Nelson Mandela's

"What will you do to fight poverty in my country?"

In 1998, Nelson Mandela challenged the World Council of Churches to fight poverty in South Africa.


Martha Deacon responded by founding The Townships Project to support micro-businesses in township areas through micro-loans, micro-franchises and community development.

21 years later The Townships Project is partnering with Rotary Clubs and the University of South Africa (UNISA) to "Build Better Businesses", with a national symposium for entrepreneurs held in September in Gauteng.

Building Better Businesses

The Townships Project has evolved through more than 20 years of action, with three major phases ...

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1) Micro-Lending

Small group loans to start businesses

Our first response, from 1998 until 2010, was to apply the concept and techniques of Micro-Financing from the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.  Funds were raised to support local agencies making small repayable loans (starting at $100) to groups of borrowers, primarily women, to start or expand mini-businesses, with the bonus of basic business-skills training.  In this period we supported 5 local agencies in 5 provinces, making loans to home-based grocery stalls,  fruit and vegetable stands, candy, snack and meat providers, dressmakers, second hand clothing sellers and school lunch businesses, amongst others.

Most of these borrowers were entrepreneurs by necessity, not choice.  What if we took the most successful businesses, those run by born entrepreneurs, and cloned them?  That led to...

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2) Micro-Franchising

In our second phase, from 2010 - 2017, we focused on finding the most successful small businesses in a community and cloning them.   Micro-Franchising takes tiny but profitable businesses, and systemizes, brands, and replicates them for sale to others for as little as $1500.  We introduced this concept to the South African Department of Trade and Industry and worked with them from 2011 in developing this program, which included such enterprises as candle-making, TV receiver installation, sanitary towel manufacturing, waste removal and security guard services — businesses for which a community saw a practical need.

Once this initiative was taken on by government, we searched for a way to continue Building Better Businesses in South African communities -- using local, national and international resources, to reduce and ultimately eliminate reliance on fundraising from individual Canadians.  So we looked to an international service organization with a proven track record and to existing centres of learning and social development ...

3) Building Better Businesses

Working with Rotary, UNISA and others..

We decided to focus on Building Better Businesses, by providing a forum for all small business owners to find financing, marketing, mentoring, accounting, and other skills and networking opportunities.  This led us to consider Rotary International as a potential partner.  Rotary is an international service organization, with members in over 200 countries and territories.  Its purpose is bringing together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.  South African Rotarians embraced our concept of an annual Building Better Businesses Symposium and introduced us to UNISA and others as co-sponsors. 


We held our first Symposium in September 2018.  It brought together 135 small business owners to be coached by experienced speaker-facilitators on topics such as Spotting an Opportunity, Finding the Capital, Sustaining a Business, and Growing/Scaling Up the Business.  Participants were offered access to digital accounting programs, mentorship, and surplus office furniture.  As well, there were cash prizes to reward businesses showing the strongest progress.

  It was an unqualified success: "So practical and helpful ... We all learned so much!"