Interactive course equips trainees to start businesses

Cape Town township residents learning valuable business skills during an interactive course presented at a local church.

[notice]Gateway News writer Gerschwin Langeveldt recently visited a church in the Cape Town township of Mfuleni where he caught up with local residents attending a course that equips them to start their own businesses. He also chatted to Laura and Bruce who run the business training in conjunction with an NPO in South Africa. The couple have run courses in several countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and in 13 places across South Africa. Gerschwin shares what he experienced. [/notice]

I didn’t even know which way I should be driving that Saturday morning, I’m ashamed to admit. I knew Mfuleni was the destination but as to it’s exact location, I was clueless. Thanks to a friend who visits the area regularly to do outreach, I arrived at The Assemblies of Christ Federal just after eleven. Training had already started.

As I walked into the thick of things shouts of, “Are you ready to negotiate!” could be heard while participants were crowding over pieces of paper frantically doing calculations.

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This is the essence of the BEST (Business Express Savings Training) programme in which trainees learn about the ins and outs of running a business as they participate in an interactive, simulated market place. Over a period of three to four weeks they get to grips with practical skills such as budgeting, cash flow forecasting and marketing while actively engaging with the interactive business game developed by and licensed to the South African Institute for Entrepreneurship. The skills acquired apply to running any business, no matter how small.

In week two of the training, participants are given a small loan to start their own businesses. It is time to implement what they are learning!

Trainees engrossed in a marketplace simulation.

While the trainees were busy with the simulation I sneaked into the kitchen to speak with Zoliswa Mqondeki. She is a mom of three and wife to Alec. She was busy preparing lunch for everyone. I wanted to hear from her since I was told she had done the training two years earlier and was mainly there to help out and translate for the facilitators. I had a long chat with her regarding life after BEST Training.

Past students
Zoliswa is currently running her own business. She runs a shop from home selling sweets, soft drinks and, more recently, meat. I asked how the business was going:

“Its going well but we had a problem with selling stuff like for cash. So one of the things they are teaching us on the training is that you make sure that you sell your stuff for cash because with credit you can expect to write it off. It’s good but we still apply credit which is very bad for the business. But you find that sometimes you don’t have a choice because it doesn’t go well.”

Indeed it seems that not all went well for Zoliswa in the past two years.

“I remember last year I did sell then I stopped. My husband wasn’t working the whole of last year. I was working two days. There were a lot of challenges, so I stopped selling. Bruce always tells us about honesty so he knew I had used all the money like to make sure that my family survives. Because we had to eat and things like that. It just falls off but I kept coming.”

She says she was also motivated by the success of past trainees who are not Christians.

“What encouraged me was like their businesses were doing good and then I was sitting at home thinking, I’m a Christian they’re not a Christian but I’m giving up. So that’s when I started doing it again.”

Significantly, Laura and Bruce teach Biblical principles in each of the four training modules. These include principles such as excellence, honesty, integrity, planning, and God’s purposes of business.

“There is so much in the Word on business, money, profit, generosity etc. and we teach those principles in the initial training and in the follow-up programme that we run,” says Laura.

But back to Zoliswa’s story. Her business is back on the road and doing well. She’s been selling beef burgers which are turning out to be quite a hit. In fact, she boasted a healthy profit in the last month. It seems that her persistence is paying off!

Another graduate of the programme is Leo Blom. He was there that morning giving computer lessons. A graduate of Oval College where he did a diploma in IT, he had this to say about the BEST programme:

“For me it was very educational because I had done business subjects and short courses but you don’t really get to touch on the practicalities of it.

“What I liked about it was that as we were learning we were actually putting it into practical use. Me and my group got to start our own little business. We were given a small amount of money that we had to use to generate an income. We then had to apply the principles we learned. For me this was a huge eye opener.”

Current students
At lunch, over a sandwich and a soft drink, I managed to chat to the current crop of students. From our short one-on-one discussions two things became quite clear. One insight was that, like Leo, the students all appreciated the teaching on money management. This came up in every discussion; how they hadn’t budgeted before and how they feel this lesson was a big help. The other thing that was clear to me was that all of them in their own little micro businesses had the same dilemma that Zoliswa had. The issue with selling on credit. It seems quite pervasive.

Saturday was the Mfuleni students’ last day of training. The next step will most likely be to continue with and grow their businesses. The organisers will then meet with them once a month to mentor them and support them in their ventures. Here’s wishing them all the BEST!

Anybody interested in obtaining more information about the training is welcome to email

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