Driving change Partnership model marries business and altruism in healthy mix
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.