‘Our con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety comes in many ways’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

Maluti Moun­tain Brew­ery (MMB), in part­ner­ship with the le­sotho Na­tional Com­mis­sion for UNESCO (united Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion), on Mon­day launched a two-week train­ing pro­gramme for 55 as­pir­ing youth en­trepreneurs un­der a pro­ject called Kick­start.

ini­ti­ated in 2013 and funded to the tune of M800 000 by MMB, Kick­start seeks to pre­pare young Ba­sotho con­tem­plat­ing start­ing their own busi­nesses. this year, MMB has in­creased the fund­ing to M1 mil­lion.

In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, speaks with MMB Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, tom Mpedi, about Kick­start and re­lated is­sues.

LT: Kick­start…what is it all about and how did MMB come up with this ini­tia­tive?

Mpedi: as MMB, we are part of the SABMiller Group, so we have five im­per­a­tives that we be­lieve in. One of the im­per­a­tives is ac­cel­er­at­ing growth and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in our value-chains. Ba­si­cally, we want a thriv­ing world where in­comes and qual­i­ties of life are grow­ing. So Kick­start sat­is­fies this am­bi­tion in the sense that through the pro­ject, there is a youth-em­pow­er­ment scheme which funds youth busi­nesses with grants. But not only that; dur­ing the process, we also train young peo­ple the re­sult of which we end up hav­ing 55 young­sters with busi­ness skills. And here I am talk­ing about num­bers for this year. They will be able to de­velop their own busi­ness plans. and ul­ti­mately, we will have six to eight in­di­vid­u­als we will end up fund­ing with grants of up to a max­i­mum of M100 000. So those are the ones who will ben­e­fit di­rectly from the pro­ject. They will be able to start their own busi­ness, and in the process, cre­ate em­ploy­ment. Ba­si­cally, we are re­duc­ing un­em­ploy­ment; we are al­le­vi­at­ing poverty and we are ac­cel­er­at­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth.

LT: What is the cri­te­ria used to se­lect Kick­start can­di­dates?

Mpedi: Ba­si­cally, we re­ceive ap­pli­ca­tions, and this time around, about 700 peo­ple ap­plied. Then we have an ad­ju­di­ca­tion panel that con­sists of six judges from all walks of life but ex­pe­ri­enced in in­dus­try. We have got peo­ple from BEDCO (Ba­sotho En­ter­prise De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), LNDC (Le­sotho Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), Stan­dard le­sotho Bank, Min­istry of Youth, UNESCO and UNDP (United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme) par­tic­i­pat­ing in our ad­ju­di­ca­tion pro­gramme. They ba­si­cally go through all the ap­pli­ca­tions and as­sess the unique­ness of the plan and whether it is an idea that could gen­er­ate in­ter­est for the ap­pli­cant to ac­tu­ally be trained in putting this idea into a full busi­ness plan. So that process, we have gone through and they have been able to de­ter­mine that 31 of the plans were very good. This is why, out of the 31 busi­ness plans, the 55 young­sters will be trained in the next two weeks. Once they have un­der­gone the train­ing, they will then be sent home to de­velop their busi­ness plans but still be sup­ported by the train­ers. and af­ter some time, they will again come back to present their plans be­fore the pan­el­lists. It’s ac­tu­ally a long process. The pan­el­lists will have a rat­ing scale to choose the best busi­nesses they be­lieve should get fund­ing. We do not just say be­cause we have got the fund­ing of up to M1 mil­lion this year, we will spend all of that money; NO. We are only go­ing to spend it on busi­nesses that we think de­serve to be funded be­cause we be­lieve we want to have as much suc­cess as pos­si­ble. We are look­ing for busi­nesses that will re­ally be sus­tain­able and pro­vide em­ploy­ment. We don’t give them money but pay for sup­plies on an on-go­ing ba­sis. We have a men­tor­ship pro­gramme for the im­prove­ment of their busi­nesses.

LT: When you started this pro­ject in 2013, you had in­jected M800 000 into it. You have since in­creased that amount to M1 mil­lion. Does this mean an endorsement of the ini­tia­tive? Mpedi: Def­i­nitely. It has been a suc­cess­ful pro­ject which prompted us to con­sider in­creas­ing the fund­ing. And from now on, we in­tend to keep Kick­start as an an­nual func­tion so that ev­ery year, more young peo­ple are as­sisted to start their own busi­nesses across the coun­try. We do not be­lieve this pro­ject will fail; we think we have the right recipe for it to suc­ceed. While at this point in time I can­not de­ter­mine what the fund­ing is go­ing to be in fu­ture, the re­al­ity is we will al­ways con­sider in­creas­ing our bud­get for the pro­ject.

LT: You are a brew­ing com­pany. Do these busi­nesses you are fund­ing need to have some con­nec­tion with your prod­ucts?

