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CHECK IT OUT: Youth Make Business Work through Pandemic

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Young participants in the Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) Bizniz in a Box initiative have not allowed the pandemic to get them down, but have been working hard to create sustainable, growing enterprises contributing to creating jobs and opportunities for their communities.

As South Africa claws its way out of the economic slump, two such operations are amongst those leading the way in demonstrating the grit and determination it takes to overcome adversity amid great uncertainty and youth unemployment

“The Covid-19 crisis was incredibly challenging for us, and we had to work hard to ensure that even after closing for six months last year, we didn’t completely shut down like so many other businesses,” says 35-year-old Kelebogile Boikanyo, who runs a Bizniz in a Box in Kanana Village, Rustenburg. Boikanyo employs one full time employee and runs a convenience store and restaurant. “We are now bouncing back strongly after closing for six months last year, but it is a slow process, and we have to be patient as people slowly venture out more.”

Bizniz in a Box aims to create an ecosystem of viable micro-businesses offering complementary products and services in township communities, using the spaza shop as the anchor. Each business operates out of a custom-designed shipping container provided by CCBSA, covering various core needs of the local community, including business centres (internet cafés), car washes, fast-food shops, or mini bakeries.

Piloted in 2015 in the Free State province, as part of the company’s Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), the initiative was established to make a meaningful and sustainable impact on youth unemployment through the rollout of a high-impact enterprise development programme that enables young people, particularly women, a chance to create a livelihood for themselves and others.

The programme offers young entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn business skills, particularly those required to grow and run their own small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).

“Before I started in April 2017, I had just come out of a difficult relationship and I had no income,” Boikanyo says. “I was making ends meet by selling cosmetics, but I wasn’t making much.

“When I saw the advert online, I went to the first meetings in our area, and took a leap of faith. I received a call and was selected to go through the entire process, from bootcamp to the incubator process, and I haven’t looked back since,” she says.

The project commences with a recruitment drive at selected townships or villages, where town hall information sessions are held to register interested young entrepreneurs.

This is an important stage where respondents go through a shortlisting process that includes assessments such as analytical and numeracy skills tests.

A complete competency assessment is conducted to ensure successful candidates are able to operate the businesses and ensure their sustainability. The process also serves the purpose of ensuring that applicants understand the rigorous nature of being an entrepreneur.

Shortlisted candidates must be a resident in the community they want to conduct their business in, and they must have some form of entrepreneurial experience. promising candidates are selected to advance to a bootcamp stage where the candidates are trained on critical skills such as preparing business plans, basic financial management skills and marketing surveys. These classroom and practical exercises run concurrently over a period of four weeks with the process of formalising their businesses.

“The skills I’ve learned have really empowered me,” Boikanyo says. “In the future I want to start my own food franchise, which will offer sit down meals, takeaways and catered meals.”

In a shortlisting process, those that proceed to the final phase are allocated to work in the micro-business they prefer. CCBSA and its partners provide the initial stock, and the entrepreneurs are assisted to comply with all legal and regulatory requirements to allow them to run the business in line with regulation.

“I studied business and commerce at school, but after matriculating, the job situation in our area was so bad that I had to survive by running a small street corner market in my township,” says Piet Segopa, who has been running Be Cool Enterprises, a Bizniz in a Box container business in Virginia, Free State, since March 2017. “When the pandemic hit, I just took it as another bump on the road and told myself I have to work hard through it.”

Segopa’s growing venture employs two people full time and one other person part time, generating a strong profit that he expects will allow him to open new locations.

In their first six months of operating, the youth entrepreneurs are monitored on a weekly basis and must use their own initiative to promote their stores within their communities using direct marketing, promotions, and other tools.

At this stage, liability for the inventory and container lies with the entrepreneur, with the support of a business mentor. Once the six months incubation process is complete, the container businesses are handed over to the successful entrepreneurs. An agreement is signed, and they take legal ownership of the container, commencing their repayments to the Small Enterprise Financing Agency (SEFA) from the proceeds of their operations.

“My biggest challenge now is my stock and pricing,” Segopa says. “Because I don’t have my own vehicle yet, I get my stock from different wholesalers, and this leads to inconsistency in pricing. When my competitors drop their prices, I must do the same, which can leave me at a loss when I can’t get affordable stock. I am saving up for a vehicle, which will allow me to pick up stock directly from a single wholesaler and keep my prices under control.

“This will also allow me to open a new site, where I will run a butchery, grocery store, fast food and a business centre where people can do basic services like printing and emailing,” he says. “My brother and I are also starting a livestock operation, and we already have seven cows, which we want to sell to township people, so they don’t have to travel far to purchase animals for ceremonies.”

By the end of August 2021, through Bizniz in a Box, CCBSA and its partners had trained over 749 young women entrepreneurs and helped 375 of them to take their businesses to the next level, creating 185 additional jobs by employing shop assistants. CCBSA aims to develop 200 viable, successful youth & women entrepreneurs by the end of 2021, creating new hope for young people in townships.

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