Thope Lekau

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2003
Kopanong Catering Co.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Thope Lekau was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Thope observed that within South African townships and in other poor communities across the country, one of the most popular strategies to overcome destitution is the establishment of small businesses. Nevertheless, while the small incomes derived from such ventures could sustain some families, she saw that their potential was undermined by the pursuit of too similar business models (e.g., funeral homes, drinking establishments), nonprofessionalism, and reluctance to exploit evident synergies in a way that, as Thope says, "benefits entire communities." To overcome this situation, Thope developed a socially responsible business–the Kopanong Bed and Breakfast–in Khayelitsha township, Cape Town. Her bed-and-breakfast attracts large numbers of local and international visitors to sample traditional African cuisine, enjoy cultural performances, and become immersed in enlivened history-telling. She is introducing a new type of business to the townships, one that consciously markets the uniqueness of the local environment for the benefit of both township residents and international visitors alike. Through these women-run bed-and-breakfasts, Thope is helping poor communities in South Africa escape poverty.
At the moment, individual entrepreneurs are cashing in on the tourism market in the "new South Africa," and Thope's idea is to transform this individualism to collectivism. Thope realizes that "one man-one woman" glory limits the invigoration of entire impoverished townships. Thope wants to develop an innovative way of doing business that is proving that people can collectively share profits in the uplift of their communities. Recognizing that other entrepreneurs add value to her business while simultaneously exposing their own goods and services to a lucrative market, she creates opportunities for the involvement of the entire community in her socially conscious business venture. She works together with other business people who are not in the tourism sector (vegetable vendors, craft sellers), but who also can benefit from tourists coming to her establishment. She is consciously making an effort to "keep the dollar in the township." Taking into consideration how individualistic entrepreneurship is, Thope's business model is unique, as her idea is to take people from a survivalist mode of doing business to diversifying and working together to make sure all businesses thrive. In order to expand impact beyond Khayelitsha, Thope has developed an entrepreneurial training module for women and youth that demonstrates how to achieve this sort of economic empowerment, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance. In a break with predominant entrepreneurial training models, she is offering experiential courses that place emphasis not only on constant identification of ways to penetrate niche markets, but also on equitable distribution of earnings to the largest number of people.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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