Poverty. Gangsterism. Substance abuse. These are daily issues facing residents of Helenvale, a township just outside of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Historically developed as a suburb to accommodate 6,000 forcibly removed inhabitants in the Apartheid Era, Helenvale is now home to over 20,000 residents. Almost 70% of its population is below the age of 35 and almost half of its residents are unemployed – according to 2011 data from StatsSA. All of these factors amalgamate into a myriad of socio-political and economic complexities – and mainstream media coverage of shootings, protests and gang activities give Helenvale a rather grim name.
As part of their BDAL project, SMDP syndicate group named ‘The Avengers’, approached and partnered with Helenvale Centre of Hope, an NPO based in the Helenvale township. The team members in this group included Zen Chetty (Volkswagen), Walter Stevens (Tenneco), Owen Puley (Namzinc), Pamela Manyaka (Tshipi e Ntle Manganese Mining), Junior Lechaba (Volkswagen) and David Cuff (Woolworths).
Within USB-ED’s Senior Management Development Programme (SMDP) participants are provided with the tools required to operate efficiently on a strategic level. One such mechanism for facilitating this learning process is the Business Driven Action Learning (BDAL) project: a practical assignment focused on achieving leadership development and true organizational transformation, using a results-focused orientation. When the BDAL groups are formed at the beginning of the programme, the group members collectively decide on which NGO/NPO/SMME they would like to approach to request a partnership with. An investment on behalf of the NGO/NPO, this journey speaks to meetings, calls, and laying their business models and operations bare for scrutiny by the group. Such is the case that very often, the BDAL groups remain on to support the NGO/NPO well after the SMDP project is over – as it is a space in which close bonds are formed, with the group’s support bearing fruit for the NGO/NPO in many ways.
Established in 2016, the Helenvale Centre of Hope is an after-school drop-in-centre providing programs for youth living in the township. With a vision to meet the basic needs of children between the ages of 4- and 18-years-old, the centre aims to provide hope and empowerment through educational, social and emotional support. Overseen by a management committee of youth in Helenvale, the staff body consists of three child- and youth-care workers who are supported by high school learners, educators and older adult volunteers. This team provides healthy role-model relationships and counsel to the children who attend the centre.
‘The Avengers’ BDAL group noted that the main issue that they identified the Helenvale Centre of Hope could improve was being able to optimise how much of a difference it could make, while bringing value to the community. This was being influenced by a number of factors, some completely unavoidable – such as volunteers balancing day jobs with their part-time management of the organisation. Following detailed research and analysis, the BDAL group was able to assist by identifying possible solutions that would serve in a sustainable way for the Helenvale Centre of Hope team. These included initiatives that would provide the management team with the strategic capability to ensure a more sustainable income for the Centre, while optimising the intensity of the Centre’s impact within the community.
As a result, Helenvale Centre of Hope has managed to open a fully fledged store selling personalised goods, and a resource center equipped with a donation of 15 complete desktops and 5 laptops, as well as securing a financial donation. The team continues to work closely with the centre, meeting on a monthly basis, even though the BDAL project is over.
Sharing exclusively about his personal experience of the project with USB-ED, Walter Stevens mentioned, “It gave me a new perspective and enormous amount of insight into management principles and practices. I also met new friends and a large network of acquaintances and professionals.”
Similar sentiments were shared by David Cuff, as he reflected, “I thoroughly enjoyed the SMDP program and made the most of this amazing opportunity. I went into the program with an extremely positive frame of mind open to learning, building new networks and passing on my knowledge. The highlight was our BDAL project group and our learning facilitator, Thys, who always pushed us to do better and was direct with his feedback. The pinnacle was working in partnership with our NPO, Helenvale Centre of Hope. They are amazing, and to see how they grew and adapted the learnings from our project into their organisation was – and continues to be – extremely satisfying!” He went on to share, “The course pushes you out of your comfort zone and provides you with tools that you will be able to use throughout your career. It does require additional time and effort over and above your day job and your family life, but it is so worth it.”
As a project within the Senior Management Development Programme, the BDAL is about dealing with a real business challenge. This learning experience is enhanced as the results of metrics such as increased revenue, optimised processes, and the value of partnerships fructify – and create a direct impact on the partner organisation. It is through involvement in collaborative initiatives such as the Helenvale Centre of Hope that USB-ED celebrates our graduates contributing not only to the development of economies, but also to the societies within Africa. As a true embodiment of the spirit of “Ubuntu,” we can achieve so much more when we come together for the greater good. As Junior Lechaba shared, one of the most notable outcomes of the project for him was the knowing that it is never too late to contribute to the good of the society at a professional level.