As anyone reading this space knows (anyone? anyone? I can read your comments if you click the “(No) Comments” link above, you know), I’ve been thinking a lot about Detroit. And I think it’s fair to say that, once foreign cars began to arrive in the United States, and then gain wide acceptance for being affordable, high quality vehicles, Detroit was in trouble. Imports have not been kind to Detroit.
But here’s one that could be.
I met Yusuf Randera-Rees several weeks ago at the Skoll World Forum and talked to him on the phone a few days ago. His organization, the Awethu Project, is creating vibrant businesses where they rarely exist: South Africa’s townships, or what we would call slums.
The Awethu Project conducts brief trainings for those in the townships on how to create a business and then tells them to think up a business idea and put it into practice in their community. A month later, those who have created the most profit (with records to back up their claims) begin a more extended period of training. They receive support both for personal development and formalizing their business ideas, being taught “hard” topics like time budgeting and record keeping as well as “softer” topics including personal discipline. Those who excel become part of Awethu’s business accelerator, where Awethu helps move them from being small, isolated business towards becoming what Awethu really expects of them: to become business that are as good as the top businesses in the world and to link up, as appropriate, with that business ecosystem. Awethu also invests in these businesses, so their success benefits Awethu, further reinforcing the relationship and Awethu’s desire to see them excel.
The idea behind Awethu is simple: identify gifted entrepreneurs in under-resourced communities, and provide them with the training and resources needed to compete with the world’s best. The underlying premises, of course, is that there is a latent pool of such individuals everywhere who lack the opportunity, but not the inherent skills, to launch world-class businesses.
And if those potential world-beaters are everywhere, then they are certainly in the poorer parts of Detroit.
Yusuf is well educated, optimistic, and idealistic. And his efforts produce: he has developed a model of business talent identification in the township of Alexandra that has been noticed by the South African national government, which is now funding the project. In the coming year, Awethu will identify and put through its business accelerator program 1,000 entrepreneurs with world-class talent. As Awethu expands, Yusuf expects to take this idea across the country and then across the African continent.
You’ve heard Chrysler’s new slogan: Imported from Detroit. This is an idea Detroit (and the US) need to import themselves. Now.