Clarity brings purpose

Karen Moss, the founder of Steps Charity helping to fit a cast on a baby with clubfoot.

Having a clearly defined purpose, is the difference between success and giving up, for social entrepreneur Karen Moss.

Moss is the founder and owner of Steps Charity, a non-profit business that provides training and creates awareness around clubfoot, while distributing equipment used to treat the condition.

Clubfoot is a musculoskeletal birth deformity which affects about 200 000 babies worldwide.

“About one in 500 babies are affected in South Africa, compared to the average of one in 750 for the rest of the world,” points out Moss.

South Africa and the surrounding region therefore has one of the highest instances of clubfoot in the world, with about 11 000 babies affected in southern Africa annually.

Back in 2003 when Moss’s son was born with the deformity there was very little known about clubfoot.

The condition was being treated by means of surgery, but Moss and her husband soon discovered that an alternative treatment was being used in the US.

After some research she came across the Ponseti Method. The method was devised more than 60 years ago by Dr Ingacio Ponseti.

Instead of cutting the ligaments and tendons to treat the condition, plaster casts and braces are used over an average of three months to correct the deformity.

Moss opted to use this method of treatment for her son and when she came back to South Africa in mid-2003, she started creating awareness among parents of children born with clubfoot.

As a result of Moss’s awareness drive, a Johannesburg doctor came to attend a workshop on the Ponseti method in the US that same year.

Once back in South Africa, the pair joined up to provide training to other doctors across the country.

“I realised that I could not do the training as an individual and would need to register as a business.

There was so much paperwork, but the business was finally registered in 2005,” explains Moss.

A year later, in 2006 the first training workshop kicked off with about 60 doctors in attendance from all over the country.

“I brought in Brazilian, UK and Canadian doctors to assist with the training.

Their tickets were sponsored by South African Airways and we were able to secure funding from Southern African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (Savrala),” says Moss.

Steps Charity was largely funded by Savrala, until Moss realised two years ago that she could generate income through distributing overseas clubfoot-related equipment locally. This is how the social enterprise, Steps Charity, came to be born.

“A non-profit can’t just rely on funders. It needs to find its own revenue stream. The paperwork to register as a distributor was the biggest drain.

There was so much red tape and that’s why lots of people give up. If I was not so sure about my purpose, I would have given up” says Moss.

But, she persevered and today Steps Charity is an international organisation having opened a branch in Botswana in July last year, followed by one in Namibia a few months later in November.

Her hard work and dedication has also led to more clinics across the country adopting the Ponseti method.

Another of her successes is her self-published children’s storybook, “My clever night-night shoes”, which sells at R125 and has already sold 2 500 copies since its launch in June.

She says she wrote the book to help children understand the treatment of clubfoot, but it is also serves as another revenue stream for her business.

“Everything we do as social entrepreneurs is to the benefit of our purpose and to help us fund that purpose,” adds Moss.

Her future plans include accessing funding to employ more staff at Johannesburg clinics and implementing an SMS messaging system to communicate with parents.

Moss also runs a programme at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town where she trains unemployed mothers to talk and support parents of patients with clubfoot, while receiving a small stipend.

Her advice to other social entrepreneurs? Start with a clear strategy and be certain about what you want to achieve.


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Dr Ingacio Ponseti, Karen Moss, social enterprise, Southern African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (Savrala), Steps Charity, Tygeberg Hospital

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