Making the world a better place through the business of social enterprise
By Chandrea Serebro
We love the idea of social enterprise, and the fact that businessmen and women are using their expertise for good. The Jewish social entrepreneurs out there are doing astounding things toward creating positive social change in all areas, and it was delightful to find an organisation dedicated not only to identifying businesses out there working in this space, but to growing them, developing them, and offering them support.
Mensch aims to mobilise positive social activism, based on Jewish values, by creating and supporting a community of change-makers in South Africa. It brings Jews of all ages together and does this by facilitating a vibrant network of Jewish social change-makers called the ‘Mensch Network’. “We offer our members capacity-building training, networking opportunities, and profiling within the local and international Jewish community and in the South African and global media,” explains Gina Flash, Executive Director of Mensch. Mensch creates opportunities for its members to engage the Jewish community in sustainable social change initiatives, which include opportunities for our schools, synagogues, and community organisations to learn from, connect, and volunteer.
It’s a dynamic space to move in – business working for social betterment, which means that you can still be ambitious and making money, as in any business, but you’re changing the world for the better at the same time. It’s business as a means to a social or environmental end, with the reinvestment of profits back into the social purpose. It shows the power of the marketplace to better lives, communities, and worlds like no other.
“The Mensch Network supports a community of capable, relevant, and effective Jewish social entrepreneurs and change-makers through capacity-building training, mentorship, and networking opportunities. We aim to give our members’ organisations increased impact and a community of best practice social change agents to interact with as well.” But apart from focusing purely on the growth of its own members, Mensch engages the Jewish community in social action and awareness through youth movements and school programmes, volunteering opportunities, raising awareness, and connecting with Mensch network members. This helps to increase the number of Jewish community members involved in transformation initiatives, and also serves to give a sense of pride of Jewish civic involvement in South Africa.
Mensch also runs a host of programmes tailor-made to suit the needs of both the budding and the more established entrepreneur – offering courses that will help you build a sustainable social enterprise, pitch your model to stakeholders, and acknowledge the social impact you’re looking to make; gain insight into best practice locally and abroad; and share experiences with others.
The Street Store
“We all live in and share the world with 7 billion others. People often think, ‘Someone else out there will make a difference’, or ‘I’m not in the right position to have an impact’, but it’s not true. We’re all responsible for making the world a better place,” says Kayli Vee Levitan, co-founder of The Street Store. Kayli works in advertising, as a Creative Group Head and Copywriter at M&C Saatchi Abel. “We’re problem-solvers. We come up with creative solutions to solve our client’s problems.” And so it was when she and her co-founder, Max Pazak, were standing on the office balcony in Green Point – a very hip and trendy area, but where you find a lot of homeless people – pondering a recent brief by a client, a homeless shelter to bring in donations.
“We saw how the haves and the have-nots cross one another’s paths on the streets, but never really meet. The haves fear the homeless, and get frustrated with their begging – so they begin to ignore them. This dehumanises the homeless, which makes them feel even more comfortable with begging, as they begin to see the haves as pockets, rather than people. This vicious cycle of dehumanisation separates these two worlds. We realised that to bring in donations now, and in the future, we needed to bring the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ together to learn from one another and break through deep-set social stereotypes, while making donating easy, and receiving dignified. And what better a place to do so than on the street that they share?”
So The Street Store was born. The world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free ‘pop-up clothing store’ for the homeless, found entirely on the street and stocked by donations. The Street Store is made up of a series of printed interactive, die-cut posters that get attached to fences in public areas – turning the sidewalk into a store. Donors hang up their donations, and the homeless experience a dignified shopping experience and choose clothing they actually like – many for the first time. Because homelessness is international, they went open-source. This means that anyone can download posters and a guidebook and host a Street Store in his community. It’s been translated into about 15 languages, with over 640 Street Stores popping up globally, clothing hundreds of thousands of people with over 3 million items of clothing.
But more than just the positive reaction from the homeless, says Kayli, is the change in the perspective of the hosts. “Hosting a Street Store changes you, changes the way you see the homeless and the world around you. This change is something we didn’t expect, and is very important to us.” Despite the good that this one, out-of-the-box idea has generated for Kayli, Max, and M&C Saatchi Abel, Kayli insists that she is “just one person”, but anyone, anywhere can make a difference, “you just have to want to, and hopefully we can inspire them to do so”. M&C Saatchi Abel feels the same way, which is why Kayli and her company constantly try to find effective long-term and transformational solutions to both client’s and NGO’s problems, and out of this, who knows what might pop up in the future?
