Scene 1: First Introductions

Thursday, October 23rd

This project is a fifteen-week long project, divided into two sections: seven weeks preparation in United States, and eight weeks execution in Cape Town. Six project teams made of twenty six students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute have done a variety of research addressing humanity, environment, and cultural issues and have plans to improve the livelihoods in Cape Town in the next eight weeks. Our project is to improve the energy practices by selling energy products through entrepreneurs in the local community. We had been communicating through emails and phone conference with Sid, our co-researchers, Jacques and Cindy from Office of Sustainable Livelihoods, and Tom Perry, the CEO of Business Bridge South Africa before we arrived in Cape Town. They have given us a lot of important information and insights into the local community. However, because of time conflicts, Sid could no longer work as our co-researcher. Our first face to face meeting was held on October 23rd, 2014 at Philippi Business Center. In this meeting, we are planning to talk about what the team has done in the past and exchange ideas with our partners. This meeting provided us a guideline of our working structure in the next seven weeks.
Cast of Characters
Tom Perry met with us on Thursday morning and provided many valuable insights on how to run a business. Overall his role will not be as large as we initially planned, however we will be able to use Business Bridge educators as co-researchers. Tom provided advice on distribution methods; he also suggested we use crèches to sell Wonderbags.

Cindy and Jacques are our sponsors from the City of Cape Town’s Office of Sustainable Livelihoods. They met with us on the first day to discuss our project with Scott and Steve. We are facilitating their plan to sell the Wonderbags in low income communities. Also, they will provide us with the Wonderbags, as they already purchased a large amount of them for distribution.
Our first week occurred at the Business Place. It is a facility designed to encourage local entrepreneurs to interact and connect with fellow entrepreneurs. Eckbert is the branch manager, and although we have not been able to explain our project to him, he has allowed us to stay in the conference room for a prolonged period of time. As a whole, the two floor facility is very well maintained, the walls are nicely painted, and the people who use the facility are well dressed and professional. The figure below shows the outside of the Business Place.


The Business Place

Our project in Cape Town began with a 9:30 am meeting at the Business Place in Philippi with our sponsors, Cindy and Jacques from the Office of Sustainable Livelihoods (OSL), and partner, Tom from the Business Bridge.  We prepared for this vital meeting with our work in ID2050. Also, on Wednesday there was a discussion with Scott and Steve, and it was decided that Scott would lead the meeting. We had been anticipating this meeting for a while, as it would connect us all for the first time, clarify who the entrepreneurs are that we would be working with, and determine the next steps of our work here in Cape Town.

The meeting began with Jacques describing the OSL’s goals and past experiences with Wonderbags. They gave out 3,000 bags to a number of communities, varying the income, living conditions, and size of each community. The bags were well received, with a 100% uptake, and the number of uses each week varied between two and ten. This demonstrated that people like using the product, especially when it is provided for free. Tom pointed out that this distribution method will hurt sales, as entrepreneurs will not be able to sell Wonderbags in a community that has already been provided them for free. This creates a challenge for us, because it limits the locations where we can work.  Another obstacle that came up in the meeting was the price of the Wonderbags; they cost R210. This can be a challenge for many of the poorer families, as this is a large upfront cost. Jacques explained some reasons this price is so high: the Wonderbags are made in Durban and that the material used inside has a high production cost. Although we discussed developing local production sources, we reached a consensus that this would require more time than our project allowed. Tom brought up another major point that the entrepreneurs only have an effective selling radius of 1 kilometer. This is because they do not know the population, and selling to strangers is very challenging. This means that we will have to train many community members for each area.
Reflection and Learning
The first meeting was a good start to this project. Although our starting point changed, as we do not have entrepreneurs yet, we received a large amount of information about the distribution models and the OSL’s progress with Wonderbags. We also connected the OSL and Business Bridge, an important objective which will allow both organizations to grow. One major issue which arose from our meeting was the lack of sustainability. Due to a small effective selling radius of the vendors, they will not be able to sell a large quantity of each product. We will attempt to work around this by having the vendors distribute a multitude of products. Our sponsors acknowledged that this will not be a sustainable model, however our project is intended as a pilot program to show its effectiveness and work out potential problems.

We plan on having two meetings tomorrow, one with a Wonderbag salesman and one with crèche teachers participating in a Business Bridge class. Part of our preparation for the Friday presentation to the ECD community is meeting with Peter, a local distributor of Wonderbags, to understand all the uses of Wonderbags and the best way to sell them. This will be essential in recruiting people interested in helping with our project. We are also interested to see if people will be willing to help from Mama Mimi, an organization that prepares and sells baked goods in informal settlements, as we think that will be an easier way to sell these products than trying to recruit people who already work as creche leaders. Karabo, an instructor at the Business Bridge, had initial ideas that were very helpful and useful resources which will continue to be valuable as we figure out possible distributors for our project.

Scene 2: Getting to know Wonderbags and Building Networks