The silver screen is empowering South Africa’s youth


Young people in South Africa are really hungry to understand finance and to start new businesses; they want to be contributors to society and to help improve society. Where better to get them going than at high school with brilliant initiatives like Step Up 2 a Start Up.

Conceived and led by Primestars Marketing’s MD, Martin Sweet, the Step Up 2 a Start Up programme uses cinemas throughout South Africa as ‘Educational Theatres of Learning’ in this national youth entrepreneurship development initiative.It offers learners access to relevant processes and experts in the field of entrepreneurship, using movie theatres as inspiring classrooms.

Now in its third year, it is a highly innovative approach towards creating a culture of entrepreneurship among high school learners from schools in the townships and underserviced areas, with 16 000 learners attending the programme each year.

In its first year, 2014, the theme of Step Up 2 a Start Up I was think big, start small, act now, inspired by Eric Ries’ lean start-up methodology. As part of this, the young entrepreneurs competition attracted 550 entries, with 45 making it to the finals. The finalists earned their place in a four-day boot camp, where they were exposed to industry experts and educationalists who guided them through the development of their businesses.

In its second year, 2015, Step Up 2 a Start Up II focused on the maker movement, with the call to action being design it, make it, sell it. Building on the lean startup foundation, it inspired young South Africans to explore the opportunities available in the design and manufacturing arena.

This year’s programme, Step Up 2 a Start Up III My Planet, My People, My Purpose—Making it my smart business, focuses on social and environmental entrepreneurship, as Sweet explains: “Our aim is to inspire and upskill South African secondary school learners to find innovative solutions to societies most pressing social and environmental problems. Social and environmental entrepreneurship acts as an agent of change for society by taking advantage of opportunities to improve systems, invent new approaches and create solutions to change society for the better.”

Saturday 6 August saw the launch of Step Up 2 a Start Up III’s five-week programme. Learners were transported to 15 Ster-Kinekor cinemas nationally, where they were given social entrepreneur toolkits—an excellent, practical step-by-step guide on entrepreneurship, and they watched an educational feature film with a startup social entrepreneurship message titled Vukuzenzele (Get up and do it for yourselves).

Vukuzenzele is education-driven with an entertaining storyline that follows the pursuits of Khanyi (Fikile Mthwalo-Kani), Jasmine (Chante Jantjies) and Tshepo (Maps Maponyane) who recognise the environmental disaster that a polluter is creating in their local river. An intrepid team, they catch the polluter and find a solution to clean the water. Using this solution, they start a social entrepreneurial business in their community, creating a circular economy.

“The movie is a wonderful vehicle through which to share the challenges, lessons and examples of how to create a startup social entrepreneurial business. At the same time it inspires and motivates the learners to vukuzenzele—get up and do it for themselves,” Sweet explains.

As part of the programme, Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 learners enter the national social entrepreneurs competition. They are required to identify an environmental or social problem in their schools or communities that can be solved through developing a product or service; do research on this; give a presentation of the service or product with a detailed description of how it can better their communities. The top three teams, with the most promising business models, will be awarded bursaries to further develop their ideas.

All kudos to Martin Sweet who has energetically driven Step Up To a Start Up for the past three years. You can see how important it is to him, how he engages with the learners, how he is at the forefront of this unbelievable process for which he refuses to take personal credit; instead, he constantly acknowledges the input of others.

And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to Step Up 2 a Start Up, Primestars Marketing’s maths and science programmes for high school learners fill 30 000 seats in 14 cinemas countrywide over a period of 10 weeks, from 24 July to 25 September 2016. Other focus areas, including financial literacy and career guidance, take place in the first part of the year.

Sweet is a fine example of how great leaders are able to collaborate around a compelling proposition, to roll up their sleeves and get the hard work done with honesty, humility and total commitment. He further demonstrates very clearly, how a vibrant public and private sector collaboration can make a huge difference in people’s lives.

The key partners in the Step Up 2 a Start Up programmes are Sasol, the National Youth Development Agency, MTN, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Water Affairs and Sizwe IT (among others). Other members of the private sector who have demonstrated their generosity in this initiative are Kulula and Tsogo Sun who fly the learners around the country and put them up at no cost whenever required.

Martin sums up Primestars Marketing’s approach with the following African proverb, which emphasises that success largely depends on partnerships: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

He quotes Harvard’s Michael Porter and Mark Kramer: “Companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Social value is not social responsibility, philanthropy or even sustainability but a new way to achieve economic success.”

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