Social initiative with economic spin-off

After getting fed up with the poor state of the Black River, which flows past Observatory and parts of the Cape Flats on the Cape Peninsula, Georgia McTaggart in 2018 launched Help Up – an initiative aimed at cleaning river pathways while creating jobs for the unemployed.

McTaggart, who is an efficiencies consultant, started by self-funding the initiative and now relies on crowdfunding to finance clean-up operations across the peninsula. "People pledge R150 and more on the BackaBuddy platform and we use the funds to pay unemployed people, who help with the clean-up," she says.

In November last year, after seeing the initiative’s potential to change lives, she registered Help Up as a non-profit company (NPC) to increase the organisation’s ability to draw funding from corporates and thus offering them tax benefits for donations.

“I wasn’t sure if registering as an NPC was the right move, as the increased administrative and management burden has turned it into a full-time job, but it is well worth the extra effort. Securing funding for sustainable expansions has been our greatest challenge, so we are seeking reliable corporate partnerships,” McTaggart says.

Franchising

While the initiative started out with volunteers and the remuneration of unemployed participants, Help Up has since embraced a franchise model. The franchises are free of charge to self-starters who have “shown initiative in their own communities and wish to expand their personal projects”.

“Franchisees pitch for cleaning contracts in a specific area, and available funding dictates the frequency and number of contracts,” McTaggart explains.

Help Up franchisees receive training to reduce health and safety risks while doing clean-ups and are equipped with the necessary tools, such as rakes and bags, required to do the job. The clean-ups are coordinated with municipalities to ensure the rubbish is removed from the various sites after the clean-up is finished. Once the trash is collected, the franchisees are paid via e-banking.

Help Up is in the process of going high-tech, with an app that will be launched in May to streamline and track the work done. “The idea is to inform franchise holders of the available jobs via the app and for them to record their work by taking before and after photos that are uploaded onto the app,” McTaggart says.

The app will also create an opportunity to record and coordinate clean-up jobs of volunteer groups, which in turn can be used to create awareness of socially responsible endeavours of companies.

Most of Help Up’s marketing is done via social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram. “The drive behind our campaigns is to mobilise people by raising awareness of what is possible. Using shock-and-horror stories don't help, as it paralyses people into apathy; we prefer good-news stories," says McTaggart.

Monetary value

At present, there are two franchises operating. One consists of three people from Langa, who have been cleaning a critical canal. the Jakkalsvlei, which flows into the black River. The second, ranging between five and ten people from Khayelitsha, is centred around a school where there is a lot of dumping by builders and the broader community, to prevent rubbish from ending up in the underground canals of this neighbourhood.

“It is really risky to clean in the rivers, so we want to get the trash contained before it reaches the waterways and, ultimately, the ocean,” McTaggart says.

Clean-ups are still coordinated around the Black River, with many voluntary participants.

The lockdown has come as a major blow to Help Up, with McTaggart estimating that the cessation of their cleaning efforts may lead to roughly five tonnes of plastic waste building up and flowing into the ocean each week.

“It is difficult to quantify the value of what we are doing. The rubbish not only obstructs river flow, but it pollutes the water, with devastating consequences for plants, animals and people,” she says.

The clean-ups are also not only helping to address pollution and creating awareness of the negative impact of waste on rivers, they also present unemployed people with potential opportunities.

“The clean-ups create an opportunity for people with limited skillsets to participate in group activities and form part of a winning team. This helps to build self- esteem and equips them with valuable communication, social and practical skills,” McTaggart says.

During the Covid-19 lockdown she has made use of the relationships she has built through the clean-ups and her professional partnerships to facilitate supplies to feeding schemes in low-income neighbourhoods.

The future

Through the franchise model, and increased financial commitment from corporate partners, McTaggart plans to expand the reach of the initiative across the rest of the country.

“The activities will be carefully coordinated with any ongoing government interventions to ensure we are adding value and not duplicating work. Some of our groups, for example, have already worked closely with the province’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP),” she says.

Besides this, she would like the government to more actively measure pollutants and the impact of industry on river causeways. “It is only by measuring the impact of pollutants that we will be able to quantify the value of clean rivers,” McTaggart says.

This is an extract of the cover story that originally appeared in the 7 May edition of finweek. For the full story, you can buy and download the magazine here. 

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