SME Recovery – City Story
April 28, 2022
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Business magnate and co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, once said: “It’s not the tools you have faith in. Tools are just tools…they work or they don’t work. It’s the people you have faith in or not.”

The Domino Foundation’s Enterprise Development programme has been upskilling and training small businesses for a number of years. Closely linked to the foundation’s heart for education has been its ongoing work to empower the owners of the Early Childhood Development centres on its ECD programme. Crèches are small businesses trying to provide their clients with the best possible service by giving the pre-schoolers the best education with the best-trained staff and the best allocation of resources. Whilst the tools (the resources and the facilities) are critical, ultimately it is the human-investment, more than anything else, which is the core of the Enterprise Development programme. Shaun Tait, Domino’s CEO, commented: “In addition to our basic work in the areas of nutrition, humanitarian aid and  education, we also work in social charity, social justice and social  entrepreneurship for communities to thrive…we are really about people not programmes. If those issues are addressed, transformative social change can take place.” 

Many of the crèche owners had never previously really seen themselves as entrepreneurs. They had to be taken on a journey from a self-view of being baby-sitters to being empowered as vital contributors to the fabric and well-being of their communities. Several of Domino’s programmes and initiatives work together to raise the owners’ vision and to equip them to realise that vision as fully as possible. 

The Enterprise Development programme covers many aspects of business administration (start-up advantages, buying a franchise, risk-taking, management skills of successful entrepreneurs, the business process of generating enquiries, marketing, converting queries to sales, order fulfilment, money management, customer service, forms of value and much more).

The ED programme has been tried, tested, refined and is having excellent results in preparing the crèches to, on the one hand, fulfil the requirements be registered with the Department of Social Development and, on the other, to continue to grow and develop as places where investment into some of the smallest of South Africa’ citizens is the top priority. 

It was against this background that The Domino Foundation realised what a powerful tool it had to meet some of the critical needs which were exposed by the civil unrest, looting and wholesale destruction of last July. The all-too familiar story now of informal traders and small businesses who had stock stolen and premises vandalised and were then unable to operate. They desperately needed assistance to enable them to get back on their feet and to continue trading. The business owners were in many cases also severely traumatised by the initial mayhem and by the ensuing realisation of how critically damaged their enterprises now were.

During days of the upheaval and in its immediate aftermath, Domino’s Disaster Response Unit connected with Domino Business, the entity distinct from but closely linked to The Domino Foundation.  The situation many of the small and micro enterprises (SMEs) negatively affected by the rioting and accompanying devastation, were in desperate need of grants and assistance to re-establish themselves and get up and operate again. Much employment had been lost, no economic development was taking place and they were unable to see any output. The Domino Foundation, in partnership with Domino Business, adapted its Economic Development programme in line with the latter’s Khulisa Business Development programme for SME development. The foundation’s programme, previously tailored specifically to the needs of crèches, had its parameters amended so that small businesses in general could now be helped to recover, develop, survive and ultimately flourish. 

Domino CEO, Shaun Tait, spoke of the NPO’s recovery phase strategy: “Stage 1 of our strategy was the clean-up in the immediate aftermath of the unrest. The second stage was that of economic recovery. We have been working together with the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as with VumaFM, Tencent Africa and Domino Business, to support SMEs which were negatively impacted by the lootings. We sub-contracted our associated company, Domino Business Development (Pty) Ltd, to do the work and they built the business-recovery model. Through assessments, site visits, mentor-coaching sessions and the provision of financial grants, our goal was to get businesses back up and trading as quickly as possible to recover the livelihoods of entrepreneurs and employees.” Each week, VumaFM’s “It’s All About The Money” show featured two businesses whose story during the civil unrest was shared. In the course of each programme, the businesses to be recipients of the SME grants were announced and, the following week, the appropriate actions to rehabilitate the businesses were put into action. 

The Domino Foundation’s adaptation of its Economic Development programme was dubbed the Khulisa SME Relief programme. Initially, the programme worked with on-the-ground leads from the community and through other NPOs working in affected communities with whom they had established relationships. Ten businesses in both township and rural communities, ranging from a dental practice to SPAZAs, a funeral service to a traditional clothing and beading concern, an IT training and internet café to a bedding store and a small enterprise which sells cabbages, to a construction business, were identified as potential recipients of grants of between R20 000 and R50 000, depending on the needs of the particular business. 

A referral process was established which enabled a telephonic pre-assessment of each candidate business. This was followed by an in-person on-site assessment of the particular business during which time an assessment was made of the details of the claim. Leader of the Domino Business team, Mickey Wilkins, explained: “The businesses were validated as being legitimate enterprises. The damage done to them and what it would involve to get them up and trading again as soon as possible were assessed.” The business owners, with the Domino Business assessors, then signed documents validating the findings, confirming the timelines and what the grant would be spent on. The team was scrupulous in its collection of the businesses’ CIPC (Companies and Intellectual Property Commission) documents, their identity documents, SARS registration details and SAPS case numbers to ensure that the businesses were correctly registered. 

