Awards 2001 Special Commendation

Special Commendation


Cheaper and better bread; farming of edible snails; a game reserve near Durban with elephants, rhinos and giraffe; the mobilising of designers and artisans in South Africa's Northwest province to produce platinum jewellery; a finance company in the same province making loans to small businesses; a trailer to keep food warm for weddings; a garage which folds away after use: these along with the reform of schools and the training of local government officers are among the varied enterprises in which the National Business Initiative has played a part.

The NBI is a not-for-profit, business-based development organisation. Its focus on skills development, unemployment and the delivery of services means all South Africans benefit. The task of the NBI is to enhance the business contribution to South Africa's success through business-driven programmes that seek to instil business principles in management. All projects are undertaken in collaboration with government.

Business people played an important role in South Africa's transition to majority rule. In the late 1980s they opened a dialogue with black leaders and went on to facilitate talks between the African National Congress and the white Nationalist government. A pivotal role in this was played by Dr Theuns Eloff, a former minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1995 when the National Business Initiative was formed, he was appointed chief executive.

The NBI, which has 170 member companies - including multinationals - and a staff of 60, seeks to improve education and governance and to promote employment. Under the governance heading, the NBI seeks to promote public-private partnerships, for example in expanding the supply of water to poor people. It helped train over 400 town treasurers and many executive mayors and city managers.

For education and jobs, one NBI instrument is the Business Trust for Job Creation and Human Capacity Development. This is a fund, managed by NBI, to which companies have contributed nearly a billion rand. It has invested 100 million rand in a Colleges Collaboration Fund. This works in partnership with the Department of Education, provincial education departments and the country's 151 technical colleges to enable these colleges to be a more effective link between schools and work. The aim is to reduce duplication of services and subjects, respond to the needs of industry, and widen the colleges' clientele to include out-of-school youth, and adults who need lifelong learning. Fewer colleges will serve more learners more effectively with industrybased training that will equip them to enter employment.

Schools suffered badly from apartheid and the consequent political unrest. The NBI has responded with EQUIP (Education Quality Improvement Programme) which has transformed 320 schools with the help of government departments, private businesses and parents. An independent evaluation shows excellent improvements in management, morale, exam results and attendance.

However well-schooled, four South African schoolleavers in every five have to discover some way to employ themselves. The number of formal jobs has been falling. One initiative to combat this trend is the Northwest Province's Millennium Development Fund, set up by the provincial government to promote small business and managed by the NBI. Another is the EnterPrize competition which the NBI runs with about 70 of its member companies. People with ideas are helped to produce business plans and to find financial backers. The most promising win prizes of 150,000 rand (about 8,500).

One prizewinner makes lightweight, portable desks and is increasing his workforce to 55. The folding garage project already employs 55 and is setting up an office in Germany. EnterPrize helped about 20 companies to start or expand in 2001, creating 400 jobs.

The NBI sees tourism as the biggest creator of employment. In addition to training schemes, it is promoting several projects. It believes that, in ten years, 10,000 tourism jobs could be created in the poor but picturesque Valley of 1,000 Hills (north-west of Durban), a district steeped in Zulu culture and said to owe its name to Mark Twain. The central attractions for tourists will be a Zulu heritage centre and the Mkhambathini Game Reserve, an enterprise linking private landowners with local communities.

Durban with its three million population and eight million visitors and conference-goers a year, eager to see South African wildlife, is only 45 minutes away.

The Judges say

Born out of a vision to make the newly democratised South Africa work, NBI has shown an impressive ability to harness public and private sectors to build a new nation. Its mission is truly grand, and we are in no doubt of the very real contribution it has made. Its focus has been clear throughout: education, governance and economic growth. Considerable imagination, intellect and political understanding have been the hallmarks of progress, and many of the constituent projects set up and managed have shown both novelty and a keen awareness of the sensitivities involved. We consider NBI's achievements and methods of working to be worthy of emulation by other countries in the throes of democratic transition.