Self-made restaurateur Itumeleng Mpatlanyana, right, and a friend.
Giving back to the community through its philanthropic projects is what Thebe Foundation Company (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Thebe Development Foundation) has built its esteemed reputation for its ground breaking strategic philanthropy over 22 years.

In 2016 the Thebe Foundation established Siyeza, a unique community based retail distribution concept aimed at driving prosperity through shared local community values and by redefining the value chain within the complex economic and social township environment.

Siyeza is an entrepreneur development franchise tailored specifically for the township demography; to empower, build and develop community from the ground upwards. It started its first distribution hub in the Ekurhuleni townships of Kathorus, (Katlehong, Thokoza & Vosloorus) supporting several entrepreneurial co-operatives that utilise Siyeza’s buying power to deliver affordable groceries and fresh produce to customers via Tuk-Tuk vehicles.

Customers range from households, spaza shops, township businesses, crèches, churches and other community groups that benefit from savings in transport and reduced downtime. Siyeza entrepreneurs generate their own income from sales and are also trusted brand ambassadors.

Each hub is able to reach around 300000 customers and employs around four people directly for people hub manager, buyer, mechanic and administrative staff, while developing anywhere from 15 to 30 previously unemployed youth. These entrepreneurs are organised into primary co-operatives with two vehicles (plus backup if needed) dedicated to each co-operative.

Sustainability

The financial success of Siyeza also contributes to ensure the sustainability of the Thebe Foundation to fulfil its mandate of supporting the poor and disadvantaged.

Siyeza has turned the challenges of the legacy of suppressing the development of township businesses, the unrelenting income inequality in South African society and high rate of unemployment in townships into an opportunity to create a shared value platform to develop life and business skills. In so doing it is ensuring the long-term sustainability and growth of township communities.

Siyeza’s business model thus also benefits from “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, by the community for the benefit of the community. Its core business strategy is balanced social partnership between profit making businesses that are an integral part of a healthy community ecosystem.

By selling on credit to certain customers Siyeza unlocks access to much needed working capital, allowing these businesses to scale up and grow faster.

Siyeza also maintains a training and development centre within each distribution hub, functioning both to train Siyeza entrepreneurs and also incubate and support local businesses.

This support includes guiding, mentoring, up-skilling in financial management, business skills and technology, and passing on valuable life skills to township entrepreneurs. By “buying local” and creating localised value chains, Siyeza can circulate the township rand several times over and thus grow and keep the wealth in the community.

Furthermore, in working with SA corporates keen to access the township economy, Siyeza is able to keep township consumers better informed through trusted marketing, financial and other services.

Some of Siyeza’s current local distribution partners are Bokomosa, a women’s co-operative trained to produce the extremely popular Kombucha iced tea with significant health benefits known world-wide. M-JUS is a dynamic berry juice manufacturer also based in Kathorus, east of Johannesburg. An emerging Orange Farm entrepreneur has also used Siyeza’s attractive pricing to start her own mini-hub and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods supply business in the area; and an empowered local driver is contracted to supply Orange Farm from the Kathorus hub.

Siyeza has proven the success of its business model in Ekurhuleni and will continue to develop further township market such as Tembisa, Umlazi and Mdantsane.

There is also limitless potential for growth in local small suppliers as well as organic farming co-operatives with localised agro-processing and distribution.

Bevan Jones is the chief executive of Siyeza.