Two years and $10,000 of acceleration funding later, Duncan Luke, founder and CEO of The Social Collective, shares the impact of being a winner of the inaugural Coca-Cola Shaping a Better Future Grant Challenges in partnership with the Global Shapers Community, which was awarded during the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.

Ninety percent of startups fail. The reasons include everything we can imagine, besides one. Sustainability. Not referring to being ecofriendly with a light carbon footprint, but rather keeping the green coming in. Revenue. Being relevant enough in the given marketplace to have resources available. Step into the third pillar of society, and it is a little more complex. Civil society stands alongside the private sector and government. Civil society is how people connect through common interests and shared activities. Social ills fall right in the middle leaving government with a problem to solve and social entrepreneurs a question that needs answers.

Who pays for that? Grant funding is one funding mechanism which allows "free" money to be invested into viable social ventures. It was June 16, 2014, Youth Day in South Africa, when we unofficially launched The Social Collective about two months after we received our first and only grant funding. It was exciting and short lived. It had an incredible impact and, I believe, is worth sharing.

Why Our Journey Matters

Global Shaper
The National Government was our first client, then NGOs, followed by corporate companies... a model not advisable for young entrepreneurs. Besides the red tape, governments are policy driven and bring more complication than there ever should be. We only did it this way, as a result from me raising my hand, saying “Look, it cannot be that expensive to start a volunteer opportunities database, I’ll do it at my own cost.” The next two years is a story of being underfunded and at the mercy of inexperienced entrepreneur.

We set out to build a technology to help nonprofits. Sure, some technologies like this existed, but none spoke to the specific requirements of the desired M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation). We gained marginal success and had proven the model enough to state our agenda, mission and purpose. We wanted to provide a Monitoring and Evaluation platform for Volunteerism, enabling youth to become more employable - through tracking their volunteerism - based on volunteer opportunities we sourced.

It was bold. And as a project of the Cape Town Hub of the Global Shapers Community, was enough to win the Hub a grant to do just that.

The venture soon required follow-up funding to keep up with the momentum we had created, none of which was available. I licensed our product at 100% discount desperate to get people to try it and grow with us, this was also unsuccessful. I got an investor on Friday who then pulled out of the transaction on Sunday. I overextended the team and it caused team members to leave. I have learnt the lessons and we are better off for each one.

I recall saying to the team, "If we can get a small nonprofit (nonprofits generally have restricted budgets and a gag reflex for innovation) to pay for our offering which is sold as a SaaS, Software as a Service, we have a business." If we felt that we could not do this, we would have started to raise our next round of grant funding and maybe we will have jobs when our runway comes to an end.

It was a no-brainer. We set up an invoicing solution and started making calls. We did indeed make a small sale to a nonprofit within the first month.

Grant funding focuses your energy on explaining why your idea is great, rather than getting results, attracting customers and building sustainable value. Instead of writing about that which we dreamed, we starting working out how to do to it, and we were figuring out how to generate revenue at the same time. We had revenue and, therefore, we had a business model.

This would not have been the case if we did not receive the initial grant from Coca-Cola. The grant and responsibility that came with it propelled the social venture into a company, which marked a significant day for me, the team, our customers and young people that are unemployed.

So, What Has $10k Done for Us?

Our $10,000 grant gave us a 1.5-month runway, in which we had to make enough revenue to survive our second month. The greatest effect was the mental shift, it opened our minds to new possibilities. It stretched us to do something meaningful with this incredible opportunity we had been presented with. It was a great validation that our small and simple idea might just impact someone's live and be worthy of someone's attention.

And it was. Davos Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum has been the most appropriate place for this.

Today we have more than 10 employees and manage large and active networks for clients. The Social Collective works with South Africa's biggest and most significant Youth Employment Accelerator on the City of Johannesburg's youth unemployment strategy, providing volunteer experiences for unemployed youth to meet the city's targets. We work closely with national government to help reach the National Youth Service target. And are starting to work with more government bodies, in and outside our borders. Multinational corporates are clients, and we are innovating week on week to build the best and most scalable youth unemployment solution.

We are providing a cost-effective, scalable and self-sustainable solution to youth unemployment to governments. A component of our business is helping large companies manage and report on employee engagement (traditionally employee volunteering). Most importantly, we are giving unemployed youth a stepping stone, helping them connect and increase their employability.

“The Social Collective has helped me improve my communications skills. It has connected me to people with mutual interests all over. It has helped me to improve both professionally and personally," says Martin Nyokolodi, who is now employed as a result of volunteering with The Social Collective.

What’s Next?

By providing unemployed youth and even employees with Social Employability Profiles, which details the verified hours volunteered, skills learned or shared, and a performance rating, we are increasing the employability of unemployed young people and how employees find purpose within the workplace and company corporates social responsibility programs. Youth should not be at the mercy of traditional employers, we are offering our users the opportunity to explore their interests and discover their passions through volunteering.

We are taking on youth unemployment across Africa, one country at a time. Statistics show that there will be 10 to 12 million youth entering the workforce every year for the next 30+ years. Yet, based on current economic projections, only 3 to 4 million jobs will be created. Interpret that as you wish... but we have a problem, which needs answers.

The Social Collective offers youth volunteerism platforms and solutions, corporate volunteerism solutions and other M&E tracking solutions. Reach out to us hello@thesocialcollective.co

Duncan Luke is a Global Shaper in the Cape Town Hub.