Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Social enterprise giving hope to the community

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“After my son died, one of my employers’ children suggested that I come up with something to keep myself busy, so that it could help me heal. I loved sewing so I decided to start sewing”. These are the words of Martha Letsoalo, former domestic worker and now Director of The Heartfelt Project, a growing presence in the field of hand-made South African crafts.

Sprung in 2006 from the minds of Ms Letsoalo and Julie Hadley, who is the Managing Director, The Heartfelt Project is a social enterprise aimed at developing the community of Makapanstad in the Northwest Province, through the creation and sale of a range of beautiful felt products.

It also has a vision of providing hope, employment and a sense of purpose for hundreds of women in rural communities throughout South Africa.

Heartfelt offers a diverse selection of hand-made gifts and felt products, including bookmarks, brooches, key rings, fridge magnets and many others.

They also offer specialist wedding gifts, bespoke gifts for Corporates as well as a new ‘bushfelt’ range of safari-inspired toys and other items.

Community focussed

The project plans to get more women and men within the community involved in the initiative. It currently employs 15 women from Makapanstad, who use traditional handcraft skills to create the products.

According to Ms Hadley, a percentage of the profits made from sales is donated to community development initiatives such as HIV/AIDS and TB charities in Makapanstad.

“For us, sharing our success with the community is very important. We want people to feel a sense of pride and ownership in Heartfelt and what we have achieved with the project,” she explains.

However, despite the good work and successes to date the company still faces certain challenges, such as a lack of office equipment and human resources to run the project effectively.

“We don’t have very up to date equipment for the office; we don’t have enough chairs, we need new computers and transportation is a challenge, “explained Ms Letsoalo.

Heartfelt has been acknowledged in the past for its work and has received several awards and accolades; in 2009 it won the Bronze award for Best Individual Stand at the South African Handmade Collection at Decorex, as well as a craft award for Corporate gifting at the Platinum Programme Provincial Craft and Design Awards the same year.

Heartfelt is also one of only 85 organisations chosen nationally as a beneficiary of the Old Mutual Legends Business Development Programme, which supports the team at Heartfelt through mentoring, business support and skills training.

“One thing I have learned through being a part of Legends is that even if your business has a social mission, it is so important to run things in a professional, strategic and businesslike way. All our future plans and dreams will be realised through the success of our project in its current form, and this means having great products, fantastic service and strong systems on which to build and grow,” says Julie.

Heartfelt has started expanding, and recently initiated a similar project in Rosendal in the Free State Province. It seems like they have got the recipe for job creation and social entrepreneurship just right.

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Abram Molelemane is a third year journalism student at the Tshwane University of Technology, he is currently doing his experiential learning with Fetola.