/ 3 November 2023

Social entrepreneurs excel in finals of Inspiring Impact Challenge

The Winners Of The Inspiring Impact Challenge
The winners of the 2023 UKZN Inspiring Impact Challenge. (Photo: Sethu Dlamini)

Their organisations are helping the community and ensuring sustainability

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) hosted the finals of the 2023 UKZN Inspiring Impact Challenge – an annual competition showcasing social impact initiatives by UKZN students, staff and alumni who are social entrepreneurs tackling some of society’s biggest challenges. 

Fourteen of the 220 entrants made the final-cut and they battled it out with a lightning round of elevator pitch presentations on their social enterprises, all aligned with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The finalists, who competed in four categories — Undergraduates, Postgraduates, Staff and Alumni — are experts in various disciplines and the projects they showcased ranged from youth empowerment and career guidance to STEM education and agribusiness. 

Implementing partner and Managing Director of enterprise development agency Kulisha Consulting Kwazini Zulu said the judges, comprising experts from the banking sector, academia and small and medium-sized enterprises, were impressed by the calibre of the change-makers. “There was a lot of excitement in the air — contestants were nervous and the judges spent a considerable amount of time deliberating about the results,” said Zulu.

Winners received up to R20 000 each as well as business mentorship opportunities with partner establishments: Standard Bank, the Mail & Guardian, Cloud Therapist, UKZN Student Governance and Leadership Development (SGLD) and The Social Enterprise Academy.

Standard Bank KwaZulu-Natal Relations Manager Mduduzi Zenda congratulated the contestants on the presentations. “You were all very composed, clear and your ideas were innovative. The judges feel your contributions will go a long way towards helping communities and ensuring sustainability.” 

First prize winner in the Alumni category Dr Nombuso Khumalo quipped that she tried to keep her nerves in check by opening with a joke at the start of her presentation. “I managed to make the judges laugh and this lightened the mood. It was an exhilarating learning experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Khumalo was one of the most impressive entrants. Her Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), Mina Thina Children’s Foundation, organises donor funding for learners at schools in the KwaZulu-Natal rural areas of Nkandla, Melmoth, Eshowe and Mandeni.

The judges were interested to learn that Khumalo’s journey to social entrepreneurship began, not with agricultural or business studies, but with an MBChB degree. Khumalo says that although she intended to pursue a career in medicine, she felt more drawn to keeping a promise she made to herself as a teenager growing up in rural Eshowe. “The birth of Mina Thina Children’s Foundation happened when I was 15 years old and I told myself I wanted to give back to my community and to learners at schools struggling without their basic needs being met.”

Since its establishment in 2021, the Mina Thina Children’s Foundation has facilitated the donation of over 400 pairs of shoes to learners and adopted four schools who are beneficiaries of the enterprise’s Little Herbs Garden project, which caters for nutrition needs.  

Khumalo is currently working with the United Nations, the World Food Forum and Mercedes Benz beVisioneers to expand her vision.

When asked by the judges what her wish for her NPO would be, first-prize winner in the Staff category Debbie Mari spoke of her vision to secure long-term funding to sustain the longevity and success of the Ukusa Arts Programme, a music education and music-making organisation. 

The Ukusa Arts Programme addresses three of the UN SDGs, one of which is gender equality. Mari, a lecturer in jazz studies at UKZN and also a professional jazz singer and pianist, is passionate about encouraging women to participate and excel in the music industry. She works towards this with one of the Ukusa’s flagship projects Womuzo, which provides young women musicians with mentorship. 

Commenting on the inspiration for Womuzo, Mari said: “There is a culture where musical instruments are gendered. You’ll find certain instruments such as the bass or trombone are usually played by men while women are socialised to play instruments such as the piano or the flute. There are also more male than female band leaders, conductors and musical directors. Womuzo helps create awareness around this and supports women through their journey into the music industry.”

The youngest of the winners was 20-year-old Mr Sabelo Mkhize, who has worked towards being a change-maker and social entrepreneur since the age of 14. Mkhize won first prize in the Undergraduate Students category for his latest endeavour, Dear Youth of South Africa (DYSA), a social enterprise dedicated to empowering the youth with skills for job creation. He said the award was extra special as this year had been his third attempt in the challenge. 

DYSA’s flagship projects include the Matric Rescue Campaign, Financial Education for Learners, and a Mental Health Awareness Campaign, all currently being rolled out in Umlazi, Durban. 

Motivated by his own life hardships, Mkhize said: “My goal is to encourage youth participation in skills that ignite self-employment and job creation. What drives me is the situation I’ve experienced growing up in Umlazi, where there is widespread unemployment and skills shortages, leading to young people turning to crime — I want to help prevent this.” 

With his prize money of R15 000, Mkhize plans to invest in the expansion of the NPOs Matric Rescue Campaign. 

Lindelani Zuma was first in the Postgraduate Students category and also won the Most Inspiring award; while Dr Simon Taylor (High Impact), Ms Motathi Ntsoane (Most Innovative) and Dr Justin Pringle (Potential for Growth) also received awards.

UKZN Executive Director: Corporate Relations Normah Zondo addressed participants and said the judges had been highly impressed with the general standard of submissions, “There were so many incredible entries this year, you must all be proud of yourselves for getting to the final stage of this competition and for giving back to your communities.”