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Leadership Report

Unprecedented support during unprecedented times

Who could have predicted the roller coaster ride that 2020 would be? Terrifying and thrilling are the emotions that come to mind when reflecting on the past year. We began the financial year on 1 April 2020 with all our branches and early learning centres closed. Stuck in our homes (under very strict lockdown), we felt isolated from and concerned for our beneficiaries whose incomes were cut off overnight.

As an innovative women-led organisation that isn’t a stranger to challenges, it didn’t take us long to mobilise and get support to where it was needed most. Assistance from various stakeholders started to stream in.

Support from our various stakeholders started to stream in.

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) allowed us to repurpose a portion of their grant to allow for cash transfers to our beneficiaries. This provided much needed financial support and relief, radically reducing the anxiety experienced by our beneficiaries.

R2,2 million Covid-19 relief efforts

On 27 April 2020 (aptly, a public holiday called Freedom Day in South Africa, because it was the day we held the first democratic elections), we launched an incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign to raise money for hunger relief. Capetonian Buff Van Der Westhuizen took up the challenge and decided to swim (in his pool) the equivalent of five (35 km) Robben Island crossings. Gavin Brophy cycled (on a stationary bike) for more than 15 hours at the same time to raise valuable funds for this campaign. Together they kick-started a hunger-relief effort that would go way beyond lockdown and feed many families at risk of hunger.

Over the course of 2020, we raised more than R2.2 million for Covid-19 relief, and this enabled us to provide food parcels/vouchers for families, data, stipends and PPE for early learning centres and healthy breakfasts for children attending our GROW centres. We were also able to support many of our beneficiaries to establish soup kitchens in their communities, which was a fantastic opportunity for them to give back to their communities.

The spirit and positivity of our beneficiaries filled our cup and demonstrated how impactful our Clothing Bank programme is.

Traders bounced back thanks to savings, strength and support

Fortunately, at the start of May, we were able to open our warehouse so that our beneficiaries could get supplies for their trading businesses. We started to see some light! The spirit and positivity of our beneficiaries filled our cup and demonstrated how impactful our Clothing Bank programme is. These women were not giving up easily. Their savings got them through the lockdown, and they were motivated and ready to rebuild their businesses.

Fortunately, a generous amount of stock came in from our retail partners, and the township market was strong, since most shopping malls were still closed and people were fearful of travelling on public transport. We shifted our training and mentoring online using WhatsApp to keep everyone motivated. Even our formal learnership was able to continue online, and we are incredibly grateful to our training partner TTBISA, who mobilised and innovated to keep beneficiaries engaged. The positive outcomes we witnessed through the MSDF cash transfers encouraged us to approach the W&R Seta about doing the same with some of their funding. They responded positively to our request, and we were able to provide our learners with further cash transfers and data, which allowed them to access their learnings online.

Our committed Clothing Bank team generously committed their time, energy and effort. They put their lives at risk to ensure our doors were open every day and dug deep to provide the extra emotional support that many of our beneficiaries needed.

Record-breaking results for TCB and TAB

Who could have predicted that a year that begun like that could end up being the best in our 11-year history? We achieved a record impact with 1 713 business owners supported; estimated profits of R74 million in our Clothing Bank and Appliance Bank projects!

Covid-19 has boosted the informal economy and made self-employment more aspirational. As a result, demand for and participation in our programmes were at a record high. We believe this is a positive turning point for township economies, and the new normal is that more people will aspire to be self-employed, and customers will shop local.

Early learning sector in a prolonged crisis

Unfortunately, the early learning sector (ECD) and our GROW Educare Centres project had a much more challenging year. Sometimes it felt like we were walking into oncoming traffic. All of our centres were forced to close; most were closed for 5 months. The result was that more than 200 staff were left without income and 1 500 children were not receiving the stimulation they needed. The silver lining of the Covid-19 crisis was that this mobilised the ECD sector to work together to engage the government and co-create resources so that centres could reopen safely from August.

Sadly, the Department of Social Development, responsible for the ECD sector, is under-resourced and struggled to provide the support the sector needed. It took court action for centres to be allowed to open, and to date, very limited financial support has been provided to the sector, despite promises made by the government in late 2020.

What inspires us to keep innovating is how our GROW franchisees remained resilient throughout. They never gave up, and as soon as they were allowed, they reopened and adapted to the new Covid-19 restrictions. We are pleased to report that all but one of our franchisees is operating today and we opened 2 new centres during the year. Most centres have recovered well. On average we’re at 75% of capacity at the end of March 2021.

5 Steps to 5-Star ECD programme launch

After two years of development, we completed the GROW App suite. The app and online training was rolled out to all of our franchisees in the latter part of 2020 and is already making a significant difference for all stakeholders. After 7 years of carefully crafting a recipe for professionalising ECDs, GROW has put the final piece of the puzzle in place with the custom-built technology. In March 2021 we launched our new strategy. We call it our 5 Steps to 5-Star journey. We believe this new model has the potential to unify a very fragmented and under-resourced sector and scale our impact way beyond our existing franchise model.

In the midst of every crisis lies opportunity.

Albert Einstein

In the midst of every crisis lies opportunity

Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis lies opportunity” and there is certainly truth in that. This year has demonstrated that our programme builds strong, capable, resourceful, resilient business owners and that our power partners remained committed even when their businesses faced challenges.

We are more determined than ever to be part of the solution to poverty and unemployment in South Africa and have the team, resources, partners and programmes in place to impact thousands more in the year ahead.

We also thank our incredible team, who sacrificed much, so that we could Build Back Better and the outstanding results are all credit to each of them.

Yours in service,

Tracey Chambers & Tracey Gilmore