Guest blogger, Lesego Masethe shares the story of the first place winner in the Ranyaka Building Business Social Enterprise competition for 2020.

Given Maboela’s Flex Internet Café in Stoffel Park, an informal settlement situated in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, is seeking to address digital inequality and change the quality of life for people in his community.

At just 23, Given has joined a niche group of young South Africans who are about more than just making a profit. He is cleverly combining a social mission with business and successfully making a real impact and helping to bring about change.

Established in 2018, Flex Internet Café not only provides internet access and printing, but has a long list of other digital services that are changing the quality of life for the residents in Stoffel Park. The services include assisting students with academic research projects, online application services for university admission and job seekers, graphic design and photography.

“My services are innovative, affordable and reliable. I target young people looking to apply for employment. We assist regular household consumers with communication devices by servicing and updating their digital gadgets’ software. We help entrepreneurs with the paperless admin. We are targeting information seekers and social media enthusiasts who want to access the internet at an affordable price.”

Stepping out of the box

Maboela grew up in what he describes as a ‘very slow’ environment in Ga-Mashashane Village in rural Limpopo. “We had no internet and no information centres, so people were forced to walk long distances to get internet access,” he says.

It was during those long walks that he decided his future. “l love helping people. I remember, in my teens, I started working as a social media strategist for a few private and community blogs which offer content that challenge socio-economic issues affecting our country. One of the blogs I still work for, Hello youth, is an online blog that aims to lift and inspire young professionals in South Africa,” he adds.

Challenges and lessons learned

Like many young hopefuls, Maboela had dreams of going to college and obtaining a qualification, but unfortunately, he had to drop out 6 months into his studies at Boston Media due to financial reasons. Little did he know that life had bigger plans for him. His resilience and passion for what he loves pushed him to succeed. However, getting here was no easy task, he explains, “My biggest obstacle when starting this business was having people believe in my vision of what I wanted to achieve for myself and my community. Access to information and funding has been a major struggle for me and securing land so that I can increase my services and not have to deal with rent or a limited space was a challenge.”

The rise of a social entrepreneur

Maboela believes that small businesses are crucial for economic growth because they are the only businesses close to regular users of products and essential services – and so the more we create small businesses, the more consumers get easier access to services and goods close to home. “This means that more people will be buying and that leads to economic growth and job creation,” he elaborates.

“My short-term goals include opening other branches similar to Flex Internet Café and to offer residents in other under-resourced communities the same kind of quality services we are currently offering.” Long-term, Maboela’s goal is to own a community wi-fi zone and be an internet service provider offering reliable, fast and affordable internet service in remote villages and other areas where people are still struggling with internet services.

On the impact of Covid-19

“I can say Covid-19 has affected my business both in a good and a bad way because as a business I had to spend money on PPE, cleaning detergents and hand sanitizers which were not budgeted for. However, as a business that offers internet services, Covid-19 made me realise that the world is moving from paper to digital, which made way and allowed me to implement my soft skills and assist consumers to become technologically savvy”, says Maboela.

Amidst the pandemic, an opportunity to grow and realise his potential presented itself through Ranyaka’s Building Business programme.” It changed my life,” Maboele added.

He credits most of what he learned in the programme to his appointed mentor, Mr Mohlala.” He advised me on things I did not understand as a business. He did not only care about how my business was doing, but about how I was doing as a person, as a young father, and how my relationship is with my family,” he says.

Winning the Building Business Social Enterprise competition elevated Maboela’s internet cafe to a new level. He explains that he now has a computer that works faster and more efficiently, a new printer and lamination machine – but what he is most excited about is how Ranyaka, thanks to the funding and support of Nedbank’s Proud of my Town programme, assisted him in branding his business.

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

Maboela’s advice to young entrepreneurs embarking on this journey is to “never give up on your dreams and always seek for information because we are now in an information-driven economy. The more you know, the more you will always stay relevant in whatever business you are in; enabling you to adapt with changes to survive.”

Contact Given on:
071 397 7953