The Bertha Foundation in South Africa

Bertha Foundation dreams of a more just world and supports forms of activism that aim to bring about change. They champion those using media, law and enterprise as tools to achieve their vision.

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1 Bertha’s four pillars are media, law, activism and enterprise

Together these pillars support the Foundation’s vision of a more just world – as well as a portfolio of 120 grantees and partners.

“The media pillar helps to create content, develop global talent, expose relevant stories and enable greater access for audiences who can be mobilised to have a powerful and positive social impact,” says Director Lisa Kropman. “It also supports organisations that train people to use media as a social impact tool.”

The law pillar works to strengthen public interest law and develop movement lawyering. How? By helping to create a global network of movement lawyers and training emerging lawyers in this field.

The pillar of activism means Bertha dreams of more than just a world, “a society where stories come from many different voices, where law is used as a tool to chal- lenge injustice and where business delivers positive social impact,” says Kropman. By supporting a talented network of people and activists in these fields, Bertha hopes to make this world a reality.

“Finally, the enterprise pillar is reimagining the role of business in society,” Kropman concludes. “It invests in sharp concepts and entrepreneurs who use the principles of business to create sustainable and scalable social change. It also supports ideas, leaders and infrastructure that provide tools and opportunities for communities to solve their own problems.”

2 Bertha likes businesses that like change

Founded in 2010, the Bertha Foundation provides capital for launching and scaling businesses that have high potential to drive change and have wide-scale social or environmental impact.

“We’ve invested in renewable or alternative energy through a biogas company,” says Lisa Kropman. “We’ve also invested in mobile tech with RLabs. There are projects in education, training centres and capacity building. We hope that people touched by Bertha projects will go on to further social and environmental change too.”

Bertha’s Impact Investment Fund is based in South Africa and is currently also exploring investment opportunities in East Africa.

The development in Philippi will focus on market-based solutions and affordable, quality resources near home. There will be workspaces. There will be sports facilities and the first affordable, independent school.

3 Bertha isn’t averse to risk

“We take quite a high-risk view because we know that if you’re not prepared to risk you just won’t get anywhere,” says Kropman.

This is why the Foundation primarily looks at early- stage, and therefore riskier, investments that often struggle to raise capital. It’s an unusual approach in the South African social venture capital space, which is flush with funders, but most have little appetite for risk.

“We noticed a gap in this part of the market, and we get very excited about the opportunity to help support businesses that have social and environmental impact.”

4 The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship

It was established in late 2011 in partnership with the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. The idea,” says Kropman, “is that, at a business school, it makes sense to expose students to social innovation – especially in how it’s relevant to emerging markets. The result is the Bertha Centre, a space to allow students to explore opportunities and viable initiatives that are profitable and have an impact.”
The Centre invests in the next generation of social innovators through scholarships, practical teaching, exposure, debate, and focused research. All of these help to catalyse social impact, environmental change and new solutions for emerging markets in Africa.

5 RLabs

Reconstructed Living Lab or RLabs is South African social enterprise that’s becoming a global movement as it provides innovative solutions to complex social problems. The main hub is in Athlone, Cape Town, but the goal is to have a presence on all continents. Read more about this Bertha partner on here.

6 A non-traditional township transformation project

It’s an urban development like no other. A township upliftment project in part- nership with The Business Place (TBP), a Section 21 company and support centre for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Philippi, Cape Town.

“It’s such an interesting, eclectic place, and we’re hoping it will become an economic dynamo,” says Kropman. “Some years ago TBP purchased a 12-hectare piece of land in Philippi and we’re now developing this land through a joint venture to create an entrepreneurial village with social impact. It will start with a large business hub, the first of its kind in a township area.” The site will ultimately also include hundreds of small start-up businesses, several non-governmental organisations, restaurants, an auditorium, a sports centre, a clinic and a school.

“It’s not a traditional township development in any way,” says Kropman. “We will seek to showcase and encourage market-based solution busi- nesses for the people of Philippi and its surrounding areas, with the focus on providing affordable, quality resources near home. There will be offices and workspaces. There will be the first affordable, independent school and world-class sports facilities. People won’t need to travel into town for work opportunities, entertainment or school – right now many residents have to spend more on transport than they do on education!”

A piece of this land will also be used for Workshop 71, the mirror-image and partner centre for Workshop 17 in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront (featured on page 10). The development is planned to start by June 2013 and will take up to 18 months to complete. Watch this space. And keep watching Philippi.

In 2012 The Business Place in Philippi received a $4.6-million matching grant from the South African government for further development at the site.

7 Activism = change

This Bertha Foundation belief says that activism is an engine of progress. That’s why Bertha is working on a range of programmes that help develop powerful and effective forms of activism on the individual, organisational and network level.

“We believe in the power of collective action and support initiatives that unlock its potential,” says Kropman. “That’s why we champion the people working within media, law and enterprise who are striving towards the same vision.”


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