30 July 2018

Social enterprises are replacing the traditional idea and way of doing business and we are seeing an increase in the amount of youth drawn to establishing enterprises within low-income communities to solve social-economic ills.

Social enterprises generate most of its income through trading or business initiatives; it reinvests most of its profits; seeks to create social value through its operations; has a specific social purpose and is both accountable and transparent.

Social enterprises can assume the legal form of a non-profit entity, a for-profit entity or both.

Nevertheless, in a world that is fast becoming more digitalized, technology has changed the way that non-profit organizations and social enterprises work.

This does not only apply to having an online presence to secure funding but requires a broader vision and access to resources that enables social enterprises to market their work successfully as well as collaborating with other entities doing similar work.

Having an online presence is a challenge for most social enterprises operating in low-income communities. They are not only faced with funding and staffing issues, but also find themselves in the center of the country’s unequal distribution of resources.

According to a study conducted by the World Bank, South Africa has the highest inequality index and about 25 million of the country’s citizens reside in low-income urban areas.

Low-income communities are situated within the data coverage of mobile networks and only have access to the internet via their mobile phones, but they do not have access to fibre or copper infrastructure.

Unfortunately, 1 GB of data in South Africa can cost up to between R100 and R150 depending on the service provider – a significant amount of money for something that is not considered a necessity in terms of the hierarchy of needs – specifically for someone who is unemployed.

Having to choose between putting food on the table vs buying 1GB of data to use for your social enterprise via your mobile phone is an unfair choice which millions of South African’s are having to make on a daily basis.

Even if some of these social entrepreneurs were to install in-house business internet connectivity, they will likely not be able to afford paying for the service over the long term. The reality is that Wireless Service Providers have designed their networks and costings around suburban households as target market.

The World Bank report of 2014 echoed the importance of connectivity by reporting that for every broadband roll out in developing countries there is a 1.38% in GDP growth.

This is a no brainer as far as the importance of digital inclusion in accelerating the growth of these enterprises that play a significant role in accelerating our national economic growth.

Project Isizwe advocates, as well as facilitates, the deployment of free internet hotspots within a walking distance in low-income communities for education, economic development and social inclusion, enabling access to the internet as a catalyst for change.

We are also pioneering and facilitating digital inclusion projects in low-income communities.

In our recent digital inclusion project in partnership with Glencore Mine in Emalahleni, 55% of our users are on the internet browsing or searching for more information regarding technology and computing.

Affluent citizens have access to all the development resources available on the internet at 1% of the cost charged to low income citizens.

As such, Project Isizwe aims to bridge the digital divide in low-income communities by advocating for subsidized free public WiFi access, which will assist social enterprises in these communities to not only develop a brand, but to also explore sustainable models for their businesses and be able to compete on equal standing with entrepreneurs who have access to the internet.