Where it all began:
- In 2014, Sappi Southern Africa’s Forestry division in KwaZulu-Natal, set out to establish what it could do to simultaneously improve relationships with communities and provide them with better opportunities.
- Research indicated high unemployment within communities that Sappi operates in, along with expectations that the company could provide more jobs than was possible. This highlighted a critical need for social intervention and enterprise development.
- This was the birth of a 12-month pilot community engagement and social mobilisation project, which involved the appointment of 18 unemployed youth called the Abashintshi during 2015.
Abashintshi Social Mobilisation Project:
- Abashintshi is an isiZulu word meaning the ‘changers’.
- Established in 2015 in conjunction with a development agency, DevCom.
- There are five key focus areas of the programme:
- Based on the Asset-based community development (ABCD) methodology, community members are empowered to use the assets that they have at their disposal, rather than focusing on what they ‘need’ or don’t have.
- In their second year of training they also undergo Business Skills training, which further helps with offering entrepreneurship training and the establishment of their own and community members’ micro-businesses. This approach supports the ‘Leaky Bucket’ concept, which encourages people to keep cash flow within their own communities, and ‘buying local’.
- In addition, the Abashintshi are taught how to facilitate life skills and to encourage community members in recognising their assets, and adopting a ‘can-do’ attitude, putting these assets to work, and helping the youth to make good decisions and take personal responsibility for their actions.
- They also conduct the Ifa Lethu Legacy Programme with the elders in their communities to get a greater appreciation for their heritage and culture and to re-establish a sense of purpose among the elders by demonstrating respect for their knowledge and experience.
- During school holidays, the Abashintshi arrange the very popular holiday programmes for school children, providing them with the opportunity to participate in healthy sporting and creative activities, whilst also using their Life Skills training to equip the children with leadership and social skills. Communities encourage these educational and fun activities that keep children off the streets, and out of trouble, and that help build strong community bonds.
- The Abashintshi provide Sappi with a credible channel of communicating with their communities, which has helped to resolve issues, to foster better community relationships and to improve Sappi’s reputation.
- The Abashintshi Social Mobilisation Project won a gold award in the ‘Shared Value’ category of the 2017 Loerie Awards.
- The project also won a merit award in the 2017 International Association of Business Communications (IABC) Awards as well as two International IABC Golden Quills, one African Gold Quill and one Gold PRISM award.
Making an impact:
- The programme has resulted in excess of 500 small businesses that have either been started up or rejuvenated with the assistance of the Abashintshi. These range from brickmaking projects, poultry and pig farms to crèches and home industries, among a host of other initiatives.
- Perceptions of Sappi has shifted significantly to be more positive.
- Research reveals that communities have developed a better self-help attitude.
- Since its inception the programme has been extended to more than 63 communities in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga and today involves more than 100 active Abashintshi.
- Using social impact tool ‘Poverty Stoplight’, surveys were conducted among 448 families in the areas where Abashintshi are active. Results have shown a positive shift in almost all indicators, indicating that the programme is having a favourable effect on communities.
Watch the 2019 Abashintshi graduation video here.