Yusuf Randera-Rees grew up in a mixed-race family in Apartheid South Africa. This distinct experience shaped his identity and inspired his commitment to social and economic change in our country.
While studying at Harvard, Yusuf realised that South Africa has people in under resourced communities with talent equal to those at Harvard and Oxford. The difference being that the people back home were not being given the opportunity to achieve their potential. It was clear that there was talent in our country that wasn’t being developed.
Believing that South Africa should be an equal country, Yusuf decided he was going to use business as a means to achieve effective and sustainable social impact.
Yusuf returned to South Africa with R60 000. On day one of the project, Yusuf headed out to Alexandra Township in Sandton, Johannesburg.
They had an old table and two beach umbrellas with them. At the time, they were advised that they should only enter Alex with a police escort. An amusing image in hindsight - and one which aptly captures just how long the road ahead was to get to where the Awethu Project is today.
Nevertheless, the Awethu Project’s message to the community that day was “we can offer you world-class resources”. One month later, 2000 people had applied.
The early days
The first two years of Awethu involved endless experimenting, bumbling and feet finding. These early days were used to figure out how best to achieve the vision of a socially and economically equal society.
Awethu disregarded usual processes, coming up with their own objective metrics instead. They tried everything – training, job placement, access to finance – to find the best way to help under-resourced talent.
During this time, government started taking notice and backed the project with funding. It was becoming clear that if their unique model took off, it would be one of the cheapest job creation models in South Africa.
Six years later, Awethu currently has hundreds of millions of Rands to invest in entrepreneurs. Its sights currently set on R1 billion as a future goal.
The ambition is that as long as there are talented entrepreneurs, no barriers – be they physical, economic or social – should hold them back from achieving their potential.
A deeply held belief in its cause, resilience, and the ability to course-correct and keep trying have transformed the Awethu Project from an idea into the innovative SME investment company it is today.