- Player: Ezlyn Barends
- Company: The DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme
- EST: 2012
- Visit: dadfund.org
‘Lead from the back.’ That’s one of the leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela, and it’s an approach that has worked for Ezlyn Barends, a social entrepreneur and all-round high achiever who is passionate about empowerment.
Through The Dad Fund, launched by her father Lyndon Barends in honour of community leader Daniel Arthur Douman (DAD), she started the South African chapter of a US-based girl education and empowerment initiative, the DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme.
DreamGirls aims to increase the number of girls who complete high school and enter tertiary education. A total of 450 girls have participated so far, and all beneficiaries do community service, which extends the benefits of the programme even further.
Barends describes DreamGirls as a sisterhood of young female professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders who mentor and guide teen girls from poor communities to gain an education that will enable them to achieve success, so that in turn, they too can contribute positively and meaningfully to society.
What happens when you let go?
“One of most important things I have learnt is to let other people in your organisation take the lead,” says Barends. “That has been an important realisation for me as I am involved in many initiatives, which makes time a very precious resource.
“Teaming up with people who have the same values and vision as you do, letting go of the need to control — which is common among entrepreneurs — and empowering others in your organisation is key to success. That is how DreamGirls has grown and developed into a successful social business.”
It also means Barends isn’t alone in her passion to change lives, but has been instrumental in creating and fostering a group of individuals with the same goal.
Every entrepreneur has a finite number of hours in each day. Being able to spread the load amongst trusted individuals is key to growth — and growth is Barends’ ultimate goal, as it means more lives are touched and changed.
The power of passion
Barends has proved just how powerful a passion for helping others can be. When DreamGirls was launched, there was no budget, but her desire to do good and her commitment to the cause were so all-consuming that everything somehow fell into place.
It helped that a range of corporate donors came on board to help fund the programme. Since then the programme has received significant support from corporate South Africa in the form of funding and in-kind donations, facilitating workshops and events.
The ability to encourage and inspire others to take ownership has enabled three branches to flourish in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Polokwane, with further possibilities for growth in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban and Kimberley.
In the first two years, Barends ran DreamGirls full time, together with a team of women. Because of the passionate assistance of her team, she was able to complete an MBA in the UK in 2014, bringing valuable skills and insights back to the organisation.
“We have developed our own culture, which we call the DreamGirls way of doing things,” she says. “Because the organisation has been built on a specific set of values, it is about so much more than merely helping girls to get a tertiary qualification. The essence is about being helpful and supportive of everyone involved.”
With her team firmly in place, Barends has taken on a full-time job in business development at Microsoft. Being able to rely on others to run DreamGirls’ daily operations means she has more time to focus on strategic growth and creating greater financial sustainability for the programme.
“It has brought fresh perspective, and that’s one of the reasons why we have now decided to go the franchising route — simply because I had the time to step back and look at what we were trying to achieve a little differently.”
Applying the franchising model to a social enterprise
Equipped with an MBA, Barends has used the knowledge she acquired through her studies to continue improving the DreamGirls business model.
“Part of the process of letting go was to create a social franchising model that we are now in the process of rolling out,” she says.
Franchising the DreamGirls concept required her to systematise the business model first, to ensure that it can be replicated successfully.
That process in itself can be a real game changer for a social enterprise as it elevates operations to the next level, with the operating manual becoming a day-to-day ‘how-to’ guide for the organisation.
“We have documented and put together all of the training materials and tools required to run a branch of DreamGirls. Now we are seeking franchisees who are committed to becoming social entrepreneurs. The franchise system will enable us to cover our operational costs, which is necessary because corporate sponsors are understandably keener to fund the programme than its running costs.”
Franchising is certainly a quicker and more cost-effective way of scaling up when it is difficult to access capital, and the legwork has already been done.