Driv­ing change Part­ner­ship model mar­ries busi­ness and al­tru­ism in healthy mix

Finweek English Edition - - People -

GEN­ER­AT­ING PROF­ITS in what’s typ­i­cally per­ceived as a char­ity ser­vice to peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties isn’t an easy feat. Add a dose of determination to the mix and you’re al­ready past the first hur­dle. Graft a work­able busi­ness model on top of that and you’re edg­ing closer to some­thing sus­tain­able from a busi­ness point of view.

It took Shona McDon­ald a great deal of spade work to con­ceive and de­velop a so­lu­tion that would en­able her to re­main true to the needs of phys­i­cally dis­abled peo­ple while turn­ing a profit. “That was some­thing that took me some time to get my head around,” she says. But the mo­ti­va­tion to start up was per­sonal enough to push ahead – de­spite the odds. A few years af­ter her sec­ond daugh­ter Shelly was born with cere­bral palsy, Shona de­cided she’d work to­wards pro­duc­ing a range of pos­tural de­vices and wheel­chairs for peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. Out of that itin­er­ant Shonaquip was born in 1992.

Shona, who is CEO of the com­pany and one of the fi­nal­ists in the “So­cial en­tre­pre­neur” cat­e­gory of the South African chap­ter of the Ernst & Young World En­tre­pre­neur Awards, ex­presses sur­prise at the per­cep­tion of Shonaquip as a so­cial en­ter­prise. “This whole idea of so­cial en­trepreneur­ship is still a rel­a­tively new term for me,” she says. “I didn’t re­alise we were a ‘so­cial en­ter­prise’ un­til En­deavor – who as­sists en­trepreneurs in emerg­ing mar­kets – brought it to my at­ten­tion.”

Un­der­stand­ably, Shona was at first scep­ti­cal at strik­ing out as a busi­ness in the con­ven­tional sense of the word. How­ever, at the in­sis­tence and sup­port of her par­ents – as well as chil­dren who had ben­e­fited from her de­vices – she soon em­braced the idea and the busi­ness hasn’t only flour­ished but raised aware­ness and driven change into the wheel­chair in­dus­try.

Th­ese days Shona holds firm views about the sin­gle most en­dur­ing suc­cess story in the de­vel­op­men­tal sec­tor: “Busi­ness is rein­vent­ing it­self be­fore our eyes and with the right driv­ers will be­come a pow­er­ful part­ner to pro­mot­ing pos­i­tive so­cial change in SA.”

For Shona the con­cept of busi­ness, gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties work­ing to ben­e­fit so­ci­ety as a whole is some­thing that makes sense and is likely to be an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment driver in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try such as SA. Her model is her abil­ity to net­work and bring Gov­ern­ment, pro­fes­sion­als and busi­ness to­gether for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers.

“I think to be suc­cess­ful in any­thing you need re­ally good net­work­ing skills in or­der to build up part­ner­ships at many lev­els,” she says, adding that one per­son can make a huge im­pact in one area but a group of peo­ple mo­ti­vated and work­ing to­gether with a com­mon in­ter­est and pas­sion for change can achieve far greater re­sults.

Over the past 17 years the busi­ness has grown from a two-per­son op­er­a­tion into one that em­ployed 50 peo­ple and turned over R15m last year. This year Shonaquip ex­pects turnover in ex­cess of R22m.

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