The process continued with the release of the funds. This happened in two tranches with the first payment being the larger of the two. This permitted the business to start re-establishing itself. Once invoices had been paid, stock ordered and security put in place (depending on the damage report) the second tranche was released. To ensure the integrity of the whole process, follow- up site visits were conducted to confirm that the repairs had been concluded according to what the owners and Domino had agreed on. Shaun continued: “Our goal was to then do follow-up mentoring sessions (if funding allows) and conduct a 3-month and 6-month follow-up survey to ensure the business is still trading and prospering.” Conversations with the business owners revealed recurring key mega themes and gaps. It became apparent during the process that some of the businesses would thrive if they continued on an ongoing mentorship and development programme. This would enable them to regularly check in with Domino Business for an external viewpoint.  Domino has set up workshops to address some of these. 

One theme which became apparent was that some businesses were asset-rich companies located in high-risk areas. Often this has meant that they were uninsurable or that the owners did not have an understanding of how insurance works. Domino Business’ business-training workshops provide relevant information, network-support bases and contacts. Mickey was emphatic when he said, “We want to see these businesses build back better than they were before the looting.”

The SME programme, together with the Business Development programme, has been expanded to a coaching/mentoring programme. This comprises an initial assessment, followed by coaching sessions over 10 weeks with specifically developed videos, and feedback with Domino Business mentorship. There also are specialised input-sessions dealing with specific challenges. These are conducted on a think-tank basis with a group of professionals. Further coaching then follows, and a final mentoring and review session where steps and changes to be taken are drawn up, with special emphasis on grant-income-generation and investment. Each entrepreneur is able to share the particular challenges and struggles they are dealing with. Specific interventions are suggested and the relevant specialised input chosen. More videos are distributed to the entrepreneurs via Youtube and finally, after a final mentoring session, the entrepreneur has a clear plan for the future and is emboldened to build their business. Mickey indicated that the programme is being developped further through the creation of workbooks entitled “The Entrepreneur’s Journey” in which the business owners note their feedback after each of the video coaching and mentoring sessions. This provides an opportunity to reflect and update as they execute the changes to their businesses and their lives.

Domino Business’ Gavin Simpkins spoke of how the mindsets of business owners is critical in the whole process: “Key to success is always the ability to pivot. Businesses had been rocked to their foundations. Funds were available to restore what had been lost but, going back to where they had been before the violence more often than not was not going to ensure a resumption of ‘business as usual’. Over the weeks of mentoring, we have seen business owners rise to new levels of entrepreneurship where they have jettisoned muddled business practices, unclear understanding of who their target markets are, and unhelpful branding issues among others. The programme has proved instrumental in helping the owners see that, ironically, the havoc wrought by the civil unrest had given them a space to see that their business operations were not robust or sustainable.”

Up to this point, many of the ‘tools’ Steve Jobs would have been speaking about had been supplied and applied but, having met the immediate needs of the businesses to get up-and-running again, The Domino Foundation, together with Domino Business, had become acutely aware during the whole process that, although enterprises were being helped on a hard factual business how-to basis, these enterprises belonged to men and women who had been severely traumatised during the violence. Not only had their businesses been vandalised but some had also suffered abuse of one sort or another. Healthy business practices needed to be bolstered by healthy states of mind.

At the end of 2021, Old Mutual contacted the Durban Chamber of Commerce about the investment, insurance and banking group’s project to help businesses restart with support grants. The Domino Foundation already had a strong relationship with the Chamber where Shaun Tait chairs the Chamber’s NPO forum. The DCC’s small business unit and the Black Business Forum were also involved here and were able to alert the bigger grouping that, within their networks, there were businesses still struggling well after the unrest had abated. In the light of these revelations. Old Mutual awarded grants to 8 businesses to enable them to recover from the looting damage.

As all the formal steps were achieved, Old Mutual added another assessment to the process, one dealing with working within trauma environment. Owners attended workshops run by the Centre for Mental Wellness. It was found that the entrepreneurs were adaptable and they were survivors, but at the same time they were constantly running on adrenalin. The workshops addressed the trauma which had resulted from the mayhem of the July riots which had come hard on the heels of the stress and anxiety which Covid and Lockdown had brought. The time with the Centre ensured the business people had dealt with their angst healthily and they were encouraged to collaborate with each other to foster ongoing relationships between the affected enterprises. Before the second tranche of the grants was paid, the businesses attended a 3-day workshop with the Centre on processing the trauma resulting from  the July upheaval and dealing with how it had impacted on them personally and on their businesses organisationally. 

Shaun and Mickey concurred that The Domino Foundation and Domino Business are very aware that there are many other deserving small and medium-sized enterprises that were adversely affected by the turmoil in July. Shaun added, “We have been very grateful to Tencent and Old Mutual for their extremely generous demonstration of faith in these business people. We are keen to extend the project so that more enterprises can be helped, not only to re-establish themselves, but in fact to come back far better-equipped to face a future in a South Africa where the commercial climate surely will have even more challenges.” 

There are many other businesses on The Domino Foundation’s list it is keen to support. It is looking for partners to get on board and support this campaign.

About The Domino Foundation

The Domino Foundation is a registered NPO and PBO with a desire to see individuals and communities within South Africa living in dignity, justice, hope and purpose. Through their 8 focused community transformation initiatives, Domino directly impacts the lives of over 13,500 individuals daily, across KZN. The Foundation is 100% compliant in terms of the B-BBEE codes, and is able to offer companies and individuals’ maximum benefit based on their donations and seeks to collaborate with new partners to continue the #DominoEffect of changed lives, changing lives.


Karen Brokensha |
Rowan Philips |

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