With 7.6 million residents (Source: StatsSA 2016) or 12% of SA total population, the Eastern Cape is home to a large rural population where unemployment is a stubborn fact sitting at 40 of the total eligible workforce in the Eastern Cape struggle to secure employment. The impact on youth between the ages of 15-34, according to the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council’s (ECSECC) Labor Market Overview 2022Q3 Report, sadly reflects that 53% of those reviewed or more than half of young people cannot find work. The lack of job prospects and infrastructure challenges specifically in rural regions further worsen and when it comes to 44% of women affected directly and men at 41%.
At Avovision, we believe that whilst South Africa’s faces numerous challenges including unemployment, is a national charge that we are all enjoined in to provide pathways to success and solutions to reduce and eradicate this scourge. As a champion of green business initiatives, Avovision has taken a significant step in empowering young entrepreneurs through its Green Business Value Chain (GBVC) programme.
One of the most inspiring journeys in the search for employment solutions with environmental impact has been that of Sinikeziwe “Nicky” Tshobisa and Kwakhiwa Mshoboyi and their founding of KFOX Company, a start-up, green enterprise located in the Mvenyane Village in Matatiele. These two entrepreneurs started their journey in transforming the charcoal industry by utilising alien invasive Black Wattle all with the support and guidance provided by Avovision’s GBVC programme and a support system that places the dual challenge of reversing unemployment and impact environment, front and centre.
The Road to Entrepreneurship: In 2020, Sinikeziwe, armed with a degree in communication science, found herself caught in the frustrating cycle of job hunting. Despite her qualifications, finding employment proved to be a challenging and disheartening experience, one of the many hundreds of thousands of “discouraged work seekers” roaming our country.
Realizing that she was not alone in this struggle, Sinikeziwe became increasingly aware that waiting for opportunities to come her way might not be the best approach. Meanwhile, Kwakhiwa Mshoboyi, who had faced his own setbacks after failing his matriculation exams in 2015, had been searching for avenues to create a sustainable livelihood for him and his family.
A Life-Changing Opportunity: Fate intervened when Kwakhiwa came across the Youth Employment Service (YES) Program, facilitated by Conservation South Africa (CSA), in Mvenyane. This 12-month program opened doors for Kwakhiwa, offering him a chance to acquire knowledge in business, entrepreneurship, leadership, and nature conservation. Intrigued by the world of business, Kwakhiwa began conducting research and delving deeper into entrepreneurship.
There is an African proverb which says “if you want to walk fast, walk alone – but if you want to walk far, walk together“. These two unlikely strugglers would soon find that the story of common struggle would pretty soon result in an opportunity for the journey to be one of “walking together”.
A Partnership borne of Common Struggle: With a business idea in mind, Kwakhiwa recognised the need for a partner with specific skills. Nicky’s passion for writing, communication expertise, and ability to express herself made her an ideal fit. Kwakhiwa approached her, and at a time when Sinikeziwe was grappling with the challenges of unemployment and feeling disillusioned, the opportunity presented a new path forward. Embracing the venture wholeheartedly, Sinikeziwe seized the chance to use her skills and embark on a journey of entrepreneurship.
The Birth of KFOX: At the heigh of Covid-19 in 2020, these courageous two registered KFOX as a furniture manufacturing company focused on producing products from recycled materials. Their interest in the Green Business Value Chain (GBVC) grew as they realised the immense potential of rural areas, especially in Mvenyane, to contribute to the environment and combat climate change. Observing the negative impact of alien invasive Black wattle in their village, they recognized an opportunity to address the issue by transforming it into charcoal, the new Green Gold for sustainable forestry.
Incubation and Growth: Through Avovision’s GBVC incubation programme that partnered with Conservation South Africa (CSA), Sinikeziwe and Kwakhiwa gained comprehensive knowledge about running a successful business, financial literacy, and the intricacies and training needed to produce market-ready high-quality charcoal. They received training, mentorship, and guidance, equipping them with the necessary skills to run their business effectively. The lessons learnt through Avocado Vision’s support became invaluable as they faced challenges, set goals, and experienced both successes and failures.
Avovision’s Support: Through the partnership with IDC, Avovision provided essential financial support to KFOX, granting them a startup fund of R85,000. This assistance allowed the young entrepreneurs to hire 2 more people ,purchase equipment, tools, and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as cover compliance fees such as the CMO Audit. The financial backing by IDC with technical guidance from Avovisionn played a crucial role in the sustainable growth and development of KFOX . Since they started production, they have restored millions of liters of water through their cleared biomass, producing 645 kg of charcoal and selling 483 kg.
Empowering the Next Generation: Sinikeziwe and Kwakhiwa’s journey serves as an inspiring example for young people who find themselves in similar circumstances. They urge the youth to embrace entrepreneurship and become problem solvers rather than waiting for employment opportunities. By identifying problems and transforming them into opportunities, they believe that the younger generation can play a pivotal role in creating sustainable solutions.
Future Goals: Looking ahead, KFOX aims to become a significant contributor to the green economy, providing nature-based solutions and trading internationally. Their vision expands beyond charcoal production to include the creation of charcoal-based products such as charcoal toothpaste, charcoal soap, charcoal face mask and activated charcoal powder. Through their commitment to nature and environmental conservation, KFOX strives to generate sustainable employment opportunities for rural communities.
Conclusion: Sinikeziwe Tshobisa and Kwakhiwa Mshoboyi’s journey as young charcoal producers incubated by Avocado Vision in the Green Business Value Chain exemplifies the power of entrepreneurship in transforming lives, communities and the environment. Their story inspires hope and demonstrates the importance of an enabling support systems and mentorship in fostering sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses. Indeed, what this intrepid business partnership represents is that when struggle meets opportunity, “Walking Together” on the road to success is more fulfilling and sustainable if done with others.