Succeeding as a Social Entrepreneur

Succeeding as a Social Entrepreneur


Opportunities abound for social entrepreneurs in South Africa. But, according to Jannie Rossouw, head of Sanlam Business Market, having a desire to do good in your society is not enough.

Treps need to be business smart

Business savvy is vital for social entrepreneurs to succeed. But how can South Africans make a success of this relatively new type of enterprise, and what are the obstacles along the way?

Becoming a social entrepreneur – where people with a social conscience use a business venture to help tackle a social problem – is no different from becoming a successful for-profit entrepreneur.

Basic business tenets apply

Rossouw says you still need to follow basic business principles:

  • know how to market your social venture to attract financiers/donors,
  • learn how to work with money,
  • understand how to write a good business plan,
  • be able to manage your staff, of whom many will be volunteers.

Top of that list, however, is first spotting the right opportunity by listening to those around you and understanding their needs.

Food bridges a gap

For social entrepreneur Nathan Roberts (25), a winner in the Sanlam National Start Something Day campaign, and co-founder of the Sibanye ‘Township’ Restaurant, that opportunity came by addressing the cultural divide in Hout Bay, Cape Town.

“Coming from opposite sides of a split community, Hout Bay, we (myself and partner Randy Mcknight) hoped to bridge the racial divide in our area with amazing food as the catalyst.” As a result, the Sibanye Restaurant (Xhosa for ‘together we are one)’ was born in 2008.

Four years later, the restaurant is still pulling in patrons. It has sold more than 15 000 meals, bringing people of different cultures together around one table.

Plan your business

Rossouw highlights the importance of planning your social venture. “Assess whether your plan or business is viable. For example, will you just be handing out fish, or will you help those involved to catch their own fish?”

Roberts agrees, and takes it one step further. “It is imperative to have a well-thought through plan, but that plan must be followed with action.”

In Sibanye’s case, it was clear the business was viable from the offset. “Randy and I both had the passion to see it happen, and given that there was no commercial sit-down restaurant in the area, it was a no-brainer.”

Find the right funding

One of the biggest challenges in today’s environment is sourcing the necessary funding to launch your social venture. According to Rossouw, “Funding is available, but you need to know where to look for financiers/donors and also how to present your social venture to future shareholders or donors.”

For Roberts, friends and family chipped in to help fund the opening. “Our starting capital was about 10 percent of what it requires to start a restaurant, but this just forced us to become very innovative.”

Hire the right people

Then you need to surround yourself with a strong team – with human resources experience key in helping you work with partners and appoint new staff. Roberts says, “If members of your team are less committed than you are, the business will show this in no time.”

Plan for all eventualities

According to Rossouw, plan for ups and downs, and know you will only get through the troughs if the venture means a lot to you. “Is this venture a passion for you, or is it something you have to work for?”

Roberts himself has had to deal with severe low points, including the death of Mcknight. He says believing in his business has pulled him through. “Combine that passion with a clear life goal and the resolve to see it through, and what you have is vocation. I have found that, in order for me to wake up each morning with deep motivation, I need to have a very clear idea of where it is I’m going in life.”

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