Final Reflections

12 07 2011

The following blog entries are Social Entrepreneur Corps interns’ reflections on their experiences after six weeks working with Social Entrepreneur Corps in South Africa. Interns began their time in South Africa with two weeks of foundation building, which included discussions, readings, and reflections about poverty, development work, relief work, and social entrepreneurship among other topics. Interns then spent four weeks working in the field in three different environments of urban, semi-urban, and rural.  During their field work interns:

  • Performed grassroots consulting with 7 different local organizations
  • Conducted the first two MicroConsignment Campaigns in South Africa (with over 100 eye exams and 72 glasses sold)
  • Completed 77 needs analysis and product feasibility surveys for the expansion of the MicroConsignment Model in South Africa
  • Developed funding proposals to support three local nonprofit organizations

SEC intern Deshawn Lewis reflects on all of her experiences working in the field and in the classroom to respond to the question, “How has your experience working with SEC in South Africa impacted your understanding of either poverty, development vs relief work, or social entrepreneurship?”

Deshawn takes a break for a photo while conducting needs analysis in Balfour

“My experience in South Africa has drastically changed my perception of South African development. I’ve been told time and time on this trip: “South Africa is a first world country with third world problems”, no statement better encapsulates the country. This is a troubling situation when approaching South Africa with the intention of relief or development work. Most of the organizations we work with are funded from the United States or Europe yet South Africa appears to have the resources to do the same. Do international donors make way for the government to provide the luxuries they provide for some of their citizens to all? Do they continue their work knowing at any point the government may step in and disrupt their entire operation? How do they convince people of the benefits of solar power while competing with a thriving “unofficial electricity sector” which provide electricity to charge phones and other devices at reasonable rates? In my opinion, in South Africa more than other places the government needs to be sitting at the other side of the table during development talks. The ANC government and private sector not only over promise but have the resources available to meet those promises, development agencies and government need to be coordinated in order for serious progress to be made.

One of the most modern and expansive malls I’ve stepped into is the V&A Waterfront, located right off the ferry to Robben Island it is a great tourist location. The V&A Waterfront also provides a great shopping center for South Africa’s middle class and beyond, containing any store one could want. Located about a 30 minute drive away is one of the largest townships in South Africa, Khayelitsha a shantytown with population numbers in the millions and counting. Some areas still lacking basic access to electricity only 30 minutes away from a mall sporting a Ferris wheel in front eternally lit at night for the simple task of attracting attention. How do international relief and development organizations go in offering solar lamps when at any time a BMW can be spotted driving from a well lit, water supplied first world mall? The situation is even bleaker for local initiatives finding themselves underfunded and over regulated by their countries governance. Baphumelele is an orphanage working in Khayelitsha providing a home for the community’s orphans and much needed health and nutritional education for its residence. The organization receives most of its funding form international organization but over the past years while the amount of local funding has not increased the government regulation of orphanage has drastically increased, specifically limiting the means children can be accepted and placing excessive red tape on the registration process for aid and medicine.

These are not situations unique to Khayelitsha but have been the norm in most of South Africa. It is not a country in need of relief but in desperate need of development. But development is needed on a grand scale because the haves of the country are so far ahead of the have-nots. A Community Enterprise Solutions entrepreneur could potentially create a small business that lifts her out of her shantytown dwelling. These types of success stories are far more desirable than the blatant overpromising and underperforming being practices in South Africa today. My experience in South Africa shows how much more work is needed in South Africa.”

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