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Enterprise & Supplier Development

Digby Wells: A Successful Enterprise & Supplier Development Project in the Mokopane Villages.

1. Introduction

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. These are the only words that come to mind after the incredible, insightful and enlightening week I had with Lerato in the villages of Skimming and Leruleng between Monday, 05/02 to Friday, 09/02.

The Greek word for darkness is ‘σκότος’ (skotos or scotio). One of its metaphorical uses in the Greek language was ignorance, therefor darkness was historically connected with ignorance or a lack of knowledge.

However, light eliminates darkness. There is no amount of darkness that can overcome light. With this translation in mind, darkness (ignorance) can factually be eliminated by light (knowledge).

It is difficult to find what you are looking for, when you are searching in the dark. The problem is not that you are lazy, or that you are not searching, the problem is that you cannot see in the dark. When the light is switched on, you quickly find what you have been looking for all along.

I always had the belief that knowledge enlightens, and knowledge must be sown like seed. Some seed falls by the wayside, some seed falls on stony ground, some seed falls between thorny bush, but some seed falls on good ground and yields a harvest. Some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some hundred-fold.

Our responsibility is not to force the seed to grow, for that is impossible. But our responsibility is to create an opportunity, show up and sow the seed. Our responsibility is to work the field, to maintain the good ground. And our responsibility is to assist in bringing in the harvest.

Knowledge is power, knowledge eliminates ignorance and applied knowledge transforms absolute.

2. The Villages of Skimming and Leruleng

2.1 Opportunity of a lifetime

Every now and then a person comes into your life, and it is as if it was destined. For me Lerato Ratsoenyane is one of those people, and from the start you know that your path is intertwined forever. On 28 February 2023, she called My SME and that is where My SME’s journey started with Digby Wells.

Lerato is an incredible person, she works her fingers to the bone and her passion for her work and for the people of the villages seems like a bottomless pit. From translating my English in Tswana that everyone gets an equal chance to receive knowledge, to going the extra mile, to having frank arguments with difficult community members for 15+ minutes until they get it. She is one incredible human being and look forward to many years of fruitful empowerment with her.

For many years I had a belief that knowledge can enlighten ignorance, no matter where you are from, where you grew up or the limitations of your education. I knew this as I have had dealings with people from all walks of life. I have worked with highly educated professionals and basic educated community members. And results have always been strikingly similar. I have had the same results with an educated architect and a woman starting a bakery in Suurman, Hammanskraal. And I have seen the transformative power of knowledge.

During our first meeting Lerato shared the idea that I come up to Limpopo, visit the villages of Skimming and Leruleng and empower them with knowledge. This would be in the form of a leadership & secretarial course for the Kgoro and the RSG leadership. As well as an entry level business coaching course to the business forum. After wrapping my mind around the fact that I would change from my normal online procedure to actually putting my feet on the ground and walk around in the villages. I realised this was an opportunity to put my theory through a vigorous and practical test.

An opportunity of a lifetime!

 

2.2 Kgoro and SRG Leadership

On Monday 5 February 2024 me and Lerato drove to the village of Skimming, I was a little nervous and the closer we came, the more uncomfortable I got. I am about to address the leadership of the Skimming community, a 34-year-old umlungu that does not understand the complexities of the village culture, addressing a 69-year-old traditional community leader.

And even though I tried my best to relate by dressing appropriately and trying to greet everyone in the village language, I found myself in front of a group of twenty traditional community leaders looking at me with an intensity I have never felt from an audience before. In those first five minutes I thought to myself ‘this is going to be a long three hours – God help me’.

So, I started. “Today we are going to look at leadership. The first aspect we will look at is self-belief, then we will cover character and ethics and lastly, we will look at levels of leadership”. One or two heads nodded, but it was tense, and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

I must admit I have been in many tense lectures or coaching sessions and what I have learned is to trust your preparation and sow the seed with confidence. So, I started with my first mind grenade.

“The lion is not the biggest, the heaviest, the tallest, the fastest or the smartest animal in the bush, why then is he the king of the animal world?”

And just like that. It was as if a light was switched on in the minds across the floor. In a moment, I collectively saw heads lifting as if they have never been educated on what leadership is. It was the most beautiful moment of the entire week, it was one of the most relieving moments I have ever experienced, and it was a conformation of what I believed to be true – knowledge drives out ignorance and can change a traditional mind even at 69 years of age.

After this moment the conversations started flowing, the minds started opening and the light started to penetrate the ignorance. It is a moment that I will never forget in my entire life.

As if my nerves could handle more after this, the cycle repeated itself almost identically with the leadership group of Leruleng.

Me and Lerato presented the leadership course on Monday, 5 February, and Tuesday 6 February. I was the messenger, and she was the interpreter. And what a team we made, Lerato got stuck into the translation like I have never experienced before. Relating and using examples and together we lead the community leaders to a moment of enlightenment.

The leadership course was created on three pillars:

#1: The foundation of leadership

#2: The character of leadership

#3: Leadership growth

The concept that struck a chord in the hearts of the leadership across the board was the idea of vision. It is impossible to lead if you have no direction. The definition of vision I used is one that I made up and it reads as follows, ‘vision is the roadmap that provides the direction in which you need to go to reach your end destination’. This idea of vision consists of a purpose, a strategy, and an implementation plan. As with the parable of the lion, I could see how the concept of vision enlightened the leaders from both communities.

