Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB), in partnership with the Lesotho National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), on Monday launched a two-week training programme for 55 aspiring youth entrepreneurs under a project called Kickstart.
Initiated in 2013 and funded to the tune of M800 000 by MMB, Kickstart seeks to prepare young Basotho contemplating starting their own businesses. This year, MMB has increased the funding to M1 million.
In this wide-ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with MMB Managing Director, Tom Mpedi, about Kickstart and related issues.
LT: Kickstart…what is it all about and how did MMB come up with this initiative?
Mpedi: As MMB, we are part of the SABMiller Group, so we have five imperatives that we believe in. One of the imperatives is accelerating growth and social development in our value-chains. Basically, we want a thriving world where incomes and qualities of life are growing. So Kickstart satisfies this ambition in the sense that through the project, there is a youth-empowerment scheme which funds youth businesses with grants. But not only that; during the process, we also train young people the result of which we end up having 55 youngsters with business skills. And here I am talking about numbers for this year. They will be able to develop their own business plans. And ultimately, we will have six to eight individuals we will end up funding with grants of up to a maximum of M100 000. So those are the ones who will benefit directly from the project. They will be able to start their own business, and in the process, create employment. Basically, we are reducing unemployment; we are alleviating poverty and we are accelerating the country’s economic growth.
LT: What is the criteria used to select Kickstart candidates?
Mpedi: Basically, we receive applications, and this time around, about 700 people applied. Then we have an adjudication panel that consists of six judges from all walks of life but experienced in industry. We have got people from BEDCO (Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation), LNDC (Lesotho National Development Corporation), Standard Lesotho Bank, Ministry of Youth, UNESCO and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) participating in our adjudication programme. They basically go through all the applications and assess the uniqueness of the plan and whether it is an idea that could generate interest for the applicant to actually be trained in putting this idea into a full business plan. So that process, we have gone through and they have been able to determine that 31 of the plans were very good. This is why, out of the 31 business plans, the 55 youngsters will be trained in the next two weeks. Once they have undergone the training, they will then be sent home to develop their business plans but still be supported by the trainers. And after some time, they will again come back to present their plans before the panelists. It’s actually a long process. The panelists will have a rating scale to choose the best businesses they believe should get funding. We do not just say because we have got the funding of up to M1 million this year, we will spend all of that money; NO. We are only going to spend it on businesses that we think deserve to be funded because we believe we want to have as much success as possible. We are looking for businesses that will really be sustainable and provide employment. We don’t give them money but pay for supplies on an on-going basis. We have a mentorship programme for the improvement of their businesses.
LT: When you started this project in 2013, you had injected M800 000 into it. You have since increased that amount to M1 million. Does this mean an endorsement of the initiative?
Mpedi: Definitely. It has been a successful project which prompted us to consider increasing the funding. And from now on, we intend to keep Kickstart as an annual function so that every year, more young people are assisted to start their own businesses across the country. We do not believe this project will fail; we think we have the right recipe for it to succeed. While at this point in time I cannot determine what the funding is going to be in future, the reality is we will always consider increasing our budget for the project.
LT: You are a brewing company. Do these businesses you are funding need to have some connection with your products?
Mpedi: Definitely not. This is purely a corporate social responsibility in its truest sense on our part. Businesses we are funding have no link with the brewery whatsoever. However, we do continue to support some of the businesses if they provide services that we can utilise. For example, last year, we funded a company which does ambulatory services and whenever we have functions, we call them to come and support us with their ambulances and paramedics. So where possible, we do make sure that we support these businesses.
LT: Why are you specifically targeting the youths in this project?
Mpedi: The unemployment rate is high in Lesotho, considering that it is over 30 percent. We have a significant number of graduates, over 10 000 of them, who are coming out of colleges every year and only 10 percent of them are making it into formal employment. We also have those who do not even make it to university. The reality is we have a lot of young people who do not have jobs, as well as ways to sustain their lives. So that has other social risks if people do not have alternative sources of living. They would, naturally, resort to crime to try and bridge the gap. So the idea behind Kickstart is to really play our part as a responsible corporate. With the little token that we give to the youth, we believe we are making a difference. Last year, we funded six businesses. And let’s just say we fund eight this year, that will be 14 businesses. In five years’ time, like I said, we will continue with this project, we will be talking of bigger numbers. If you do the cumulative effect, in 10 years’ time, we will have even bigger numbers. So the idea is to continue contributing to the reduction of unemployment in Lesotho.
LT: Apart from Kickstart, are there any other projects you support as part of your corporate social responsibility?
Mpedi: Among others, we have an HIV and AIDS programme where we also spend over M1 million a year for retroviral treatments, counselling and testing. We also deal with other illnesses which are life-threatening, like diabetes, blood pressure etc. So we do spend a significant amount of money and we believe it’s also a way of supporting the government in reducing its budget on healthcare. MMB has a programme where we support schools with some of our brands. For instance, we have the COPA Coca-Cola tournament through which we fund the development of soccer at grassroots level. Over and above that, although it cannot be social responsibility in its purest form, we have an arrangement with some Basotho who own vehicles good enough to transport our products for distribution across the country so that in return, we can pay them. We could be using our own MMB transport, but we are saying where we are able to extend a helping hand, we should do so. So there is a lot happening behind the scenes in relation to a number of projects and programmes we are engaged in.
LT: As a company which deals with alcohol, how do you assist law-enforcement agencies in minimising the abuse of your products?
Mpedi: We are a partner to the government; we engage with the government in all different sectors. In the near future, for instance, you will be hearing from us as we approach the Ministry of Education and Training, although it’s too early to reveal the details. We have already partnered with the Ministry of Health in some pragmatic ways, for lack of a better word, to try and deal with the issue of alcohol abuse. We would like to call it reducing harmful drinking because people do drink. The essence is trying to make sure those who have chosen to have alcoholic drinks do so responsibly. In the past, we have been engaged in programmes that target the youth, specifically because they are a vulnerable group. We supported a programme on Ultimate FM radio station, which dealt specifically with responsible drinking of alcohol by the youths. We are currently engaged in training our retailers. Last year, we trained 40 of them. This year, we will be training a total of 120. Going forward, that number is going to increase. The idea is to firstly equip them with business skills but also with the ability to serve the products responsibly. We do have training that is targeted at our retailers for responsible retailing. Over the years, we have been doing that, where they also have signed codes of conduct to ensure responsibility. We also have partnered with PSI (Population Services International Lesotho) whereby we also provide condoms through all the outlets in the country. PSI provide us with the condoms and we make sure they are distributed to the outlets and are free for customers to pick. This is so that we also encourage safe sex. We know people cannot all afford to buy condoms.
LT: How do you inspire other local organisations to improve livelihoods within communities they do business?
Mpedi: I do think there are some organisations which do good as we do. We do see them. They have got very good programmes as well. It is important that all organisations play their role to ensure they participate in accelerating economic growth in Lesotho. Basically, we believe our consumers are embedded in Lesotho. For this business to continue operating, we need them. Gone are the days when businesses were only interested in profit. Instead, multinational businesses have now shifted much into making sure they impact the livelihoods of the community in which they operate. I must say after launching Kickstart, we did see some organisations come up with similar programmes, albeit on a smaller scale. I must say youth-unemployment is not the only challenge facing the government. Lesotho has many other challenges; organisations should choose which ones to address.
LT: And your last words to the nation?
Mpedi: We all share the prosperity of Lesotho; we would like to root our success, as a business, to the country and our contribution to society comes in many ways. Kickstart is one but we will continue to explore other ways.