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Business is changing for good

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This article was published in the 4-September-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Business is changing for good. The days of companies existing only to make money are dying. You don’t have to look far to see the devastating impact that unchecked greed and lust for profit has had on our planet and our lives. From global warming to the financial crisis, it’s everywhere. And so today’s generation are growing up with a conscience, far more aware than their predecessors that they need to look after what we have, to preserve it for their children and their children’s children. Call it conscious capitalism, social good or conscious business. Today’s social entrepreneurs maximise value for all the stakeholders in a business – not only for the shareholders, but also for the bigger community, the employees, suppliers, partners and the environment. Although non-profits and charities have a vital role to play, these 21st century entrepreneurs want to use for-profit business to change the world for the better. Running a profitable, sustainable company and doing good don’t have to fight against each other in business. With conscious capitalism, a profitable business has a purpose far higher than maximizing profits and shareholder value.

And the conscious capitalism model works. Just look at Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines and the Container Store – all are very profitable companies. “Although it may sound counterintuitive,” Whole Foods CEO and conscious capitalist John Mackey writes, “the best way to maximize profits over the long term is to not make them the primary goal of the business.”

Generation Y or the Millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, have a burning desire to make the world a better place. Quintin de Jager is one such Millennial. At only 22 years of age, he is already making a tremendous impact with his “Youth in Business” initiative.

In January this year, Quintin started Youth in Business (YIB), working with his mother Jane de Jager and brother Janus. According to their website, YIB is a youth-owned for-profit company that helps other young South Africans to become entrepreneurs while empowering the youth to make healthy lifestyle choices. For as long as Quintin can remember, his mom Jane, founder of the Sensible Choices NPO, has been actively involved in the welfare of children, fighting child abuse and supporting vulnerable children. Since he was a young child, Quintin had helped her with her business. He later realised he could start his own business doing similar work but in a more business-oriented way. After two years studying economics and IT, he wanted to be more involved with people, but still needed to pay for his studies. So Quintin made the decision to start YIB while studying part-time.

Although it’s only been going for eight months, YIB is already making a positive impact on local business and the community. They launched their first Youth Hub in Nelspruit, and the first cohort of youth hub members is already four months into their six-month YIB mentorship programme. YIB is working with 38 companies in Mpumalanga. These include big multinationals like SAB Miller and Ford, national chains such as Wimpy, and smaller local businesses in Nelspruit like Farm Stall at Halls and Rise FM radio station.

How does the YIB model work? In Nelspruit, White River, Kabokweni Township and surrounding areas of Mpumalanga, community leaders identify young people with potential between the ages of 15 and 34. They can come from orphanages or schools. These young business-newbies join YIB’s mentorship programme and get six months of hands-on, on-the-job training in local businesses. So in a restaurant like Wimpy, this would mean the business owners and managers train the youth hub members on all the different types of jobs in their business, from cleaning, to kitchen work, admin and management. These young people work closely with the entrepreneurs and managers on site at their businesses and learn valuable skills from them. During this mentorship program they gain invaluable work experience, confidence, a practical, holistic understanding of business, as well as life skills. They learn financial skills, time management and other skills needed to be a successful business owner or employee. As Quintin says: “I don’t want businesses to simply give money to organisations and then say ‘OK, we’ve done our part’. I want business owners and managers to get involved with the youth by teaching them life skills and business skills. What better way is there to learn business skills than from businesspeople who have already built a successful business? This also means these youth members can themselves become successful business owners, employees or business leaders in their communities.”

The youth hub trainees do get paid a small fee while working in local businesses, but it’s not about the money. It’s about them developing their skills and getting work experience, even if it is only a six month stint through the YIB’s Youth Hub. This helps them get over the ‘unemployable’, no-work-experience hump. As Quintin says: “The goal is to bridge the gap between the job market and the person not having those skills.” After YIB’s mentorship programme, they can start their own businesses or get jobs. And the businesses they intern at, often go on to employ them if they perform successfully during the six-month programme. So it’s a win-win for everybody.

Corporates or individuals can invest directly in a young entrepreneur to get full BEE credits for youth enterprise development. In other words, they can claim Corp Social Investment (CSI) into youth enterprises from the BBBEE Codes of Good Practice.

For example, consider YIB’s substance abuse programme. Companies can invest in a young entrepreneur who earns an income presenting the programme in schools using YIB’s funky “Drunk and Drug Buster” goggles. Kids put on a pair of these goggles and they realistically experience what a drunk or drug-induced person goes through. They feel the same disorientation, distortion and memory loss, and it makes them think twice before consuming alcohol or drugs in real life. So the corporates’ investment supports youth economic participation and job creation. It also tackles the substance abuse challenges head-on within communities, where this often escalates into other crimes.

Big companies like Ford and SAB have used YIB to deliver substance abuse prevention programmes to institutions that they support. For example YIB was involved in the ‘You Decide’ bootcamp, a four-day leadership and life skills programme hosted by SAB. YIB handled the drug and alcohol prevention component, and got the participants to make short videos on Day Four of what they had learnt.

Companies can also partner with YIB via a private public partnership (PPP). So companies get to spend their CSI broadly on the youth hub and its members (and they can choose how this will be spent). But this spend is not dedicated to a specific person. As Quintin explains: “Companies invest in the equipment, skills and training that YIB gives youth hub members through our mentorship programme. And in turn, we help these young people make a success of their businesses.”

Where does YIB’s for-profit model fit into this? The YIB plans to roll out a licensee model countrywide for young entrepreneurs. After completing the 6-month programme, if they get a job or start earning a good amount of revenue in their enterprise, youth hub members will pay a small licensee fee to YIB. But they will only pay this for a short time. However, if YIB has hubs countrywide, YIB can earn income via member volumes.

Quintin’s long-term goal is to launch youth hubs in all nine provinces around the country. “I want to turn the challenges we have in SA into sustainable business opportunities for our youth, for example the substance abuse opportunity.”

How does YIB make this model sustainable? Quintin explains: “Eventually some of the youth hub members will have a part to play in that. They will go on to run and manage the youth hub and pass on the skills they’ve learnt, to new members. So by passing on the baton, it becomes self-sustainable. We want them to make a success of themselves after completing their 6-month programme, whether that means getting a job or starting their own business successfully. ”

Quintin has strong views on bridging the gap between profitable business and doing good: “If you are truly set on making a difference in the community, and you can see your work paying off and changing people’s lives for the better, making money out of it shouldn’t be an issue. You shouldn’t feel guilty for charging to do good, especially when you’re giving people invaluable, life-changing skills that you cannot put a price on, or helping them to earn an income that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to earn. You are already making a difference, you’re already changing somebody’s life. Why can’t you build a sustainable, revenue-generating business out of bettering someone else’s life?”

At only 22 years of age, it’s incredible just how much Quintin de Jager has achieved with his “Youth in Business” initiative after only eight months. With ethical, action-oriented social entrepreneurs like him at the helm, our future is in good hands.

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

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