What is Shonaquip and the Uhambo Foundation?
Shonaquip is a level 1 BEE company that provides innovative and customised wheelchairs to people with disabilities, and support services and training for wheelchair users, therapists, caregivers, family members, healthcare workers and technicians.
Uhambo Foundation is the non-profit part of the organisation that runs sustainable service delivery to improve physical access and quality of life for disabled individuals in peri-urban and under-resourced rural regions in South Africa. Both have social impact.
What are the challenges associated with running a hybrid model?
Typically in a hybrid model, profit introduces risk to the purpose of the business. Investors want to see profit and wealth generation for shareholders as much as impact, and because you generate profit, there is risk that you’re not considered 100% charity.
What makes Shonaquip successful?
When my daughter was born 30 years ago with severe disability, the equipment provided was wholly inadequate for her needs. With an incorrect wheelchair, quality of life is affected, and more harm can be done.
At the time no customisable children’s wheelchairs were available in SA so I designed one in collaboration with a UCT biomedical engineer. Parents approached me to create custom wheelchairs, and a business was born. Because of the services Uhambo and Shonaquip provide to communities, we get continuous feedback to create better products and services.
Don’t customisable products limit output?
The trick is in the design which is adjustable and modular. The seating systems and base frames are determined by both clinical and environmental needs, and a variety of options can be created from standard parts that can be mass-produced and assembled remotely.
Describe how your business works
There are three major areas. One is with medical aid and people who can afford their own devices – although this is a very small part of the population, they receive personal support services.
The second is through government health budgets. But because the waiting list for government can be six weeks to four years, we raise funds through our Enterprise Development (ED) partnerships to meet some of the deficit.
Today, there’s greater demand from society for corporates to help with social problems, like assisting children with disabilities get to school, for example.
Is a hybrid model vulnerable in the way a non-profit is?
While the business is 100% self-sufficient, there are costs associated with supporting the foundation and that’s where all of our profit goes.
Since 2010, when the government diverted its budgets, it’s taken time to recover and we haven’t been profitable enough to expand our reach. For this to happen we need to raise grants and SED funding through our foundation’s Public Benefit Organisation and Section 21 status.
What are your growth plans?
We operate throughout SA, are planning to open a Gauteng assembly hub, and are looking for an ED partner for that. We are also in the process of replicating the South African hybrid model in Namibia, Botswana and Kenya.
What advice would you offer to social entrepreneurs?
The social enterprise space has grown and matured rapidly and we’re very excited about the future, but it’s not an easy road. You need to believe in what you’re doing and stay true to why you started.