Empowered to Build

Empowered to Build
The Methodist Church of Southern Africa's youth economic empowerment program shows young women how to run a business. US Army/flickr

The end of apartheid brought unprecedented economic opportunities to black and other people of color in South Africa. Barriers to economic opportunities fell. Affirmative action opened doors.

But many people remain locked in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Opportunity is only half of the equation. Generations of oppression kept many black and colored peoples from developing the skills to participate in the new economy. The poor quality of Bantu education left many illiterate.

Twenty-five percent of the population is unemployed. Providing only basic employment skills to those who seek jobs is inadequate when few jobs vacancies exist. With entrepreneurial skills training and determination, young people can create jobs for themselves and others.

That’s the premise of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s Youth Economic Empowerment Programme. The program offers practical skills, such as preparing a business plan and bookkeeping, while equipping youth with spiritual tools that empower them to believe and dream.

The Mbatha sisters are using the program’s practical and spiritual lessons to transform their passion for cooking into a profitable business. Zanele Mbatha, 22, and Khanyi Mbatha, 25, operate a fledgling catering business in Katlehong, South Africa, a Johannesburg suburb. Their goal, however, is much larger: They want to create jobs for other people and improve the nutritional habits of young people.

“In our area most people are not employed,” Zanele explained. “We see people trying to get jobs, but there are no jobs to get. It is so discouraging. Our business will be a way to give people jobs and get them income. That will make me happy.“

The sisters’ goal is to build a chain of buffet-style cafeterias throughout South Africa to create jobs and increase their income. Buffet-style cafeterias are rare in some areas of South Africa. In many neighborhoods, the only prepared foods are sold by local micro-businesses known as tack shops. The cafeterias will offer self-service buffets with fresh food.

“All that we have here is tack shops,” Khanyi said. “They sell pies and other unhealthy foods, so kids are not developing to full potential, physically or mentally. We want to create cafeterias to make healthy foods available to our children and create more jobs.”

The Mbatha sisters are developing their business, Mthiya Woman — great woman in Zulu — under the tutelage of the Youth Economic Empowerment Programme. Currently, the program teaches young people to be entrepreneurs through workshops. Soon, it will offer a cadre of mentors for ongoing support of program participants.

Facilitated by the Rev. Mogomotsi Diutlwileng, the program is open to members of the Wesley Guild, the church’s youth organization. Fifteen people attended the first workshop earlier this year, and it is projected that 2,000 will participate by the end of 2012. The project began in December 2009 with financial support from United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving.

Speaking at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Wilro Park, Gauteng, South Africa, where the initial training occurred, Mr. Diutlwileng described the program’s mission as “moving young people out of the dependency syndrome into making things happen for themselves.”

June 2010 marked the project’s first basic entrepreneurship training workshop for unemployed youth in the area. After the training participants submitted ideas for businesses, and the ideas were shared with mentors and volunteers who are successful businesspeople. Participants created and submitted business plans to solicit funding from different government and private small business funding agencies. As the businesses become operational, the new entrepreneurs and their mentors submit monthly reports to project monitors.

This program differs from many microfinance/enterprise programs promoted by other nongovernmental organizations as its basis is spiritual. Most microfinance programs begin by teaching basic business skills, such as marketing and management. This program starts by developing a self-concept of empowerment because people must feel the power to overcome obstacles. The program uses the teachings of Methodism to foment this self-?image.

“God said, ‘Let there be seeds’ and ‘Let there be trees,’” said Zanele, sharing a lesson learned in the program. “Think positive and positive things will happen to us in our lives. The Rev. Diutlwileng also taught us the practical things like our business must be registered, and that we should think ahead. Where would you like to be in 10 years time? My mind was opened to think positively. It was a wake up call. God gives everyone a talent.”

The Mbatha sisters have always loved cooking and entertaining. This skill and passion was converted into the products and services that they offer. Their mother, an accomplished cook, often decorates tables for social functions of friends and family. She shared her recipes and love of table decorating with her daughters.

The sisters’ first job was their cousin’s wedding. News of their abilities spread by word of mouth. They have catered five events since that wedding. They are diversifying by offering birthday cakes, made in the kitchen of the middle-class bungalow where they and five other family members live. They are preparing brochures and fliers to advertise their services.

“This workshop taught us to take ourselves seriously,“ Khanyi said. “We learned to work toward a goal, to get ourselves out there, and to let people know what we do on an ongoing basis. We’ll do this by making pamphlets and business cards. And the Reverend makes us accountable.”

The Mbatha sisters learned essential elements of how to make a profit. The women charge 100 rand — about U.S. $14.28 —for a birthday cake made with materials costing 60 rand — about U.S. $8.57 — so they have a gross profit of 40 rand.

And the Mbatha sisters learned to control their expenses and invest their profit. They continue to live in their parents’ home so money they would spend on rent can be reinvested in the business.

“The program taught us to respect our money,“ Khanyi said. “We used to spend all of our money. Now we reinvest some of it in the business. We will succeed.”

Richard Lord is a freelance photojournalist living in Ivy, Va.

Posted or updated: 12/31/2010 11:00:00 PM
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