Founder, The Farm and Garden National Trust
+27 21 801 9677
The legacy of social entrepreneur James Thomas has reached far and wide. The 57-year-old was the single South African killed in the devastating terror attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, a month ago.
Among other initiatives, Thomas developed Business Expenses Savings Training Game (BEST), a business skills programme that has been reaping international accolades for its practical, hands-on simulation approach. Thomas trained young people throughout Africa in entrepreneurship, including building business and life skills through a number of programmes in South Africa.
Developed in Khayelitsha, a dusty, poverty-stricken township in Cape Town, the BEST is now licensed worldwide and has been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Russian, among other languages. The game simulates a real-life business environment and is a practical training tool that puts players in real-world commercial situations so they learn how to make good business decisions. It was specifically created to train people who were functionally illiterate in business skills and has been implemented in 75 countries.
Seeing the game’s practical applications and universal appeal, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has – with the help of the Triple Trust Organisation – redeveloped BEST for inclusion in its Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) programme. The ILO’s Start Your Business kit, including SIYB, is aimed at people with concrete business ideas who want to start their own business. The organisation aims to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.
The overall SIYB programme has successfully been implemented in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it has been used by 1 100 Chinese trainers to teach 4.5 million students. Of these, 85% have started businesses, each employing about five people; more than 11 million Chinese people have been affected by the training tool.
The course comprises three modules held over five days and includes training in basic business cycles, understanding supply and demand, reaching customers, and improving a business. It also tackles financial literacy for running a business, quality control, inventory control and product promotion, among others.
Necitas Lazaga of the Department of Trade and Industry Davao del Norte Field Office in Philippines recommended BEST for business starters in an interview with news networking site Ugnayan.com. The small and medium enterprise (SME) development co-ordinator said the BEST game formed a major part of the her office’s activities in 2012 in building SMEs, and that “the game also makes participants discover the (personal) qualities that are needed in running a business”.
She said it was much better for starters to gain business experience before they ventured into real business so they would be guided on what to do, and what business decisions to take, to help them succeed.
Local social entrepreneurship
BEST was one of many initiatives Thomas undertook to improve the lives of others. He was involved in Harvest of Hope. The Cape Town project works with farmers from townships such as Nyanga and Khayelitsha, who deliver fresh produce daily to the city’s more affluent southern suburbs. Providing much-need employment for mostly women, the scheme supports the micro-farming groups that sell their excess produce for a sustainable income. “It was a win-win situation. Farmers from the townships get to sell their produce and consumers in the suburbs receive healthy organic vegetables – everyone wins,” explains Thomas’s former Allan Gray Orbis colleague, Margie Worthington Smith.
Thomas also founded the Triple Trust Organisation (TTO), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to “the alleviation of poverty in South Africa through making markets work for the poor”. Here he focused on introducing young people especially to entrepreneurship skills. Working with Outward Bound South Africa, an arm of Outward Bound, the international non-profit experiential education organisation, the TTO is implementing a “life skills and entrepreneurship” project to empower young people from rural communities with life skills and entrepreneurship awareness to help them start their own small businesses.
It aims to empower young people by equipping them with an “I can” attitude; developing life skills in the areas of self-esteem, perseverance, belief in the future, goal-setting, and values; and equipping them with appropriate skills for sustainable economic activity.
Yet it also aims to have wider implications, i.e. ensuring the establishment of businesses by, or employment of, a large percentage of the participants; and setting up partnerships with community organisations, local businesses and appropriate mentors to provide a support network to ensure the graduates’ ongoing development. The project will take 12 to 14 months.
Further afield, Thomas was involved with the Kenya Market Assistance Programme (KMAP). It aims to make markets work for the poor through projects that include producers, consumers and employees in the economy.
One successful initiative has helped dairy farmers in Ndumberi, in Kiambu County improve their yields. Farmers in the area had long struggled to feed their livestock in the dry season, leading to annual milk shortages. To maintain milk production, they often had to travel long distances to buy overpriced feed.
“We have been purchasing hay from Delamere, about 100 kilometres away, at a cost of 180 to 250 Kenyan shillings [$2.12-$2.95 or R20-R29] per bale,” says Jane Muya, a dairy farmer and the general manager of Ndumberi Dairy.
But a KMAP-supported partnership between dairy co-operatives Ndumberi and Nyala in Kiambu and Laikipia counties respectively is leasing 1 200 acres of land in Nyahururu to produce hay. Called Hay and Forage, it will allow dairy farmers to buy fodder closer to home at a more affordable price – at just Ks120 a bale. The land leased has the potential to produce as much as 240 000 bales of good quality hay from the existing grass.
Within one month, farmers who have bought this hay say they are already seeing improvement in milk productivity. “Since I started buying hay, my milk production has gone up by at least three litres,” said Hellen Njeri, a farmer with 10 cows.