Making a Difference for Entrepreneurs in South Africa

You might be surprised to learn that study abroad programs have evolved into so much more than just living, eating and breathing in a foreign country. In this week’s Monday Manday, we’ll tell you about one man’s study abroad experience that focused on affecting the lives of entrepreneurs in South Africa. 

Many people dream of living in another country, immersing themselves in a different culture, language, food and people, but that dream gets harder to achieve as you get older and have more responsibilities. It’s no surprise then that studying abroad is among the most popular activities for college students, with some heading overseas multiple times to different locations.

After completing a semester in London, YSN member Sterling Proffer (screen name: sterlingproffer) spent six weeks this summer in The Entrepreneurship Exchange Program with South Africa (EESA) through Syracuse University. Facilitated through Stellenbosch University in South Africa, international student groups help disadvantaged entrepreneurs in the Black townships near Cape Town with businesses ranging from arts and crafts to small manufacturing operations. “This is all as real as it gets,” said Sterling. “We are trying to change someone’s business. And when their businesses are so intertwined with their lives, we are changing their lives. That’s a pretty big responsibility.”

Two of Sterling’s clients were a passionate 36-year-old lady named Vanessa and her husband who own and manage a full-service laundry business in the building that replaced the parking lot at which Vanessa used to work. “She decided to change her life around and provide her children with the opportunities she never had. She then learned enough about business and is incredibly impressive,” he said. “It’s really an issue of giving them some of the business skills to match their motivation.”

Sterling’s second client is an older woman living well below the poverty line who started a community recycling program in order to keep her area clean. She runs it with her 25-year-old son and, along with kids in the community, simply pick up bottles and cans by hand, and drives them to the nearest recycling plant to collect the modest return on the materials. “It’s making sure she gets fair rates for her materials, making sure her recyclables are safe from pilferage, helping her account for the business, and trying to get her and the community more connected,” says Sterling.

In between consulting with these businesses, students get to explore South Africa. They enjoyed sampling the food at a brai (big barbeque), going on safaris, taking a boat to Seal Island, visiting the Cape of Good Hope, hiking Table Mountain (a very difficult four hour hike), visiting Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years), and, of course, touring the region’s famous wine country.