Progress





It’s been a pretty busy nearly two weeks at work. We took two of the enterprises we are incubating through a review with the incubation committee (INCO), and as a result in both cases we tweaked the social impact piece although the business models for both were solid (at least at this point until market research lets us refine them). It was very interesting to watch the mental gymnastics of our CEO on this one aspect of one project mirror mine, and he came to the same conclusion I had reached a few days before. Sometimes it seems like things are just that obvious.

So the market research and business planning processes are moving along. At the same time we are working on a set of proposed changes to the incubation process. This sort of thing is really fun for me – doing and applying is great, systematizing is even more fun. Maybe it’s because it’s easier – things are easier in theory than in practice sometimes!

Also in order to obtain what is best described as bridge funding for Purple Heart I was tasked with writing a brief summary letter describing what we proposed for the short run until more money could be freed up, and why. It was a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least, to write a document that would determine whether some friends would keep their jobs or not. I mean, talk about no pressure. At least my boss liked it, and apparently it worked. It’s strange this financial pressure is so much more visceral than anything I have encountered before; in America potentially not to be paid for a pay period can hurt but at least in my circles it wasn’t catastrophic. Here, especially with the wide income disparities, it can be.

My weeks were lightened up by some field work – a visit of a couple of hours to each of the Purple Heart locations, visits to a number of FoodTents locations in Gugulethu and a return visit to Johan the Afrikaans farmer in Philippi (that last visit caused me to have to dodge people, cows, police, and construction vehicles to get to CrossFit on time and that is why I usually go in the morning!).

The visit to Gugulethu (or Gugs as it’s called) was a lot of fun. For one thing, I really like my co-worker who took me around: he is always in such a good mood and it’s a bit infectious! Secondly, I met a township resident who is a perfect candidate for what we are trying to do with empowering local residents through the FoodTents. Of his own accord (he is unemployed) he volunteers at a creche and both maintains our FoodTent there and has added a much larger area of land under cultivation. But I was talking to him and I have better knowledge of farming than he does (I was telling him how to plant potatoes), and he knows that the land is not terribly fertile (it is all sand), but has no money for compost, or weeding tools, or even a shovel – he is working with a broken shovel because it is all he has. And he does all this in exchange for taking home a small amount of the food that he grows. So you take someone like this, give him opportunity and training and he can do something amazing for himself – and that, to me, is what this is all about.

But back to why I enjoyed visiting Gugs: last but not least, it was a gorgeous day and it was fun to drive around the township with the windows down: I am finding that there is a big difference between theory and practice when it comes to “safety.” In general, white people don’t go to the townships (other than Mzoli’s …) unless they have some reason to be there, and the people respect that. I have never felt anything other than welcomed when we are there and a lot of the Mamas who run various things (crèches, workshops, etc) just insist on hugging you and making you feel as welcome as possible. I mean, you don’t invite problems by wandering off main roads on foot or anything like that and of course anything can happen at any time and that constant awareness of what is going on around you is one of the things that makes South Africa very different from America. But it’s like the Cape Town traffic – both cars and pedestrians are constantly on their toes. Better that than the sleepwalking that goes on in America, as far as I’m concerned.

My role at work going forward may be changing a bit, for a couple of reasons, but the first step here is to define how we think the incubator should be related to the internal portfolio projects. Even getting to take the lead on the organisational design here is very exciting. This really does remind me of my Ask Jeeves days in a lot of ways: working on a lot, doing things I’ve never done before but being stretched in a comfortable manner. You never want to be working so far above your level of capacity that you can’t handle it, but rather to be always pushing the boundaries slightly, but safely, and I definitely have a safety net in our CEO who likes to oversee everything so I can be confident that when I produce something and he thinks it’s good, it probably is.

Anyway what else is going on … I learned quite a bit about the business of one of my Purple Heart girls. I am so impressed with her – she is a natural entrepreneur I would say! Her mother found this hair product when she was visiting the Eastern Cape or Durban or something that apparently does both coloring and conditioning at the same time and is far superior to the existing products available in the Western Cape. So she started buying cases of it and then reselling. Including shipping, her price per unit is R10 and she is selling for R30. We talked about how to talk to salons to find out what their needs are in order to expand the product range, about how she should keep track of her costs and revenues and explicitly decide how much profits to take and how much to re-invest (and what re-investment means in this case), the importance of not running out of stock, etc. I was pleased to see the girls be able to do most of their own P&L calculations by hand. Their growth in just the month or so I have been working with them has been dramatic. It’s exciting to see.

