by Lucille Davie

DEVELOPMENT

Small business incubation hub to help develop Diepsloot

Incubation_Hub_article.jpg

Diepsloot in the far north of Johannesburg is a cauldron of corrugated iron shacks, small brick homes, dusty roads, shebeens, and pavement hawkers. A township packed with humanity, it is home to 200 000 migrants from elsewhere in South Africa and immigrants from other African countries, who make a hard living within its boundaries.

The place stands in stark contrast to the wealthy suburbs of nearby Dairnfern and Fourways, but there might be hope for some of its thousands of restless unemployed, with a new development going up on its border.  The Riversands Commercial Park is to have a small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) innovation hub at its heart, and Century Property Developers, the company behind the development, is keen to empower and recruit local enterprises to the hub. The park is 40 kilometres north of the Johannesburg city centre, and within walking distance of Diepsloot.

The park, in Fourways, will offer retail, office, warehousing and light industrial spaces. Once complete, it is expected to help create more than 50 000 permanent jobs in its 1.8-million square metres of commercial space. "The Riversands SMME Incubation Hub lies at the heart of the Riversands Commercial Park and will be supported by the businesses in the commercial park," says Jenny Retief, the hub's project director. "The SMMEs to be incubated in the hub will be selected for their ability to fulfil off-take agreements for the businesses, making them sustainable."

The project is a partnership between Century and the Jobs Fund, a government initiative. "The Riversands SMME Incubation Hub will take existing and newly created SMMEs from the local area and incubate them through various support programmes, allowing them to develop into large-scale businesses," adds Retief.

Diepsloot was established in 1994 as a relocation area for people moved from shackland informal settlements. In the past 20 years it has grown into a heaving township, beset by crime and drug problems, squeezed into only five square kilometres. Small businesses have sprung up in the past 10 years, with construction, manufacturing, mining and agriculture dominating. But still, jobs are hard to find, exacerbated by the distance from the Joburg CBD. Those with jobs have to spend up to 50% of their salaries on transport.

Over R1.4-billion is to be pumped into the surrounding road infrastructure, including an upgrade of the major William Nicol Drive, which runs alongside Diepsloot. This is expected to be the prime corridor of development in the province. It is a component of the wider Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, which includes a number of freeways being constructed between Johannesburg and Pretoria in the north, and linking to OR Tambo International Airport in the east. The object is to provide an interconnected network of inner and outer ring roads to help ease congestion between the two cities, which will also ease access to townships like Diepsloot.

Incubation hub

The SMME incubation hub "will be the first fully integrated mixed use development that caters for all sizes of businesses, providing vital support and job creation to a marginalised residential node", explains the Century website. Century will provide mentorship and support programmes to the SMMEs; and will function as an "on-site practical business university". Support will be given in accountancy, marketing, tax, law, labour law, engineering, and best practice. "This mentorship will ensure that when SMMEs graduate from the programme they are a viable business with long-term sustainability."

Facilities will include a library, two lecture halls and an auditorium that seats 500 people. A stepped approach will be used to train SMMEs: they will be housed, at a subsidised rate, in a dedicated facility during the incubation programme. After graduating from the programme they will move to another precinct with larger spaces, and charged a subsidised rental; then finally, they will move to larger premises with commercial rental, as fully fledged businesses. Potential SMMEs will be screened before entering the programme, to ensure their success, according to Riversands.

Mmapula Community Development

To find potential applicants for its incubation hub, Century has turned to a company called Mmapula Community Development, which works with communities to help them uncover their assets and use them positively. It helps to change their mindset from one of dependency and needs to one of self-mobilisation, by identifying the strengths within communities.

"As an approach to community-based development, it rests on the principle that the recognition of strengths, gifts, talents and assets of individuals in communities is more likely to inspire positive action for change than an exclusive focus on needs and problems," states the Mmapula website. Mmapula uses the Asset-Based Community Driven Development or ABCD programme, a method that aims to "uncover and utilise the strengths within communities as a means of sustainable development. It is at the centre of a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development." Mmapula specialises in innovative yet simple paradigms to address socio-economic development issues, both in rural and urban areas.

