Scene 2: Getting to know Wonderbags and Building Networks

Friday, October 24th

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, and partner, Tom Parry from the Business Bridge. This meeting changed our project, as we will be focusing more on distributing the Wonderbags and we will start our project by finding local distributors. Friday will focus on meeting with the local Wonderbag distributor and presenting our project to the Early Childhood Development (ECD) community in order to find entrepreneurs to sell the Wonderbags.

Tom asked the group to pick up the business manuals from his office for our own usage, so we went upstairs. However, we did not know where his office was and wandered in the hall. We saw some secretaries chatting in one office so we asked whether they can guide us to his office. The secretaries were very friendly and took us to Tom’s office and gave the manuals to us. One lady thought the Wonderbags we were holding were sleeping bags and asked us about them. This humorous approach made the atmosphere more relaxed and initiated the conversation between all of us. We introduced the Wonderbags to the secretaries and one of them was very surprised when she realized that she could take her ice cream to the beach by using Wonderbags. They kept complimenting the Wonderbags and gave suggestions to us for presenting the Wonderbags.
Cast of Characters
Peter Sharples is a major distributor of Wonderbags. He sells Wonderbags to the Office of Sustainable Livelihoods, as well as to other individuals across South Africa. On Friday he met with us to explain how to sell products. Also Peter provided us with two Wonderbags.

Solomon Willis teaches classes for the Business Bridge. He introduced us to his class, and helped us to connect with the crèche employees who were taking it. During the discussion with the women, Solomon acted as a translator.

Rina is enrolled in the Managing Money course at the Business Place. She is also a leader of her locale crèche. Additionally, she volunteered to introduce us to the forum of 45 crèche employees on Wednesday.
On Friday, we went upstairs in the Business Place. It is not as nice as the first floor, however it is still well maintained. We presented in a classroom upstairs which was filled with fifteen women sitting at tables next to three of the walls, while Solomon taught with an easel and a pad of large poster paper. Although there was a laptop and projector available in the room, they were not used while we watched. The women were all provided with pens and paper, as well as a large two inch binder full of course material. Also, light snacks and beverages were provided to the students during their break. The picture below shows a Wonderbag.

Jing and the Bag

A Wonderbag

We began planning for our presentation on Thursday. We decided the main talking points: introduce ourselves, introduce the Wonderbags, ask for thoughts on the Wonderbags, explain how we wanted to sell the Wonderbags, and end by asking for advice on distribution methods. We had a 10:00 am meeting with Peter Sharples, who explained the Wonderbags in detail. This information allowed us to speak with authority about the Wonderbags, their use, and provided potential distribution methods. Our meeting on Thursday provided some ideas on distribution methods, which provided us a strong basis for the women to add to. Friday afternoon we met with Scott and Steve to refine our plan. The presentation was late in the afternoon, which gave us enough time to prepare for it.

The most important part of our day was when we interacted with community members in the classroom. We waited in the hall, as we did not want to interrupt the lesson, however, Solomon gestured for us to come into the room and participate. After everyone said hello, the four of us sat in the back of the class and watched as Solomon (Solly) explain how to create a balance sheet.  The class was interactive, as Solly engaged the women, and us, with questions. When Rina asked how these economic principles applied to her running a crèche, Solly quickly used real world examples, which all the women could relate to. The mood drastically changed when banks were mentioned. A woman asked why they should use a bank, when white people would take their money using fees and low interest rates. Solly handled the situation very well by pointing out that the banks take just as much, if not more, money from the rich whites. Overall, the class was very open, with many women engaging and participating in the discussion, despite our fear that our attendance might greatly alter the classroom dynamic.

During the break, Solly spoke with us so we could explain our project, what we wanted to present to his students, and what a Wonderbag was. After the women had all come back, Solomon introduced us and we began our presentation. One of the women, Thaokale, had used Wonderbags before and explained what they were in Xhosa. This helped the women relax and support our project. Then we explained how our project related to them as we hope to have them sell the Wonderbags at their crèches. We opened the floor to any comments and suggestions. At first the women did not have much to say; however, Solly was able to encourage participation. Although everyone spoke English, we did not always understand them. There were many places and events we had not heard of, but Solly was able to explain them and act as a translator. Participation grew and the women began to suggest other ideas such as vendors, shebeens, and churches. Overall the presentation yielded a large number of ideas, spread interest in distributing the Wonderbags, and we even sold a Wonderbag to Solly at the end of the presentation; the day was a large step forward for our project.
Reflection and Learning
The success of the presentation provided us with a direction to progress our project. Most importantly, it established crèches as a viable distribution center, despite not having finalized a specific community to work in.  Also, we have a list of locations and people to speak with in order to find entrepreneurs. The next big step will be to meet with the teachers again at their forum in Khaylelitsha, where all 45 members will be present. We plan on finding crèches to sell the Wonderbags as well as gaining more insights from the ECD community. Overall, we did fairly well at capturing the women’s viewpoints; however, it could have been better. The women were hesitant to speak at first, as we had not spent time getting to know them. We were able to communicate and connect with Solly, who gave us many good ideas and may be a potential partner for our project. We chose to have a meeting Monday afternoon at the Office of Sustainable Livelihoods to regroup with our sponsors.

Scene 3:  Sharing Ideas and Findings