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The Awethu Project: A big vision for growing small businesses

The Awethu Project: A big vision for growing small businesses

Yusuf Randera-Rees and Ryan Pakter founded the Awethu Project in April 2010. Fourteen months later, the project is supporting four hand-picked young entrepreneurs, has R3 million in funding from Discovery Holdings and has just won the prestigious Echoing Green social entrepreneurship fellowship. If things go according to plan, this is only the beginning.

Youth unemployment is, unequivocally, one of South Africa’s biggest problems. In Statistics SA’s last quarterly labour survey, the number of unemployed people between 15 and 34 stood at 3 million – and that’s not including discouraged work seekers, or those studying.

When Yusuf Randera-Rees moved back to Johannesburg after studying and working overseas, he decided to contribute towards creating a solution. The premise of the Awethu Project is simple: Look for entrepreneurial potential in young South Africans who’ve never had access to systemic opportunity and develop that. “We think there’s talent equivalent to anywhere in the world in Johannesburg, and across South Africa,” says Randera-Rees. “This applies to any developing country where the social system has not addressed the aspirations of the majority.”

Awethu’s method of identifying this potential is what differentiates it from other similar initiatives. “We wanted to create a model that’s not using traditional metrics… A model that’s not looking if you have a business, if you have the financials, if you have a matric,” says Randera-Rees. “If everyone had all that stuff, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.” So, the only criterion is young South Africans who show entrepreneurial promise through Awethu’s talent-identification process.

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