Peace through Community
The wild African bush appears an impossible place for an Oribi. But the tiny antelope flourishes. Fast on his feet and wily, he huddles in small groups and leaps to safety when danger looms. He thrives out of sheer audacity.
The corrupt business landscape of Cape Town, South Africa seems an impossible place for an entrepreneur, especially one of color. Apartheid is gone in practice, but financial power remains almost solely in white hands. Using the traits of its namesake, the founders of Oribi Village are hoping to change that.
I spent an afternoon there trying to understand how.
Admittedly, I was skeptical that two young French women could scratch the surface of need in a shady, somewhat patriarchal, have/have not society.
But Auriane changed my mind. A long-limbed blonde with oversized John Lennon glasses and the soft smile of a kindergarten teacher, she spoke not with the fervor I usually associate with non-profit activists, but with a quiet and precise confidence. By the time we finished our discussion to stroll around the sprawling, ochre-hued former mansion, I was convinced that she and the organization’s founder, Ingrid, would make a profound impact in 2019 alone.
Funded through grants and sponsorships, Oribi Village opened just this past November. It features both a co-working space and an incubator program that helps budding entrepreneurs scale up quickly and launch with purpose. Staff and volunteers hold skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions, and the organization supplies structural support through a quiet and safe workspace and transportation to and from the townships.
Dozens of applicants applied to the incubator’s first round, and Auriane expects close to 50 for the second. Ten, round-one “incubees” graduated in early March after months spent writing or refining business plans, drafting marketing budgets, developing new brochures, learning about and ramping up a social media presence, and practicing to become a human version of an Oribi: agile, cooperative. . .audacious.
A mix of people from vastly different trades, some graduates are just now hanging out a shingle, while others are poised to launch a major round of second-wave fundraising. These nascent entrepreneurs, though, all have one major thing in common — their businesses must make a positive impact on the environment and/or society. It’s a cornerstone the Oribi Village mission and an imperative to making the incubator’s cut. “We want to work with folks whose goals include more than simply making money,” Auriane stresses. “By working with social impact entrepreneurs, the affects of what we do ripple out even further in the community and society as a whole.”
Round one graduates include a mother/daughter team publishing a youth photography magazine aimed at bolstering teen self esteem, an eco-friendly commercial cleaning service, a tee-shirt company called WeshWesh that incorporates a touch of traditional Shweshwe style using biodegradable organic cotton, and a cafe that promotes healthy eating through an assortment of spinach-heavy recipes. But the one that sparked my interest the most was Beyond Bars Akademia. You’ll read much more about this dynamic company in a future post.
As I left Oribi Village, Auriane made one final point that stuck with me.
“As an economic hub of Africa, South Africa represents a breeding ground for solutions to meet the continent's biggest challenges,” she said. “While rife with problems, it’s also a thrilling place to live, work, and innovate — especially if you are able to rely on the support of others.”
I can’t wait to check back in a few months to see how the herd is doing.