United LGBT entrepreneurs driving change in South Africa

The new millennium ushered in many opportunities across the globe but for some, it also brought with it many woes.  During the same period, the narrative of  Zimbabweans escaping the decay in the country in their hordes to seek for greener pastures became a common one.  One such story is the journey of one lesbian woman who left Zimbabwe with nothing but pockets full of dreams. Belinda Bwanasi’s story reads like a leaf off a fairytale magazine, yet it took hard work and perseverance in  Johannesburg the city of gold. Today she is a successful entrepreneur who has since started an organisation to assist others in similar situation as she was 10 years ago.
Below is her inspiring story and an extract from the interview where she shares her journey, organisation and the future:
“I left Zimbabwe at a time when life was hard, we could not even buy food at home, so I followed my friends who were leaving for South Africa in search of a better life. On arrival, we stayed in a squatter camp housed by strangers and packed like sardines. Life had just begun and I had to chase my dreams. After months of struggling and job hunting, I got as a seamstress, I received a meagre wage and had to look for another job to supplement my income, I secured a job at a local clothing  factory.
At the factory, they were impressed with my work this earned me the youngest businesswoman of the year award. Long nights and early mornings became part of my life, I also started a small t-shirt printing business with the little money I had saved. In 2015  together with a colleague Lonwabo Mlabatheki from Soweto, we came up with the idea of starting a platform to connect LGBTIQ entrepreneurs, share skills and empower one another, thus Kubatana Kwedu was born. Derived from a  Shona phrase, Kubatana Kwedu, ‘our unity’  is a self-funded collective aimed at combating unemployment within the LGBTIQ community. The birth of the initiative was ignited by the adverse conditions of the marginalised,  stigmatised and unemployed youth. Kubatana Kwedu focuses on addressing the issue of unemployment and exclusion faced by LGBTIQ people from diverse nationalities especially the youth in South Africa.

 

AND THEN THERE WAS KUBATANA KWEDU

Following the realisation that a lot of  LGBTIQ youths were experiencing challenges accessing financial and economic resources and opportunities owing to discrimination, we developed the idea to focus on promoting entrepreneurship by linking small businesses with the local markets where they could sell their wares.We realised many LGBTIQ people might have been deprived of educational opportunities, but where business minded. At the same time, many organisations were working on LGBTIQ issues but nothing was tangible as far as coming up with ideas or strategies to improve the livelihoods of the many poverty-stricken LGBTIQ youths.In line with our slogan,  driving the future together,  and our commitment to working collectively, we mainly focus on  LGBTIQ youth, as we believe with our work today make us the key drivers of the future. We represent the silenced voices in our community, apart from giving each other support we also give back to society.

It is therefore not a surprise that most young LGBTIQ people from disadvantaged backgrounds find Kubatana Kwedu as a beacon of hope. Amongst those we work with are homeless persons, refugees, rape survivors as well as those coming from abusive families or have parents who are drug users. The space avails them with an opportunity to share their stories anonymously, connect with investors or well-wishers to support or expand their startups.

We started this organisation to empower LGBTIQ entrepreneurship to reduce the vulnerability caused by unemployment. We also wanted to pay attention to some issues that are not usually tackled by mainstream LGBTIQ organisations such as charity work to assist LGBTIQ  persons who are less fortunate.

 

SUCCESS STORIES

As part of our drive to support entrepreneurship within the community, we host monthly market days where upcoming LGBTIQ brands showcase their work to reach a wider market of potential clients as well as explore avenues for collaborations. Our work is growing and attracting positive local mainstream media publicity, this is a plausible development.We do not only limit our work to entrepreneurship, we realise that there are other social issues bedevilling our community. For example, in May we organised a national campaign “Stop killing lesbians ” campaign march in response to the increased hate crimes targeting lesbians. Although the campaign was not as huge as we had anticipated, we managed to get the message out.

This year we managed to assist some LGBTIQ people with writing talent to be part of the script writer’s camp. In 2016  we took part in the  Rainbow Pride,  the first ever pride about humanity and not just sexuality. The event focused more on talent scouting and linking entrepreneurs with potential investors. We have since started an online psychosocial support initiative called Beacon of Hope, where LGBTIQ members can anonymously seek advice and assistance on various issues. Through our skills development programs, such as the career expo, young LGBTIQ people get the opportunity to familiarise with other LGBTIQ organisations and know about their services. We also offer mentorship through motivational speakers who are role models in the community.

                                                                                                                                                                           

 

CHALLENGES

The biggest challenge by far is the lack of capital to execute work. We are trying to avert this challenge by capitalising on every platform we get to raise awareness of the economic challenges faced by LGBT persons especially youths. We also network with other organisations and allies to explore other areas of collaboration and complement each other’s work.

It was not easy to operate an organisation with no funds. Although our work is not externally funded, we cannot just sit and wait because we know that the need for such a platform is much stronger than the need for funds, so we soldier on with the skills we have and work collectively with others.

With respect to  issues of xenophobic attacks  since we work with LGBTIQ refugees , this is a  national dilemma that is not only affecting our community. Even our organisation is also faced with opposition from some people. However,  with every problem, comes solutions geared towards making life better. As an organisation passionate about change, our larger vision drives us to look beyond the challenges of xenophobia that could impede our progress.  We dream of a better society that sees no foreign national and just sees HUMAN, for we are HUMAN above all else.

 

WORK AT KUBATANA KWEDU

Kubatana Kwedu works with very talented individuals in art crafts, media,  and professionals in various fields. We then started a program called “Market Day” in collaboration with Constitution Hill, we prepare market stalls for entrepreneurs on a monthly basis at no cost. This gives upcoming entrepreneurs a platform to showcase their work, connect with others, share skills and also sell their works.

We also have the Colour your Pride program aimed at celebrating our diversity by bringing the LGBTI people together and making the community aware of the different sexualities. The programme promotes the Rainbow colours and educates the communities about the meaning of the rainbow colours in the LGBTI community. Our organisation does have some pipelined programmes we wish to implement but currently on hold until we secure more funding.

The Improve my Skills Programme involves employing the services of lecturers from willing training institutions to offer soft skills at no cost to capacitate individuals on employment opportunities.

 

LGBT COMMUNITY RESPONSE

Most persons within the community value the contributions we are making, at times we even have to assist people kicked out of homes in our own apartments.

 

WHERE TO FROM HERE

We aspire to serve the LGBTI community by alleviating poverty through development programmes aimed at empowering and giving access to employment opportunities.

We hope one day we will secure premises where we can accommodate homeless LGBTI youths and refugees.

 

 

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