Mpedi: Def­i­nitely not. This is purely a cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in its truest sense on our part. Busi­nesses we are fund­ing have no link with the brew­ery what­so­ever. How­ever, we do con­tinue to sup­port some of the busi­nesses if they pro­vide ser­vices that we can utilise. For ex­am­ple, last year, we funded a com­pany which does am­bu­la­tory

Mpedi: The un­em­ploy­ment rate is high in Le­sotho, con­sid­er­ing that it is over 30 per­cent. We have a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of grad­u­ates, over 10 000 of them, who are com­ing out of col­leges ev­ery year and only 10 per­cent of them are mak­ing it into for­mal em­ploy­ment. We also have those who do not even make it to univer­sity. The re­al­ity is we have a lot of young peo­ple who do not have jobs, as well as ways to sus­tain their lives. So that has other so­cial risks if peo­ple do not have al­ter­na­tive sources of liv­ing. They would, nat­u­rally, re­sort to crime to try and bridge the gap. So the idea be­hind Kick­start is to re­ally play our part as a re­spon­si­ble cor­po­rate. With the lit­tle to­ken that we give to the youth, we be­lieve we are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Last year, we funded six busi­nesses. And let’s just say we fund eight this year, that will be 14 busi­nesses. In five years’ time, like I said, we will con­tinue with this pro­ject, we will be talk­ing of big­ger num­bers. If you do the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect, in 10 years’ time, we will have even big­ger num­bers. So the idea is to con­tinue con­tribut­ing to the re­duc­tion of un­em­ploy­ment in le­sotho.

LT: Apart from Kick­start, are there any other projects you sup­port as part of your cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity?

Mpedi: Among oth­ers, we have an HIV and AIDS pro­gramme where we also spend over M1 mil­lion a year for retro­vi­ral treat­ments, coun­selling and test­ing. We also deal with other ill­nesses which are life-threat­en­ing, like di­a­betes, blood pres­sure etc. So we do spend a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money and we be­lieve it’s also a way of sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment in re­duc­ing its bud­get on healthcare. MMB has a pro­gramme where we sup­port schools with some of our brands. For in­stance, we have the COPA Coca-cola tour­na­ment through which we fund the de­vel­op­ment of soc­cer at grass­roots level. Over and above that, although it can­not be so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in its purest form, we have an ar­range­ment with some Ba­sotho who own ve­hi­cles good enough to trans­port our prod­ucts for dis­tri­bu­tion across the coun­try so that in re­turn, we can pay them. We could be us­ing our own MMB trans­port, but we are say­ing where we are able to ex­tend a help­ing hand, we should do so. So there is a lot hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes in re­la­tion to a num­ber of projects and pro­grammes we are en­gaged in.

LT: As a com­pany which deals with al­co­hol, how do you as­sist law-en­force­ment agen­cies in min­imis­ing the abuse of your prod­ucts?

Mpedi: We are a part­ner to the gov­ern­ment; we en­gage with the gov­ern­ment in all dif­fer­ent sec­tors. in the near fu­ture, for in­stance, you will be hear­ing from us as we ap­proach the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing, although it’s too early to re­veal the de­tails. We have al­ready part­nered with the Min­istry of Health in some prag­matic ways, for lack of a bet­ter word, to try and deal with the is­sue of al­co­hol abuse. We would like to call it re­duc­ing harm­ful drink­ing be­cause peo­ple do drink. The essence is try­ing to make sure those who have cho­sen to have al­co­holic drinks do so re­spon­si­bly. In the past, we have been en­gaged in pro­grammes that tar­get the youth, specif­i­cally be­cause they are a vul­ner­a­ble group. We sup­ported a pro­gramme on Ul­ti­mate FM ra­dio sta­tion, which dealt specif­i­cally with re­spon­si­ble drink­ing of al­co­hol by the youths. We are cur­rently en­gaged in train­ing our re­tail­ers. Last year, we trained 40 of them. This year, we will be train­ing a to­tal of 120. Go­ing for­ward, that num­ber is go­ing to in­crease. The idea is to firstly equip them with busi­ness skills but also with the abil­ity to serve the prod­ucts re­spon­si­bly. We do have train­ing that is tar­geted at our re­tail­ers for re­spon­si­ble re­tail­ing. Over the years, we have been do­ing that, where they also have signed codes of con­duct to en­sure re­spon­si­bil­ity. We also have part­nered with PSI (Pop­u­la­tion Ser­vices In­ter­na­tional le­sotho) whereby we also pro­vide con­doms through all the out­lets in the coun­try. PSI pro­vide us with the con­doms and we make sure they are dis­trib­uted to the out­lets and are free for cus­tomers to pick. this is so that we also en­cour­age safe sex. We know peo­ple can­not all af­ford to buy con­doms.

LT: How do you in­spire other lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions to im­prove liveli­hoods within com­mu­ni­ties they do busi­ness?

Mpedi: I do think there are some or­gan­i­sa­tions which do good as we do. We do see them. They have got very good pro­grammes as well. It is im­por­tant that all or­gan­i­sa­tions play their role to en­sure they par­tic­i­pate in ac­cel­er­at­ing eco­nomic growth in Le­sotho. Ba­si­cally, we be­lieve our con­sumers are em­bed­ded in le­sotho. For this busi­ness to con­tinue op­er­at­ing, we need them. Gone are the days when busi­nesses were only in­ter­ested in profit. In­stead, multi­na­tional busi­nesses have now shifted much into mak­ing sure they im­pact the liveli­hoods of the com­mu­nity in which they op­er­ate. i must say af­ter launch­ing Kick­start, we did see some or­gan­i­sa­tions come up with sim­i­lar pro­grammes, al­beit on a smaller scale. i must say youth-un­em­ploy­ment is not the only chal­lenge fac­ing the gov­ern­ment. Le­sotho has many other chal­lenges; or­gan­i­sa­tions should choose which ones to ad­dress.

LT: And your last words to the na­tion?

Mpedi: We all share the pros­per­ity of Le­sotho; we would like to root our suc­cess, as a busi­ness, to the coun­try and our con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety comes in many ways. Kick­start is one but we will con­tinue to ex­plore other ways.

MMB Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Tom Mpedi.

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