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Sustainable business in a South African city

In South Africa, where much of the country is plagued by racism and poverty, a new gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurs is looking at social busi­ness as a model to reshape the region. And they’re being helped by people like North­eastern stu­dents Brit­tany Cham­bers and Emily Chi­ap­pinelli, whose co-​​op with the Heart Social Enter­prise Accel­er­ator gave them the oppor­tu­nity to help busi­nesses develop sus­tain­able ini­tia­tives and mea­sure their impact.

Cham­bers, a fifth-​​year busi­ness major, spent six months working to help Sibanye Town­ship Restau­rant develop a sus­tain­able plan for its future, which, she said, was “founded on the prin­ciple that a shared meal can bring people together.”

Though the restau­rant has expe­ri­enced growing pains typ­ical of a busi­ness in flux, Cham­bers’ work there is rec­og­nized by Heart as nothing but suc­cessful. The restau­rant has already cre­ated a non­profit wing and plans to ren­o­vate and expand, a rad­ical trans­for­ma­tion that Heart points to in pitches to attract other area entre­pre­neurs to its accel­er­ator program.

“Sibanye means ‘together we are one,’” said Cham­bers. “And that guides every­thing we did. The restau­rant has always been a place people could come to, and we wanted to make sure the changes we made main­tained that character.”

Chi­ap­pinelli, a fourth-​​year envi­ron­mental sci­ences and inter­na­tional affairs com­bined major, devel­oped a system to mea­sure the impact of social busi­nesses whose goals go beyond the tra­di­tional met­rics of profit and losses.

In addi­tion to devel­oping social impact met­rics, Emily Chi­ap­pinelli helped sup­port other busi­nesses in the incu­bator, attending events like this beach­side event for Sibanye.

“An impact man­age­ment system lets you see if you’re being suc­cessful and lets you see if you’re achieving the impact you’re trying to main­tain,” said Chi­ap­pinelli, who worked in South Africa through Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute prior to her co-​​op. “Now we’re able to show that our ven­tures are making a real dif­fer­ence, which means a lot to us and also to investors who want to see that their money is making a real impact.”

Both Cham­bers and Chi­ap­pinelli noted their enjoy­ment of social entre­pre­neur­ship, whose impact, they agreed, couldn’t often be cal­cu­lated in dol­lars and cents.

“It’s the only kind of busi­ness that appeals to me,” said Chi­ap­pinelli. “I like the idea that I’m able to have an impact and believe in what the com­pany is doing. It’s the whole package: work that’s inter­esting, chal­lenging, and above all, meaningful.”

– by Matt Collette

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