Quantifying your social contribution … That’s precisely why the business case for Bonginkosi’s Team3 Farm project caught the attention of SAICA’s annual student competition judges. With SAICA’s increasing emphasis on the role of the profession in addressing global challenges, particularly those outlined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Team3 Farm offered a particularly strong example of how a thriving entity can be leveraged to remedy social ills.
Bonginkosi chose to focus specifically on eradicating both hunger and poverty (SDGs 1 and 2); two challenges that he had experienced personally during his childhood in the Eastern Cape village of Ncgobo. ‘This is a place where dreams die before they are conceived,’ Bonginkosi states baldly. It’s a harsh summation but an accurate one, too: of the 50 boys who started Grade 1 with him, he is alone in having completed matric, let alone obtaining a tertiary qualification.
The art of making it to the other side
It takes a strong mind to resist the stagnation that pervades such a place, but Bonginkosi was determined that he would, in his own words, ‘make it to the other side’. Early on, he identified education as the bridge that would enable him to cross over: ‘I was in Grade 4 when I took a long look at the people in my community and realised that those who were successful were all educated while those who weren’t floundered. That’s when I set myself the goal of passing matric.’ He admits that it wasn’t always easy to keep this goal in sight, given the entropy of his environment. ‘I wasn’t prepared to compromise, though. I simply wouldn’t allow myself to quit.’ His interest in accounts started while still in high school, but it was only once he came across SAICA that he realised just how much he enjoyed the discipline, he says. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by commerce and business and wanted to know as much as I could about finances. In hindsight, I think that’s because business is a powerful tool for addressing social problems – but it also has a lot to do with the hunger I grew up with as a child.’
Of course, it’s one thing to dream about bettering a situation and quite another to go about taking action. That’s what Bonginkosi did in Grade 11, when the seed that would bloom into Team3 Farm was planted. The project got its genesis after Bonginkosi realised that every school in the community encouraged farming activity of a sort in its yard. ‘I decided that we could do the same in our home – after all, we had the land and the resources,’ he recalls. Even then, Bonginkosi was cognisant of how this could potentially serve his family – although, at the time, his focus was more on ensuring that they had sufficient food to eat rather than on creating an income stream. That would come later – but, back then, his main priority was supplementing his mother’s grant money, which had to support two of his four brothers.
Bonginkosi was equally motivated by the need to shake off the inertia he saw gripping his community. Again, he returned to the question of why: why, when the community had land at its disposal (and arable land, at that) had people not been moved to use it to improve their circumstances? He accepted that the greatest obstacle lay in a lack of foresight: ‘They wanted to be shown an initiative that was already working, rather than being told of an idea that they would have to develop.’ Happy to take on the challenge, he set about handling the planning and admin associated with turning the plot of land into a productive space.
That was back in 2016.
More than just a family farm
Fast forward to today, and the farm now provides employment for four people, including Bonginkosi’s sister. ‘Seeing her involved in the farm was a turning point,’ he confesses. ‘At the time she joined the project, she had lived in Johannesburg, without employment, for 15 years. It took some convincing to prove to her that she could fare better by returning to Ncgobo and working on the farm, but she and her family are now living proof that you can improve your lot.’ This was an important aspect of the farm: Bonginkosi had long been concerned about high levels of unemployment in his community, which is perpetuated by a lack of formal education that creates an inescapable spider’s web of reliance on grants.
Meaningful employment is one thing; income quite another. Bonginkosi addressed this by ensuring that the farm’s produce, including spinach, cabbage, potatoes and chickens, is sold at an affordable price to members of the community, as well as local schools, clinics and hospitals. In this way, the project also contributes to food security, Bonginkosi points out.
He says that the evolution of the community’s attitude is undoubtedly a highlight for him: ‘I love the fact that people see value in what we’re doing and are willing to support us.’ This support makes it easier for him to address challenges, such as the need for additional assistance to scale the business while he is still studying – important, because without this help, a question mark hangs over the sustainability of Team3 Farm.
So, what’s next?
Bonginkosi informs that the goal is to employ 10 people who will focus on chicken production while a further 10 employees will be responsible for vegetable farming. He’s also eager to expand the amount of land available for farming which will, of course, open even more opportunities. He hopes to see 600 hectares of land under production by 2030; an eventuality which would make it possible to employ 5 000 people throughout the value chain as the model develops to encompass retail.
More immediately, he is looking forward to completing his studies. ‘This qualification has proved invaluable; it’s taught me how to develop ideas, make the connections between seemingly disparate concepts, and think in an agile and critical manner.’
This is precisely the kind of aptitude the SLS aims to develop, says SAICA’s Tebogo Moephudi, Project Director for University Projects. Moephudi comments that, against the backdrop of a business community eager to stamp out corruption as it embraces practices that provide real solutions to social issues, it is heartening to note that the SLS last year attracted over 160 entries from 250 students.
Bonginkosi’s entry stood out from many other worthwhile entries, Moephudi continues, because it offers a pragmatic solution to issues which have a severe impact on South Africa’s progress as a nation: In South Africa, more than two million people live on just one meal per day, while a further four million children live under the constant threat of food insecurity. Meanwhile, Stats SA tells us that as many as 25,2% of South Africans live below the poverty food line.
The scope of these challenges makes their impact on the South African economy an inevitability, Moephudi observes, which is why for the first time in its 11-year history the SLS encouraged entrants to demonstrate how they would work to empower South African societies, rather than submitting a thought leadership essay.
‘We understand that our sector wields power that could be harnessed to change society for the better, and it’s wonderful to see that power in action,’ Moephudi concludes.
AUTHOR | Lisa Witepski