The MTN Group is a leading multinational telecommunications operator established in South Africa at the dawn of the country’s democracy in 1994. The Group is inspired by a belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. It provides a diverse range of voice, data, digital, fintech, wholesale, and enterprise services to more than 280 million customers in 19 markets across Africa and the Middle East.
Harnessing technology for innovation and sustainable development
In 2001, MTN South Africa established the MTN SA Foundation as its corporate social investment (CSI) arm. Through the Foundation, MTN South Africa partners with communities, civil society, and other corporates in supporting development interventions in disadvantaged communities across South Africa.
The overarching mandate of the MTN SA Foundation is to use information and communications technology (ICT) to improve and uplift the lives of disadvantaged South African communities. The Foundation’s mandate is founded on a shared-value approach and informed by the vision of its parent company, MTN South Africa. The Foundation’s mandate is also informed by the ICT Charter, which requires telecommunications companies to prioritise ICT-led social investments. In achieving this, it utilises its status as a corporate Foundation to leverage strategic corporate assets such as MTN’s extensive telecommunications infrastructure, brand image and reputation, and the skills and competencies of MTN employees.
Supporting South Africa’s development agenda
The MTN SA Foundation fulfils its mandate through a range of community programmes designed to allow for agility and responsiveness in delivering solutions to the most disadvantaged communities across South Africa. Beneficiaries include tertiary institutions, schools located in semi-urban and rural areas as well as schools that cater for learners with special needs. Interventions are underpinned by ICT, opening up a world of opportunities for disadvantaged communities and contributing to their ability to thrive in a bold new digital world. The Foundation’s interventions also include an entrepreneurship programme targeting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), university students and high-school learners nationally.
Providing youth with the business skills they need to participate in the economy
The MTN SA Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme aims to foster an entrepreneurial mindset through training, mentorship, and small business support. The expected outcome is increased entrepreneurship among the youth as well as the enhanced viability and sustainability of SMEs.
The programme is implemented at three levels. At SME level, the Foundation provides business owners with training and mentorship with the goal of creating businesses that are robust, innovative, and able to succeed in a challenging and ever-changing operating context. Interventions are delivered in partnership with Datacomb Development Hub (DDH) and Hodisang Dipeu Holdings (HDH) in collaboration with the University of the Free State. The Foundation has a long- standing partnership with both organisations dating back to 2013.
The Accelerated Business Development Programme (ABDP)
The partnership between MTN SA Foundation and DDH on the Accelerated Business Development Programme (ABDP) was established in 2014 and aims to support historically disadvantaged individuals to grow their businesses. The ABDP is built on the hypothesis that the success of small businesses in South Africa is inherently dependent on, and linked to, factors such as economic conditions, the business model, access to finance, capital and human capital endowment, technological advancements, time management, financial management, customer service, and business identity.
The programme aims to address as many of these factors as possible by analysing the business model of each SME and developing strategies that will make the business relevant and sustainable. Strategies for improvement are centred on four pillars – access to funding, access to technology, access to markets, and access to skills.
The Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP)
In 2014, the University of the Free State and HDH partnered to develop the Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP). The programme is funded by the MTN SA Foundation and consists of three components – mentorship and coaching, training, and an NQF Level 5 short-course programme offered to the entrepreneurs in partnership with the University of Free State School of Business. The programme aims to identify, develop, and support entrepreneurs from start-up to sustainability using brain profile analysis, skills development training, mentorship, and research.
Entrepreneurship at university and school level
At university level, the MTN SA Foundation partners with Enactus South Africa to deliver business training and mentorship to tertiary students across the country. The programme brings together students, academics, and business leaders who are committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. The programme culminates in an annual youth entrepreneurship development global competition. Through it, young people are challenged to design projects that demonstrate their entrepreneurial skills and aptitudes. The MTN Digital Innovation Challenge is an extension of the overarching Enactus programme. The aim of this special challenge is to facilitate the development of digital services which address socio- economic challenges within the health, education, and agricultural sectors. In 2020, 23 universities participated in the Enactus initiative, with a total of 2 590 students taking part in the virtual competition.
At school level, the Foundation supports the Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) programme, which targets young people across South Africa with entrepreneurial skills training. The programme is aimed at inspiring and educating teenagers on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and exposing them to opportunities for personal development.
The Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) programme
SAGE is an entrepreneurship programme for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. The South African chapter of SAGE was established in 2014 with the objective of equipping learners with business skills and provide a learning platform which empowers them to harness an entrepreneurial mindset. The MTN SA Foundation has been providing financial support to SAGE since 2014. In addition to the funding provided to SAGE, the Foundation participates in the programme as a panellist, judge and observer.
SAGE is an experiential learning programme that is implemented through provincial coordinators whose role is to support teachers and learners in their entrepreneurial education journey. It is based on research which suggests that entrepreneurial education as a viable career path is not prioritised in South Africa. The programme is aligned to the developmental and business objectives of MTN. Similar to the Enactus programme aimed at university students, the SAGE programme culminates in an annual competition. This allows high-school students to showcase their entrepreneurial skills, creativity and innovation.
Due to the lockdown regulations implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19, the 2020 edition of the SAGE competition took place virtually. This demonstrates the important role technology plays in facilitating the basic human need for connection and communication, innovation, and access to skills development opportunities. More than 1 000 learners participated in the 2020 SAGE competition, with the Project Limbs team from Hoërskool Schweizer-Reneke in the North West province emerging as the national winner.
Project Limbs uses technology software and 3-D printing to produce prosthetic limbs that are specially designed for amputees who cannot afford good-quality bionic prosthetics. The project uses environmentally friendly materials such as plastic waste, and the simplest and most affordable technology to manufacture these devices. The project was led by teenagers Farida Cajee and Qaasim Abdul Gafar.
While ICT-led education and training will remain the Foundation’s flagship area of intervention, in line with its mandate and strategic objectives, the Foundation will shift from a focus on connectivity to cultivating solutions in skills development and training, utilising connectivity and ICT more broadly. Adoption of technology within disadvantaged communities will be another key area of focus. This will allow a greater contribution towards bridging the digital divide and addressing the high levels of poverty, inequality, and unemployment South Africa is facing.
The Foundation will also renew its commitment to youth- and women-led enterprise development and continue to support ICT- driven initiatives, such as SAGE, along with other programmes aimed at fostering an entrepreneurial mindset among the youth.
Key lessons and recommendations
In 2020, the MTN SA Foundation commissioned an independent evaluation of its entrepreneurship programme. The aim of the evaluation was to review the relevance and appropriateness of the programme as well as assess its overall effectiveness. This allowed for reflection on the impact of the Foundation’s interventions as well as lessons learnt and recommendations for future programming, as outlined below:
- To ensure supported interventions address the core problems associated with youth unemployment, in line with best practice, entrepreneurship programmes should include the following components: training, coaching, mentorship, and post-programme support and tracking. Further, all supported programmes should explicitly detail how each
of these components will be delivered. Particular attention should be given to mentorship and post-programme support and tracking, as these are imperative to ensure that the beneficiaries actually receive the support needed to move from the training (output level) to actual outcomes.
- Programmes that are heavily dependent on corporates for funding should be urged to use the period of funding to diversify funding sources. This will allow them to mitigate financial risk should corporates be unable to continue the relationships at the current scope and scale.
- Given the range of programmes it supports, MTN is well placed to contribute to the research and discussions on youth employment. This can be achieved through developing and implementing robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks as well as documenting case studies that provide a balanced view of challenges and achievements, statistics on project performance, and insights on lead practice.