The second and third modules were executive writing and phone call procedures. I used these practical applications to focus my message on how a leader should communicate.

The feedback from the leaders were incredibly humbling, I’ll list a few that still rings in mind:

“I blame you for not coming sooner, you should have hurried to bring us this knowledge”.

“It is as if I was there with them during their struggles to communicate a message to the community”.

Molale the chairman of Skimming frankly addressed his leadership team and said they are far of from a leadership group.

And the majority leaders mentioned the lion concept and the practical layout of vision was an eye opener.

2.3 Business Forum

The entry level business coaching course was presented to the Skimming and Leruleng business forum from Wednesday, 7 February to 9 February. The entry level business coaching course consists of an introduction and four modules.

Introduction: Building an economy

Module #1: Business 101

Module #2: Product and service development

Module #3: Business strategy

Module #4: The business model

I specifically started the course with the basics of how to build an economy, using their village economy as an example. I was aware that communities do not support their own, but I have never experienced this practice as bluntly as I did during this week. At Leruleng while I was talking about economics 101 one student raised their hand in the back and said “these are practical ideas, but the community will not by from us”. Me and Lerato looked at each other in some disbelief, trying to make sense why a struggling community would not support each other. Surely this should be commonsense, but in these villages the rules are different. You cannot merely assume that everyone thinks the same as you think. In order to make a difference in these villages, you need to get your mind on the same radio waves as the communities mindsets. And only from here on you can lead them through the ignorance jungle to the light.

Me and Lerato asked the obvious question, “why not?”. The student answered without a second thought, and even to our shock includes himself in the answer, “because we are jealous!” After this discovery we continued with frank conversations about how you can move past this issue by targeting different markets or villages and selling at common places in town.

A few other cultural issues which affect businesses also came out and we continued our frank approach to lead as many who accepted the knowledge to enlightenment.

 

2.4 Certificates

The week finished of with the distribution of certificates. Something I am not a fan of, especially after Lerato told me to type them out one by one with the ID numbers included. What looked like a quick 30-minute exercise, became a 2-hour process as we tried to decipher everyone’s weird and wonderful handwriting from the census forms.

But I get it now. The certificate is beacon of light, for some of them this week will possibly change the course of their lives and maybe the certificate can be a beacon or a line in the sand to never return to ignorance again.

I am a dreamer, a believer that there is hope for South Africa. However, I am also realistic to the challenges that we face. We will never convert 100% of villages and communities. The basic 80/20 principle applies. 80% are looking for freebies and handouts, and the reality is that you will never get around this and they are beyond help. But there are 20% that are hungry for knowledge, and this is the group we should cultivate. For in the 20% of willing candidates, South Africa will get an 80% turnaround.

2.5 The proof is in the pudding

Regardless of the stigmas that exists like, ‘nobody will go into these communities’, ‘these people will never change’, etc. Lerato and I have done it, we have proofed that one can make a difference through knowledge, we have proofed that there are 20% who wants knowledge without a handout or RFQ, we have proofed that even though we have busy schedules, our passion to see communities empowered are more than the discomfort experienced in the process.

What we have done this week is the dirty work, the unsexy work, the work that nobody wants to do. We got our hands dirty to proof that it is possible! And for me, I am absolutely, 120% committed to get my feet in as many villages as possible to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world.


3. Hope for South Africa

There is hope for South Africa!

I’ll refer to my most successful enterprise and supplier development project in partnership with Siyabonga Africa – Sheila Mawela who started Tirhani Fresh Produce in Hammanskraal. I worked with Sheila in 2022, doing 12 months of business coaching and assisting in the development of her bakery’s business model (branding, website, and marketing development). Siyabonga Africa supplied the bakery equipment and technical training, and my responsibility was the business side of things. After three years in business Sheila is going from strength to strength. I can say this confidently as I visited her bakery today, Sunday 11 February 2024.

As I was on my way to Sheila, I reflected on the incredible week me and Lerato had in Mokopane, and I realised that Sheila is the beacon of hope for the entire South Africa, she is an example of what can be done in the villages and the communities.

To see a video, I took with Sheila of her bakery today, click on the following link: https://vimeo.com/912064091?share=copy

To read more about this project, click on the following link: https://www.mysme.co.za/enterprise-and-supplier-development-programme-testimonial/

It is possible, and it is already proven to be possible!

The vision is already clear:

#1: Purpose – Empower and advance South African businesses by fostering growth through impactful enterprise & supplier development initiatives.

#2: Strategy

–        Unity: Empower the Kgoro and business forum of the village with the principles of true leadership. Teach them to stand in unity, to turn the mindset of the community.

–        80/20: Filter the 20% candidates hungry for knowledge, with the ability to apply the knowledge and get their businesses going.

–        Sustainability: Empower these candidates with business training, business development and mentorship.

#3: Implementation

–        Step 1: Leadership workshop with the Kgoro and business forum.

–        Step 2: Business workshop with the business forum.

–        Step 3: Candidates present their business idea to a panel in private.

–        Step 4: The top 20% wins an enterprise & supplier development project package.

–        Step 5: Business support over a period of 2 years.

Masikhule sonke, let us build together!