New way for supporting grassroots retail

iSpaza offers a new model for grassroots retail where the shop owner gets ongoing support.


IN the heart of Bloekombos, located just outside the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, there’s an interesting social enterprise working to create a grassroots retail mechanism.

It’s a unique approach to the bottom-of-the-pyramid market, using a hybrid model to create work opportunities, empower entrepreneurs, cultivate a responsible economic ecosystem and increase the effectiveness of community benefit organizations working in the area.

This new retail model is called iSpaza. It is a hybrid model social enterprise that creates community retail spaces to empower local entrepreneurs and cultivate healthy local economies.

The idea is the brain child of Tim White, a seasoned retail expert trying to reshape the way capital flows in grassroots communities.

“More than 80% of the money in townships never makes it back home for very long … once a paycheck has been earned it usually ends up going straight to the bottom line of large retailers and supermarkets in the established economies,” says White.

“Even though there are hundreds of thousands of rands flowing through a township like Bloekombos, very little of this capital stays in the community. With little to no formal economies in these communities there is hardly any economic freedom and even less financial empowerment,” he says.

The Bloekombos pilot is a good example of the opportunity that exists in using new ways to do everyday business. The site is a retail hub that caters for every need the community might have. It houses a butchery, bakery, community bank, liquor store, fast-food outlet, and more.

Each outlet is run independently and local entrepreneurs are trained to work in all aspects of their business before eventually entering an ownership agreement.

All aspects of the business plan is crafted, taught and executed with the entrepreneurs and constant monitoring and evaluation ensures there is successful implementation of the strategies and that the businesses are profitable. But iSpaza is more than just a job-creation or retail venture; what makes this interesting is the community development component and how it interacts with the outlets.

A community services office is located within the hub, offering information and interaction with civil services and local NGOs.

Each business also gives a percentage of its profit towards community organizations that work in its target market. For instance the baby supply store donates cash and product to organisations in the community. This ensures that iSpaza is not just developing the local economy and creating jobs, it also actively participates in addressing social issues with local development practitioners across various focus areas.

As White observes: “Working together with key government departments and other stakeholders, iSpaza could introduce an entirely new approach to developing more sustainable local economies in under-resourced communities.”

Currently the pilot programme is running in Bloekombos, but the plan is to replicate this model in other areas.

White says that interested parties may make contact with them through their Facebookpage at


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  • Carel Venter

    The Bloekombis Incubator is managed by the MEDF. If you are interested or want to beome involved, please feel free to contact Carel Venter – acting COO ([email protected]) or Nico Zeelie – Chairman (nico for more info.