For more information, visit: www.thestreetstore.org
With youth unemployment at 38% (according to recent statistics from Statistics SA), young people are having a harder time than ever finding jobs. “Aside from the mere fact that they don’t have work and money, the issue is compounded by the fact that they don’t know where to go or how to go about getting a job,” explains Jake Willis, Executive Director CEO and co-Founder of Lulaway. “The job-seeking process becomes an expensive, demeaning, and demoralising experience, sapping away all the energy and excitement that should accompany a young person starting his career.” And with the firm personal belief that “everyone has the responsibility to think about what they do in terms of long term impact on himself and the society around him”, and that this is what makes a business great, Lulaway is making good strides to helping this process for so many.
Lulaway has created a network of over 160 job centres countrywide, located at the heart of the communities where job-seekers can apply to available opportunities in a streamlined and easy way, giving them instant access to many opportunities. Lulaway also addresses the old chicken and egg dilemma – where you can’t find a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job – by collaborating with government in various funded projects.
“We structure employment opportunities in ways that will accommodate entry level non-experienced job-seekers by ensuring that there is a strong training and mentoring aspect to the jobs.” By working to address the youth unemployment challenge, Jake and Lulaway are applying business principles to address social ills. “Social entrepreneurship is really defined by daily choices,” says Jake. “Do you do a deal that is more lucrative, but less beneficial to your society, or the one that is less lucrative, but will have more of an impact?” A question not all Fortune 500 companies are asking, but one which could access a wealth of positive growth for the world if they were. “No one likes to work just for money. Everyone is looking for meaning in their lives and wants to do something that has an impact. At Lulaway, we’re blessed to be able to do something we love and know that we’re working to make a difference. I believe that, by definition, a great business grows by having real impact.” This means that ultimately you will make more money by doing the right thing.
For more information, visit: http://www.lulaway.co.za
With a primary focus on doing “something of value to people and the planet” and a love for all things green, Ben Getz is the founder of social enterprise Urban Harvest which designs, installs, and maintains organic food gardens at homes, hotels, restaurants, and community projects. With 326 gardens to date, built out of his “love” for “the soulful, aesthetic, and environmental benefits of food gardening” which he says “is equally important for everyone regardless of race, class, gender, or generation”, positive social impact with its eye on success on all levels is the name of the game here. “I didn’t want to do anything that would be harmful and I wasn’t primarily motivated by profit. However, I didn’t want Urban Harvest to be a non-for-profit organisation because I wanted it to be self-sustaining, and to build a business that could grow and make food gardening aspirational at the same time.”
And he “absolutely loves” what he does – “I have a sense of purpose in my life. I am grateful to know that what I do is of benefit to others and that knowledge is of great nourishment to me.” Watching a two-dimensional design become a three-dimensional reality is the realisation of all one’s hard work, and arguably not more so than in building and planting a beautiful mandala garden with kids from severely under-resourced communities. “Witnessing their delight at the first bumper harvest 10 weeks later is hugely rewarding. I believe that we are enhancing beauty and creating hope in spaces that sorely need these and I feel great doing this.”
This is his way of filling the task of all people – “doing what they can where they can” – which he says “is a hugely empowering experience”. “Many of our community projects donate their excess produce to nearby creches and other community projects”, thereby paying it forward. “Realising that you have something to give to others is a liberating experience.” But Urban Harvest is Ben’s business, and he’s out there growing it and the ideas behind it. “Our services make it easy for people from all walks of life to harvest delicious, fresh, and healthy food from their own beautiful gardens on a daily basis. Besides eating superior quality food, people are also given an opportunity to enjoy slow time in nature and to learn valuable life lessons like ‘you reap what you sow’.”
As part of its holistic approach and in response to a specific need for localised ecological waste and water management solutions, Urban Harvest also provides their clients with kitchen waste and composting systems which ultimately build the soil and feed the plants, and bio-filtered grey-water systems which purify and reuse ‘waste’ water on gardens. “It gives me a sense of meaning and a sense of responsibility in my life.