

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