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Sustainable business in a South African city

In South Africa, where much of the country is plagued by racism and poverty, a new generation of entrepreneurs is looking at social business as a model to reshape the region. And they’re being helped by people like Northeastern students Brittany Chambers and Emily Chiappinelli, whose co-op with the Heart Social Enterprise Accelerator gave them the opportunity to help businesses develop sustainable initiatives and measure their impact.

Chambers, a fifth-year business major, spent six months working to help Sibanye Township Restaurant develop a sustainable plan for its future, which, she said, was “founded on the principle that a shared meal can bring people together.”

Though the restaurant has experienced growing pains typical of a business in flux, Chambers’ work there is recognized by Heart as nothing but successful. The restaurant has already created a nonprofit wing and plans to renovate and expand, a radical transformation that Heart points to in pitches to attract other area entrepreneurs to its accelerator program.

Brittany Chambers worked to develop a new business plan for Sibanye Township Restaurant in South Africa.

“Sibanye means ‘together we are one,’” said Chambers. “And that guides everything we did. The restaurant has always been a place people could come to, and we wanted to make sure the changes we made maintained that character.”

Chiappinelli, a fourth-year environmental sciences and international affairs combined major, developed a system to measure the impact of social businesses whose goals go beyond the traditional metrics of profit and losses.

In addition to developing social impact metrics, Emily Chiappinelli helped support other businesses in the incubator, attending events like this beachside event for Sibanye.

“An impact management system lets you see if you’re being successful and lets you see if you’re achieving the impact you’re trying to maintain,” said Chiappinelli, who worked in South Africa through Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute prior to her co-op. “Now we’re able to show that our ventures are making a real difference, which means a lot to us and also to investors who want to see that their money is making a real impact.”

Both Chambers and Chiappinelli noted their enjoyment of social entrepreneurship, whose impact, they agreed, couldn’t often be calculated in dollars and cents.

“It’s the only kind of business that appeals to me,” said Chiappinelli. “I like the idea that I’m able to have an impact and believe in what the company is doing. It’s the whole package: work that’s interesting, challenging, and above all, meaningful.”