Growing together

Growing together

MASERU-“CREATING a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long-term success.”

Those are words from Bill Ford, an American business executive of note.
Coming from someone leading the Ford Motors behemoth, these are wise words every business leader should take to heart.
Few businesses, if any, can hope to thrive in a world teeming with poverty, misery and upheavals.
It is communities that sustain businesses.

Sekhametsi Investment Consortium (SMIC), Lesotho’s biggest venture firm, has always placed the community at the centre of its growth strategy.
After years of building the business, the shareholders turned their attention to initiatives that go beyond their dividends and growth. The result was the formation of the Sekhametsi Development Trust, an independent social and corporate investment responsibility wing of the consortium.

Tšeliso Ntabe, who was one of the Trust’s founding directors in 2013, says the vision was to build a corporate and social investment programme that “contributes towards sustainable development to bring positive change in the lives of Basotho”.
“Because of the increasing poverty, we wanted programmes that prioritise and uplift the youth, women, the disabled and the needy,” Ntabe says.
But from the onset they realised that they would have to do things differently.

Ntabe says they were clear that the SDT was not going to have much impact if it became an institution that doles out donations on an ad hoc basis.
“Companies have been giving donations for years but nothing much has changed in terms of the poverty levels and the quality of life. We had to do things differently,” Ntabe says.

The first decision was to form an independent Trust that had a mixture of shareholders and independent individuals as directors. The idea, according to Ntabe, was that the trust would be a stand-alone institution capable of making independent decisions on its interventions.
This is despite the fact that SMIC allocates one percent of its profits to the Trust.

“The Trust is funded by Sekhametsi but makes its own decisions on the projects it funds. That demarcation is necessary for independence,” Ntabe says.
The second decision was to define the Trust’s vision. Here again, the SDT wanted to be an organisation with a difference. A purely donor organisation would have sufficed but the directors opted to focus on entrepreneurial development projects anchored on innovation and suitability.

That means projects that transform lives through sustainable initiatives.
In other words, the existence of urgent need is not the only consideration for funding projects.
A project had to sustain livelihoods for years or generations.
“We want to teach and train people to fish for themselves. A bag of maize will run out after a few weeks and the family will be hungry again,” Ntabe says.

This explains the Trust’s stringent requirements for grant applicants. A typical SDT proposal reads like a business plan with clear proof of internal monitoring, evaluation, self-governance, accountability and commitment.
Beyond its impact on the community, a project should have the support of local authorities and the people. Ntabe says this is to ensure that there is local buy-in from the community.

It’s a strategy that has ensured that SDT’s initiatives are not a flash in the pan.
Projects funded several years ago are thriving because they are based on innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship.
They also share Sekhametsi’s values of accountability, transparency and long term-vision.
One of them is the Morija Arts Centre, a part of the Morija Museum of Arts and Culture, which applied for funding in 2014.

The centre received M33 000 for an electric kiln for a pottery project. That kiln has helped the centre train hundreds of people, including children at nearby schools, in pottery.
The centre makes flower vases, mugs and plates for the local and international markets.

The Trust also expanded the centre’s pottery studio at a cost of M24 000.
“This was in the spirit of building a sustainable project that transforms lives in the community,” Ntabe explains.
Around the same time the SDT was approached by Kick4Life, a football-based charity.
The initial request, as Ntabe recalls, was for a cash donation to keep the charity going.

But after months of back and forth the proposal transformed into something they had not envisaged.
The SDT approved an M83 000 donation to help the organisation build a restaurant as a social enterprise to sustain its operations. That is how Kick4Life’s No.7 restaurant was born.

Apart from generating income, Kick4Life is also training the youths in culinary skills.
In 2015 the Trust gave St James Primary school M250 000 to build a greenhouse for vegetables. The project has however experienced some teething problems

The SDT has used the project’s below-par performance to draw lessons that will be used in future projects.
The Trust is also working to be financially sustainable by making investments. The idea is that it must have other sources of income apart from the annual injection from Sekhametsi.

A few years ago, the Trust invested some surplus funds in Sekhametsi Property Development, a subsidiary of SMIC.
“We are practising what we preach to those we give grants. We also have to be sustainable as Trust,” Ntabe adds.
The story continues…

“The emphasis placed by more and more companies on corporate social responsibility, symbolises the recognition that prosperity is best achieved in an inclusive society.” – Tony Blair

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