Mmapula managing director Corne Theunissen, who has been in the development field for the past 25 years, explains that she realised the needs-based approach was not working. "We help communities to see themselves as assets so that when they talk to donors they are not just beggars, but there is a level playing field. It's a new way of thinking about themselves."

Asset-focused development

Mmapula adapted the ABCD programme to particular South African communities, calling it asset-focused development. ABCD was designed by McKnight and Kretzmann in 1993 in what is called Building Communities from the Inside Out.  The programme was taken up and promoted by the Coady International Institute at St Xavier University in Canada, and is now used by development agencies to mobilise communities.

Mmapula uses the approach in communities such as those on the mines in North West province, and with schoolchildren. The thinking behind the programme is that communities have assets, including economic, social and environmental. "Associations of community members, both formal and informal, are engines of community action and are a source of power and leadership." This means linking personal skills and assets to community assets, to create sustainable opportunities and support for one another.

Mmapula has worked around Gauteng: in Soweto, Germiston, Vereeniging and Pretoria, as well as in Diepsloot. Theunissen's group of 15 facilitators has done extensive work on the mines around Rustenburg in North West, as well as on the Royal Bafokeng mine. They have also travelled to the Eastern Cape, to work there.

In these engagements, people are helped to set their own developmental goals. At the same time, they are helped to determine their success indicators. Only once a community has drawn on all its own resources, will it be encouraged to look outside for funding and other resources.

Diepsloot workshop

Mmapula ran a workshop in Diepsloot recently. Budding and existing entrepreneurs were selected to participate, and they were taken through a process of identifying their assets as a group. These included the ability to repair cars, to drive, to do maintenance on different levels, and to use sign language. They were then required to identify where opportunities existed for them to create new businesses, and finally they were helped to create business plans.

Among potential businesses identified were a petrol station, food outlets, and a private hospital. The facilitator, Nohline Geyer, says she encouraged the participants to start small, before looking outside their community for investors. "I suggested a coffee shop and a car repair shop before going on to the bigger ideas." She adds: "You plant that seed: you are worthwhile, you can succeed in what you're doing. You emphasise what they have, not what they don't have."

  Thirty-one-year-old Sipho Ngobeni attended the workshop in Diepsloot. He already has a diverse business, called Diepsloot Kasi Hive. (Image: Lucille Davie)

Itumeleng Molepo, 35, was one of those at the workshop. She has her own construction company, employing 10 people, and said afterwards: "I learned how to be a leader, and how to network with the people. It really helped me – I have learned how to take the business from the low to the medium to the high." She has ambitions to expand into other sectors, such as making school shoes and uniforms. "It has given me self-esteem – how to sell yourself in business." Her goal in five years is to be "a boss with a big company".

Another participant, 31-year-old Sipho Ngobeni, already has a diverse business, called Diepsloot Kasi Hive.  He and his 15 colleagues do a range of activities: logo design, flyers and business cards, sewing, mentoring orphaned children, cultivating herbs for restaurants, and more. He says they are looking for a potential investor to achieve their goals of setting up Diepsloot TV and producing a newspaper. "The workshop has been a reminder of things I’m good at," he said afterwards.

Responses from the participants included: "I have realised the potential in me"; "I have learned how to think out of the box"; "I now understand business principles"; "I have learned how to trust myself and sell myself"; "I understand the importance of business mentors"; and, "I have learned how to use current assets".

A group of these participants will be selected to go to the hub, which, when full, will contain 180 businesses. Yet those who are not selected will not be forgotten, says Retief. "The programme also makes allowance for those entrepreneurs who do not make it into the full programme, as we have an auxiliary programme which provides applicants with basic business and/or skills training in our facility without actually having an SMME in the facility. This creates a future stream of SMMEs as well as people with increased skills who will be more ready for the workplace and an asset to any business."

Participants will spend up to three years in the incubation hub. "Thereafter they graduate to an interim facility with limited support for up to two years, after which they should become fully self-sufficient businesses."

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