Cape Town Social Venture Wins Global Recognition

It started as a 16-year-old girl’s gardening experiment. But it’s grown into a social innovation that’s turning heads and winning awards in the international social investment community

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Messages of congratulations from around the world have gone to Reel Gardening – a team including two UCT MBA students, both from the Social Innovation Lab – for their regional win in the Hult Prize London early in March 2013. Beating 50 teams from universities in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, they now go on to New York for a six-week full-time incubation programme and to compete against five other teams for a US$1-million from the Clinton Global Initiative.

As if that isn’t enough, the team also won the Europe, Middle-East, Africa regional round of the Global Social Venture Competition and moved on to compete at the University of Berkley for even more recognition and a chance to present before global impact investors.

Claire Reid, founder of Reel Gardening, created a very convenient way to package seeds that ensures germination and reduces the amount of water used in the germination phase by 80%. The seeds are packaged in biodegradable material filled with fertilizer.

It’s a clever gardening convenience with business potential, of course. But it’s also a developmental innovation with broader-scale implications of use.

The team came together through the Student Social Venture programme (SSVP) in November 2012, where people with ideas are paired up with MBA students to flesh out social business plans and come up with robust ways of ensuring scalability and impact.

Created and hosted by the Bertha Centre and the UCT Net Impact Chapter, the SSVP aims to improve the quality and performance of African universities at global student social business competitions. And clearly, the plan is working.

“We started doing community development pro- grammes, and corporate social responsibility projects where we helped communities start vegetable gardens,” says Reel Gardening project manager Emily Jones. “And although the impact they made was considerable, the scalability posed a difficult problem.”

This issue of scalability was tackled when Reid and Jones were teamed up with MBA student Greg MacFarlane, a Bertha Scholar, and Dianne Moore from the school’s Social Innovation Lab. The potential within the team was immediately apparent.

“These seed packages grow in any soil,” says MacFarlane. “They manufacture a product that makes gardening easy, and when you pair that with the thinking around global food security issues, the potential for massive impact becomes obvious.”

After these intial global wins, evidently the international social venture community agrees.

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