[notice]The Hope Factory, a remarkable South African entrepreneurial development success story, is making a massive difference to previously unemployed people through its skills training centre in Port Elizabeth. There are a number of opportunities for local people to get involved, says marketing and communications coordinator Jolandi Snyders.[/notice]
It is 10 years since The Hope Factory (THF) started in a church garage in Cape Town, with a few sewing machines and a vision to empower unemployed people to become financially independent.
A decade later THF is headed up by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants, has a head office in Johannesburg, a sales office in Cape Town and a thriving production centre and brand new manufacturing hub in Port Elizabeth, and is recognised as one of the most successful and sustainable entrepreneurial development programmess in South Africa. During the past 10 years nearly 900 previously unemployed people — mostly women — have been trained and empowered by THF and more than 80% of them are still economically active.
Clearly, a great deal has changed at THF since founder and CEO Liz Zambonini and a few volunteers started out with their first 10 learners in 2001. However the original vision to equip previously unemployed people to earn a living is still the core focus and passion of the organisation.
In recent times I had been hearing some positive reports about THF through the grapevine, so I gladly accepted an invitation from marketing and communications coordinator Jolandi Snyders to visit the production centre in North End, PE, to see what they were doing.
The production centre is sensibly located in a part of town that is on the main taxi route from the townships which are home to many of the learners. It is a neighbourhood that looks like any other old, slightly decaying, mixed commercial and industrial area. And so I was suitably surprised and impressed by what I saw during my visit yesterday. “Excellence” is a word that easily springs to mind. The interior of the production centre was corporate, laid-back, designer and funky — all at the same time: creating a wonderful workspace. And the people — the staff, the learners, and the graduates creating products in the production area — seemed to be motivated, diligent, happy and professional. These of course were just first impressions, based on a short visit. But very tangible impressions of a positive culture.
And so, I was pleased to learn from Jolandi, that the culture of THF is Christ-centered. Regular prayer meetings involving staff and learners, managers praying with learners and guiding them through issues, and people testifying to the difference that Christ makes in their lives are a normal feature of life at the centre.
“It’s part of living the mandate that God has given us to promote social justice,” said Jolandi.
The Christian culture of THF is not spelled out in its public profile but the fruits are there to be seen in the many people who have found dignity and hope in acquiring skills and an income.
THF has developed a real win-win programme. It is well supported by many corporates, who score entrepreneurial development points for their investment while enabling the non-profit organisation to offer free 20-weeks skills training programmes and mentoring to unemployed people, thus contributing to the socio-economic development of South Africa.
The PE centre has two intakes of 68 learners each per year. Six hundred unemployed people applied to be included in the last intake which was only advertised once in a local newspaper. The successful applicants were selected via a screening process which assessed aptitudes for key areas of the skills training, such as patern making which requires a degree of mathematics literacy.
Holistic training approach
The technical skills training is fashion design oriented and utilises fashion design graduates from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. However, due to the holistic training approach, which includes business, life and technical skills training, as well as mentoring and job creation support, the graduates are equipped with the skills and confidence to start businesses or seek employment in various fields. Indeed just a few of the success stories include graduates who have started businesses making matric dance dresses, traditional clothing, pillows, doorstops, handbags, wire and bead art and baked muffins.
A highlight of the year is the graduation ceremony which includes a fashion show in which the learners model clothes designed and made by themselves: evening wear in the case of the women and suits in the case of the men.
Once the learners have graduated, they can choose to start their own business, seek formal sector employment, or join The Hope Factory’s Job Creation Project. Within this job creation project, graduates manufacture a wide range of beautiful, handmade corporate gifts and conference materials in a production area within the centre.
New manufacturing hub
In a new development THF has launched a manufacturing hub in North End. This project is still at an early stage of development but ultimately it will provide a valuable boost to graduates who live in poverty stricken areas where it is difficult to set up manufacturing facilities and to engage with clients. Top THF entrepreneurs will be able to operate from the hub which will include manufacturing space and equipment, office space, office equipment, space for meeting clients and a products display area.
It seems that just like I was until today, many people in PE know little if anything about The Hope Factory. Jolandi said the organisation is keen for PE people to learn about all that it has to offer and to become involved in its exciting initiatives.
The Hope Factory intended to create more awareness of the products of its graduate entrepreneurs. Buying products from them was more than purchasing merchandise: it was making a positive difference.
Local companies could also support THF by purchasing products from its Job Creation Project. The wide range of quality products that can be ordered can be viewed on the THF online catalogue.
The Hope Factory was also keen for PE businesses to become more involved in the mentoring of graduates who were establishing businesses in their field. They would also like to see more local businesses employing THF graduates.
More information about THF is available on the website or by phoning 041 484 7400.