Business and Promise in Joburg

Johannesburg, South Africa. January 11, 2017.

After two days on safari in Kruger National Park (and lots of learning and debate around the rhino conservation crisis – read more here), we made our way to Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, with a population close to 8 million.

The group at the Hector Peterson Memorial in Soweto

Our last full day on-the-ground was scheduled full of company visits, and as we departed early morning, after a quick debrief around our learnings from the trip, we were nervous it would be a long day. We’d spent the day prior learning about Apartheid through visits to the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto (named for the South Western Townships), an area that was home to many anti-Apartheid activists for decades and a humbling place to see, stark contrast to the pristine beauty of Cape Town. Today, however, we were quickly inspired by the brilliant work of the businesses today in Johannesburg.

Graffiti in Soweto

Our first stop was Nando’s, the famous Mozambican chicken chain, to their headquarters (dubbed the “Central Kitchen”). The office is beautiful, featuring unique African designs and an open warehouse feel. Creative artwork covers the walls, representative of the company’s Global Art Initiative – Nando’s restaurants worldwide feature South African artists, giving them exposure and simultaneously causing the asset on the wall to appreciate, a win-win for both the company and the artists.

The coffee shop at Nando’s Central Kitchen

In fact, the most impressive aspect of the Nando’s visit (apart from the famous peri-peri chicken we were served for lunch) was the vast array of social impact the company has built into its core business model. One focus is on the supply chain for the infamously hot peppers used in the company’s peri-peri sauce; Nando’s funds small-scale, entrepreneurial farmers in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to learn and become future future chili suppliers for the company. The company has also invested significant effort in fighting malaria in Mozambique through the Goodbye Malaria project, a project that is very close to Nando’s heart because of the close relationship the company has with its farmers.

Students display some of the beautiful design and artwork at Nando’s Central Kitchen.
“It’s the people that make the chicken,” is a core philosophy to the company.

Our next stop was at Discovery Health, the largest private health insurance company in South Africa. Discovery built an innovative model called Vitality, which rewards people for healthy behavior. By checking into the gym, for example, a Vitality user gets points that can later be put towards anything from a free weekly coffee to a half-price airplane ticket. While such rewards seem hugely costly, the company says that the costs are offset by the value derived from keeping customers healthy. Discovery is located in area of Johannesburg called Sandton, a ritzy business neighborhood that looks almost like Miami and is home to several high-end malls, including Nelson Mandela Square (not to be confused for a historical site…).

An office building in Sandton, Johannesburg

From Discovery, we headed downtown to the Central Business District (CBD), a much rougher part of the city. Our meeting with Awethu Project took place at a lovely restaurant in Constitution Hill, a former prison known as “The Robben Island of Johannesburg” that housed anti-Apartheid activists including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and many others until it was closed in 1983. Meeting with the team at Awethu there, an incubator and venture capital firm that invests in black-owned businesses in South Africa, was inspiring – in the face of such former hate, we saw so much hope and entrepreneurial spirit.

Meeting with Awethu staff and local entrepreneurs on Constitution Hill
A local market in the CBD, Johannesburg

The evening ended with an alumni happy hour at The Living Room, a beautiful rooftop spot in Maboneng, a vibrant area just blocks from the hectic streets of the CBD. We were full of hope and love towards South Africa and the work that so many are doing to inspire the rest of the country.

Sundowners at The Living Room in Maboneng, Johannesburg

– Kate Canfield ’17


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