Building Networks

With our key partners including the City of Cape Town’s Office of Sustainable Livelihoods (OSL), Business Bridge, and community members from Langrug, Flamingo Crescent, Langa, and Observatory, we held meetings and in-depth interviews to create a collaborative atmosphere. We began to form a working relationship with our partners by sharing our project ideas and personal experiences. Hearing their stories helped us understand the project from their point of view and gave us a clearer perspective on the opportunities for the project.

We established a weekly report meeting with our sponsors, OSL, to update them on our latest findings and discuss how to move forward. With our co-researcher, Maxwell Dingaan from OSL, we initiated more personal interactions including lunches and historical center visits. To the various community members, we demonstrated our willingness to help and provide our findings.

Researching the Market

The team talked to a variety of groups, spanning different informal settlements and professions, to gain a deep understanding of the energy efficient product market. We conducted four in-depth interviews and roughly a dozen short discussions to get more information regarding energy practices around heating, cooking, and lighting. Interviews provided valuable information about our target customers, ‘the poorest of the poor,’ and their buying psychology to help us move onto the next step of developing an entrepreneurial initiative.

Developing the Business Model

Our first step in developing a business model was understanding possible finance models for low income communities in South Africa. We began by researching different finance methods used by small businesses in developing countries – microcredit, microfiance, and microconsignment. Once we arrived in Cape Town, we held meetings with the local Wonderbag distributor and potential entrepreneurs to collaboratively determine the best finance model for distributing energy efficient products. Then, we needed to identify the possible distribution locations to serve the target market. We established criteria for distribution locations: have an additional business income, are trusted within the community, can demonstrate the products, and can provide affordable products to customers, then talked to multiple groups about places that fit all the criteria. We discussed the potential market for Wonderbags and distribution locations with crèche leaders participating in a Business Bridge class to expand their money management. We also participated in an Early Childhood Development forum, where 45 crèche leaders from different communities gathered to discuss crèche developments, to receive feedback on the Wonderbag price and crèches as distribution locations. These interactions gave us confidence to move forward with the crèche as the distribution location and provided us with a list of other possible distribution locations including churches and spaza shops.

Our next step in the process was creating a sustainable supply chain involving distributors and products. To accomplish this, we met with the local Wonderbag distributor again and reached out to In2Brands, a company selling energy efficient products, to explore finance methods and inventory delivery options.

Creating an Entrepreneurial Support Packet

In order to explain the Business Model and responsibilities clearly, the team created the Entrepreneurial Support Packet. We consulted with our advisors and co-researcher to brainstorm methods that effectively convey information to entrepreneurs. We next determined effective methods of advertising product savings to low income community members. We relied on our energy market research and product knowledge to calculate energy savings and depict them using simple diagrams rather than graphs.

Reevaluating and Adapting the Entrepreneurial Initiative

We aimed to help entrepreneurs start businesses by implementing Pilot Programs. To find potential entrepreneurs, we visited six crèches that varied in size, number of students, monthly fees, and location. In every visit, we brought a Wonderbag to explain how it works. If anyone had previously cooked with a Wonderbag, we first asked them to explain the benefits. Then, we used our Entrepreneurial Support Packet to further describe the uses of the Wonderbag, as well as the potential for a distribution business and the entrepreneurial responsibilities.

Two crèches partook in a two week Pilot Program, allowing us to evaluate the Business Model and Entrepreneurial Support Packet and get valuable feedback from the crèche leaders. The effectiveness of the Pilot Program was evaluated based on whether the crèche leader was able to sell Wonderbags and take the initiative to call the distributor for more inventory. Due to the project duration, we were unable to analyze the long-term sustainability. Throughout the program, the team monitored their progress and gathered information. The feedback helped us modify the Entrepreneurial Initiative for future implementation.