While social entrepreneurship is still a relatively new concept in South Africa, most social development sector commentators agree that traditional non-profit funding is shrinking ever year, and most funders increasingly expect some form of financial self-sufficiency in the organisations and projects they fund.

This is why more and more non-profit organisations are testing new income-generating ideas. Since 2015, Anne Dobson has been pushing this agenda at NOAH, where she acts as Director. Since its inception in 1981, the organisation has developed a holistic model of care and support for over 740 social pensioners, which include communal living, primary health care and wellness facilities in Woodstock and Khayelitsha. Today NOAH runs seven income-generating projects, including a Spaza Shop, a take-away and a second-hand shop which are all run by social pensioners.

There are however, several challenges associated with launching a social enterprising venture. This means identifying a viable business opportunity; getting buy-in from the Board to invest in the venture; balancing the social mission and income-generation activity to avoid ‘mission drift’. Some organisations do manage to merge social purpose and business activity in a virtuous circle and NOAH is one of them. In 2018, 20.5% of NOAH’s income was generated through its business ventures. Getting to this point has required a lot of trying and testing of products and markets.

One of Anne’s biggest realisations is the potential of the “bottom of the pyramid approach”, where products and services are targeted at low-income consumers – often those communities that non-profits are already supporting through their development initiatives. Thanks to this approach, NOAH supplies affordable soap and bread to the Khayelitsha community. They provide community members with good-quality, well-priced products and avoid the logistical and marketing challenges of developing products for middle to high-end consumers in Cape Town.

NOAH also believes in the power of social entrepreneurship as a strategy to achieve its mission of enabling social pensioners to remain active, independent and purposeful in their homes and communities for as long as possible. In July 2018, Imani Development was contracted to conduct an outcomes evaluation of NOAH’s work, which sought to establish the changes experienced by a sample of NOAH’s beneficiaries through a retrospective pre-test and post-test methodology. In this methodology, respondents are asked to indicate to what degree they have experienced a change in several parameters ever since they arrived at NOAH. The evaluation found that most beneficiaries have experienced a new sense of purpose and belonging because of being involved with the organisation and its income-generating activities. Most importantly, the evaluation found that NOAH beneficiaries are able to save between R100 and R500 on a monthly basis. This is some much needed extra income given that “the old-age grant of R1690 a month was set at the poverty level in May 2018”[1].

The evaluation findings are powerful material to advocate for new ventures with its Board or a useful tool to look for additional funding to expand their reach. Thanks to the evaluation, NOAH has the certainty that its social entrepreneurship work not only supports the sustainability of the organisation, but most importantly, supports its social mission.

About Elena

Elena Mancebo is a Senior Consultant at Imani Development, where she focuses on planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning. Over the past nine years she has led evaluations for governments, non-profit and development aid organisations working primarily in the African continent. Some of her present and past clients include the Western Cape provincial government in South Africa; Comic Relief; Development Bank of Southern Africa.

Elena holds a BA (Honours) of Social Science from Madrid. She is currently pursuing a PGDip and Mphil in Sustainable Development Planning from the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University.  She is also a tutor  and facilitator of Social Impact Measurement for the Social Enterprise Academy.



[1]PACSA Monthly Food Price Barometer: MAY 2018, online :  https://www.pacsa.org.za/images/food_barometer/2018/May_2018_PACSA_monthly_food_price_barometer.pdf (accessed on 22 July 2018)