Tracey Chambers (Ashoka Fellow)

Tracey is economically empowering the most marginalised unemployed mothers and fathers in township communities of South Africa.


Name of social entrepreneur

Tracey Chambers

Date Established


Date entered into program

June, 2018

Impact (in number) till date

2500 women directly reached in South Africa




Tracey is economically empowering the most marginalised unemployed mothers and fathers in township communities of South Africa. Using excess stock from retail companies, she creates a fluent supply of merchandise which she merges with a holistic program that focuses on creating self-reliance as a fundamental component for lifelong income generation. In doing so, she enables the unemployed to emerge successfully from a life of poverty.


In South Africa, the unemployment rate amongst people below 29 is 50% in townships compared to 25% outside townships. Amongst young single mothers, the unemployment rate is even higher making it difficult for them to provide a future for their children. Entrepreneurship programs have had a low success rate as they do not consider historical factors and the lack of an entrepreneurial culture in Southern Africa. Meanwhile, high-end retailers routinely find themselves confronted with the problem of excess stock of all kinds of products. Between 1-2% of retail sales is considered waste which includes in-store damages, customer returns and end of season merchandise. Tracey saw the need to find  sustainable income generation opportunities for women and men in townships is becoming more and more urgent in the country.


Tracey saw a way to bridge this gap. Considering that entrepreneurship is not a cultural norm, Tracey’s focus is on ensuring that they can easily and quickly start a simple trading business, or a micro-franchise business, that doesn’t require them to have the required social capital and business skills from scratch, but would offer them lifelong opportunities to earn sustainable incomes.

The first important element comes from Tracey’s partnerships with major retailers in the country. Through these partnerships, she has mobilized a constant stream of donated merchandise from high-profile retailers in the country.  The Clothing Bank takes in 400 new mothers a year, and starts them off with an in-kind loan of R600 (USD 50). Once they complete their initial training of two weeks, the mothers begin to buy merchandise from the Bank at significant discounts (20% of the listed price). They are then able to mark it up to 150% (still less than 50% of the listed price), and are expected to report earnings in profits up to R4,000 (USD 330) a month. She then scaffolds the practical business training with a two year training program that provides knowledge, healing and life coaching, and personal development. The women have also got access to mentors: a network of trusted business advisors set up to support their growth as entrepreneurs. From informal trading with women, Tracey has expanded to working with men trading appliances in the townships, and now formalizing informal early-childhood education centres towards providing children with the best possible start.

Sustainability and Scale

Tracey is consistently keeping one eye on the sustainability of her vision. From an enterprise perspective, the Clothing Bank is 80% self funded from the revenues from the informal traders buying from the factories. While she has funding for the short-fall, she hopes that it will get to 95% self funding by 2021.

Tracey has in 2017, started selecting 10% of the women, those who are successful entrepreneurs and can be role models in their communities, to become part of an Ambassador program. These women are given training in servant leadership, after which Tracey hopes they will be able to continue rippling out self-affirming moments in the community at large. Equipped with a decontextualized version of the two-year training program she sees these women delivering these courses in their communities, allowing more women and men to access the socio-emotional support offered by them. 


Since her launch in 2010, Tracey has trained over 2500 women who have collectively generated profits in their businesses of over R100 million (USD 8.3 million). Tracey discovered that 80% of the graduates are still trading one year on. Further, on the poverty stoplight, typically, beneficiaries join the programme with 30 greens, 15 oranges and 5 reds and leave with 45 greens, 4 oranges and 1 red, an indication that they are successfully moving themselves and their families out of poverty.


Tracey has been selected as an Ashoka Fellow under the Sea-Change Program