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Social upliftment makes business sense

South Africa’s socio-economic challenges can be addressed far more quickly if poverty alleviation becomes a business development task shared between the private sector, local governments and local entrepreneurs.

That’s the bold prediction of social entrepreneur Lee Elliott, whose innovative model of for-profit social upliftment is rapidly grabbing the attention of some of South Africa’s most progressive companies, including the African Bank.

Elliott is the MD of Shujaa Holdings, whose Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development (SEED) methodology framework is starting to catalyse poor and disadvantaged communities across the country into prosperity using its unique integrated development system (IDS).

 Announcing SEED’s sponsorship of innovationTOWN, an initiative that seeks to change the way South Africans think about innovation, Elliott said innovation is the key to addressing the socio-economic challenges faced by South Africa and Africa. “There’s an immensely compelling business opportunity in our poorest communities,” said Elliott. “By working together with communities to introduce sustainable upliftment programmes, South African companies can ease poverty, create jobs and earn BEE points – while boosting their bottom lines.”

Elliott says SEED’s involvement with innovationTOWN, as headline sponsor, is a natural extension of its innovative and life-changing activities across South Africa and the continent.

“Our model provides a new growth opportunity for the private sector and a forum for innovations. Old and tired solutions cannot work at this level.”

SEED’s IDS has several characteristics, the first of which is to cause disruptive change in the community it is operating in to create momentum for positive change and movement. It then makes interventions in specific areas like economic development, communication, the youth, leadership, technology and personal development.

There is a strong focus on developing the youth as strong spiritual, business and community leaders, with young people owning and running the majority of the Shujaa companies. As Elliott points out, if a new business venture in a community employs 100 people, those 100 people now have more disposable income, which means more products and services are needed to satisfy them. The more products and services are available, the more money cycles through the community, and the more people have an income in what she calls “a glorious cycle of abundance.”

 “Innovation is something everyone is born with – but people don’t know how to tap into it. We in South Africa and Africa must find and nurture our innovation heroes who are changing and uplifting this country and continent,” said Elliott.

A previous innovation award winner, Uniep, addresses poverty and unemployment in the Uniondale area by intermeshing a number of projects to create a sustainable micro-economy within this impoverished area. Formerly unemployed women have created small business that supplies food to destitute members of the community and other community support groups, such as community carers (also unemployed women).

 They use fresh produce from community gardens, once again run by previously unemployed women, while more unemployed people produce furniture. More than 400 people and their families have benefited.

CIDA City Campus and innovationTOWN co-founder Dr Taddy Blecher says entrepreneurial solutions such as these place a minimal financial burden on the regions in which they occur. “Africa is bubbling over with innovation. If we can just recognise and nurture it, we would be a far more prosperous and balanced country and continent.”

innovationTOWN is a national campaign to champion innovation as part of a 2010 initiative to recreate South Africa as an innovative country. innovationTOWN seeks to promote innovation as a solution oriented attitude that can be harnessed to help alleviate the social and economic challenges that face South Africa.

Elements of the campaign include the iHERO Awards that finds and rewards innovators; an education initiative; a programme that seeks to match innovators with investors; an innovation faire that exhibits award-winning innovations; a photo and narrative exhibition on innovation; and a national advertising and publicity initiative aimed at putting innovation back on the local agenda.

innovationTOWN is co-founded by CIDA City Campus, Axius Publishing , SoulCircle and the CIDA Investment Trust , to help reposition South Africa as an innovative country by teaching  people that innovation is more than a product or a process, but a ‘can do’ approach that helps build a better world.

innovationTOWN is sponsored by Shujaa Holdings and the Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development (SEED) framework, as well as African Bank, South African Post Office and the Branson School of Entrepreneurship. Other supporters include Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in New Town, Brand South Africa, TBM, The Gordon Institute of Business Science, DSG and Media Tenor. At the heart of the campaign is the iHERO Awards, the awards programme of innovationTOWN which identifies and rewards innovations and innovators who are making a positive contribution to South Africa. A

(For more information, visit the innovationTOWN web site)

3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. It’s great to see endeavours of this nature taking off in South Africa. They are so much needed, and awareness of them is even more important as many South Africans have no ideas what is being done to correct the imbalances in our Country. Would it be possible to use this article on with a link back to this page?

  2. Beryl Steyn

    I am from Dynamic Empowerment Services fairly new I want to uplift my community in Retreat and Cafda. It is Cape Town. Please advise the way forward.

    Thank You


The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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