LifeCo UnLtd South Africa

“Sustainable social change for a nation of champions”

LifeCo UnLtd South Africa

South Africa

Established in 2009

The Journey

It all started with a South African living in the UK who became aware of the work of UnLtd and embarked on a learning journey with UnLtd India in 2007. After experiencing several inspirational moments on this Learning Journey, Heather was so convinced that social entrepreneurship could address the dependency culture caused by generations of oppression which has stifled enterprise in a free South Africa that together with Kathy Watters she began a journey to create UnLtd South Africa.


Heather and Kathy carried out a 6 week study interviewing individuals and researching the landscape in South Africa to establish the availability and appetite for programmes / support / incubation hubs for early stage social entrepreneurs. The findings of the initial research clearly indicated that there was a real gap in the pipeline of support to early stage entrepreneurs.


At the end of 2009, UnLtd South Africa invited 15 carefully selected individuals representing different interest groups the findings of the initial report and to set up a pathfinder group to support the establishment of the UnLtd programme in South Africa, funded by The Marshall Foundation.


Since 2009, UnLtd South Africa has been finding, funding and supporting passionate people - social upstarts who are delivering sustainable solutions to the country's social challenges. The organisation is unique in the region: it is the only organisation that works directly with early stage entrepreneurs offering a very different kind of support not previously known in South Africa.


UnLtd South Africa has placed an important emphasis on the business viability of each social entrepreneur’s project which needs to have a good chance at financial sustainability within 3 - 5 years. Each award is made through an open competition and services are given preference over products .The organisation has supported 23 Award Winners with a very high rates of success in terms of projects continuing and growing.


In 2014, UnLtd South Africa took the strategic decision to merge with Life College Group (an established social enterprise in South Africa) to become Lifeco UnLtd South Africa. The merger aims to enhance the social vision of each organisation, joined by a single vision: Sustainable Social Change for a Nation of Champions.

Support for Social Entrepreneurs

UnLtd South Africa makes awards of financial and non-financial support to social entrepreneurs, appropriate to their stage of development.

The organisation...

…works with people from the concept stage of a project, often before the social entrepreneur has put anything into practice, usually before an organisation is registered - almost always before any other funders or support agencies get involved

…places significant emphasis on the non-financial support, both professional and personal , based on feedback from award winners who most value in this kind of support – and getting it at the right time.

…acts as a bridge to ensure the social entrepreneurs are making connections in the right networks

…provides a staircase of support, as the person and the project develop


Level 1 is designed for individuals starting or piloting new initiatives, usually part-time over and above their day jobs. A grant of up to R25,000 is matched with over 60 hours of non-financial support: coaching, mentoring, access to networks (including funders), events and business expertise.


Level 2 is designed for people to develop existing early stage projects towards greater impact and sustainability.


The ways in which support is provided takes into account the needs and limitations of the social entrepreneurs. For example, one cannot assume that they will have access to internet and telephones – or that they can afford to travel from rural areas for meetings. Often a stipend is paid as part of the Award to support the development of the idea.


UnLtd South Africa recognised from the initial work that some award winners benefit from a purely non-financial grant (access to networks, training, coaching). They invest time doing due diligence with potential applicants and preparing them to apply and will offer up to 160 hours of non-financial support on average to level 1 award winners. This is due to the relative lack of knowledge around social entrepreneurs and social enterprise and the complexity of getting an organisation registered – but also the issue of getting heads sorted (development of self-esteem, belief systems, work ethic etc.)


The recent merger will enhance the existing programmes and offer new programmes to beneficiaries.

Top tips for supporters around the world

ü  Spend as much time as possible PLANNING and scoping to see what already exists for early stage social entrepreneurs in the country


ü  Create LINKS and build NETWORKS with people already in the Social Entrepreneurship space or on the edges (in your country and abroad)


ü  Carry out research and feasibility tests on a small number of award winners to check out what works best


ü  Develop a marketing identity that makes you fit into the space in a way that makes sense


ü  Be clear about your theory of change and how to measure your impact as early on as possible


ü  Always PILOT your ideas and get partners on board to help with this. Then go back and refine. Adopt an ITERATIVE approach


ü  Speak to people who’ve already done it!


ü  Include important people in the decision-making process

Challenges & Opportunities

A big challenge the organisation faced when starting up was people in South Africa not understanding social entrepreneurship. There were many misconceptions in place: for example many believed (and still do) that anyone who is trading is a social entrepreneur.


Many young people in South Africa have no experience or role models of family members starting up a social business and believe it would be high risk with low returns. The risk appetite in general is very different. It’s hard even for businesses to access loans, so financial support from banks for early stage entrepreneurs is non-existent for many individuals. The registration process for a company is complex and bureaucratic and worse for a not for profit or a hybrid of the two (which is what a social enterprise is).


The social entrepreneurship sector is dominated by the University Business Schools so there is still a great deal of debate about concepts and definitions: ‘Too much talking and not enough doing.’ What the sector should really be focussing on is mobilising more resources to support social entrepreneurs and social enterprises - and in this way reducing the reliance of funding and aid.


The recent merger represents a very clear opportunity for UnLtd South Africa to strengthen the support it offers to social entrepreneurs.


Further benefits include the consolidation of their networks to support beneficiaries, increased and improved scale, reach and operational efficiencies, and a bolstered governance team with varied expertise.


Since UnLtd SA launched with a donation of 50, 000 US Dollars it has supported 23 Award winners, who have created on average 3 jobs each and supported well over 5000 beneficiaries through their work.


UnLtd SA has a simple questionnaire for potential award winners who have literacy challenges.


The Social Entrepreneurs

Charles Nyakurwa built his social enterprise “Deaf Hands at work” which provides training and creates employment for deaf individuals

Sizwe Nzima founded of Iyeza Express, a service that delivers chronic medication to residents in Khayelitsha, Cape Town by bicycle.

John Coxe’s social enterprise Trade-Mark has gained a great deal of momentum. It connects homeowners wanting to do renovations with the very best, handpicked artisans from the local townships.

Partnerships & Financial Sustainability

The organisation has been very cost-effective and lean with staff and operations, adopting an entrepreneurial approach from start-up stage.


The majority of the organisation’s funding comes from private donors. Also, both Heather and Kathy have donated earnings through consultancy work.


UnLtd South Africa has formed valuable partnerships with a diverse group including the African Social Entrepreneurs Network, the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, Social Enterprise Academy Africa, enke: Make Your Mark, Ashoka Changemakers, UnLtd India and UnLtd.


The organisation collaborated with the Western Cape Provincial government, which was the first time this government invested in social enterprise initiatives, such as Greenpop. The partnership was simple and effective with very successful marketing strategies.


Another important partnership has been with the top-rated GSB business school (University of Cape Town). UnLtd South Africa was hired to deliver lectures to MBA students and moderate papers to promote social entrepreneurship.


UnLtd South Africa was instrumental in including a social element in the courses offered by the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development (funded by Pick 'n Pay, the second largest supermarket chain store in South Africa).


Heather Brandon & Tom Shutte

Contact Member Visit Website

Useful Tools

Impact Framework Theory of Change

The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network is an initiative launched and incubated by UnLtd                                 Get in touch by email or on twitter 

UnLtd is the trading name for The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs                                                                                                 Join the network

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