Had a couple of nice dinners: one with a woman from the gym who I think would be a great fit where I work …. Once we get funding and can afford to pay salaries that is! The next night I had dinner with a grad student from UNH who was in here last week here. It’s happened, I’ve gotten to the stage where I have to go to restaurants and make everything a special order. Sigh. Another CCF dinner at Beluga because one of our coaches is off for a month. That was fun. Love a lot of those people.

Around this time I became completely exhausted. I went to the opening event for the Hub Cape Town and it was all I could do to excuse myself afterwards, I was just beat! The next night at the braai I went to I left around 11pm to get to bed so I could sleep well. Yep, I got made fun of for that: “You’re glowing! The gym is your lover!” (actually that was probably the effects of the hot yoga I did on what was supposed to be my day off…). But I was taking it easy that night and the next because I didn’t want to die on the 14km run on Sunday.

I moved out of Perspectives and into my own place in Tamboerskloof last weekend. It’s nice to have my own place, and also to live in a place that’s not all plastic 24-hour-security. And don’t even get me started on those lifts in Perspectives. The low point of the last several weeks was the lift that always stopped one floor above the number you pressed. Insane. But the new place is great – I have gorgeous views of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak from the kitchen, bedroom, and balcony, and of Lion’s Head from the rear balcony. Plus, I have a gas stove which somewhat hilariously to me is hooked up to a propane tank, which means I’m going to have to hassle refilling it at some point. All the more reason to get a braai so if I’m ever accidentally out of gas at least I can still cook!

Anyway Sunday! The run was at Paul Cluver estate in Grabouw, about an hour east of Cape Town. The fog on the drive out was crazy. This course was really very enjoyable, especially the crazy downhill section of it – leaping over and down things, over rivers, through the mud – so much fun! What was not so much fun is my tactical error. Since 14kms is long for me, I went out too slowly and got boxed in behind a bunch of slow people on this massive hill. This delayed me by at least 5 minutes I would guess, causing me to finish 35/80 or so in the open women category (a significantly worse result than 25/90 in my massively dehydrated state last week). C’est la vie, it was still fun.

The rest of the day was consumed with lunch in Gordon’s Bay by the water with a friend of mine from Stellenbosch, followed by a gorgeous drive to Muizenberg where I attempted to go surfing. The waves were really rough, which made it hard to do much of anything other than get some good exercise fighting the waves. I think it took like literally 7-10 minutes to get back to the point where you could attempt to ride the wave again, so when I was going on maybe my third or fourth attempt I got up on the board and was so confused that I jumped off because I couldn’t quite believe I was up there. Same thing happened this morning at the gym doing box jumps – I jumped up to maybe 90cms or so and was so surprised that I’d actually done it that instead of standing up straight I jumped right back down!

I was very tired Monday and Tuesday. I remember during Monday’s workout I was wondering what in the heck was wrong with me, because I usually perform much better. Then I realized oh yeah, my body must be tired, huh? But I felt better on Tuesday and much better on Wednesday thanks to 9 hours of sleep. I guess I finally found something that kicks my butt enough to kill the excessive energy I tend to have. Only two more weeks of this, though. Luckily for me this week’s course involves another steep hill at the end (hills are where I have a significant comparative advantage).

Monday night I went down to Hout Bay to have dinner with a couple that I met at the gym. Unfortunately Chapman’s Peak was too windy for a sundowner, but I did take a couple nice photos. Two bottles of wine and a lot of social entrepreneurship talk later, I headed back home. That dinner again made me realize what a small pond South Africa is, as a name of someone I’d been in contact with some months back came up in conversation as someone I should probably talk to, and I realized that actually yes, in my new capacity I should talk with this guy again. There are a couple more examples of situations like this where a friend meets a mutual friend or friend of a friend … incredibly small world. The cool thing is, though, that heart keeps coming up again and again in a positive light through these conversations. I really am in the right place.

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