The Disability Summit and Career Expo returned with a new location, more exhibitors and very excited students. MARISKA MORRIS reports
The 2019 Disability Summit and Career Expo, sponsored by SABC, was held for the first time at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg across two days, April 11 and 12. As always, the summit brought together entrepreneurs, organisations, businesses and people with disabilities to discuss employment.
The Hope School for children with disabilities in Westcliff teamed up with the Mandeville Disability Swimming club to host the event, formerly known as the Hope-Mandeville Career Expo. Proceeds go to the club, which trains swimmers with disabilities up to Paralympian level.
Delegates in attendance at the summit had the opportunity to chat to representatives of large corporations like OUTsurance about potential employment opportunities, test the various wheelchairs and accessories from Chairman Industries, try their hand at wheelchair tennis with Wheelchair Tennis South Africa, sit in the adapted vehicle used for driving lessons by QASA’s Driving Ambitions programme, or engage with the entrepreneurs supported by the SAB Foundation.
As with the 2018 Summit, the SAB Foundation sponsored a number of its former winners to attend the event and improve their brand awareness and mingle with other potential investors. Every year, the foundation hosts its Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards to assist entrepreneurs in the social and disability empowerment space to grow their businesses.
“Before the awards I didn’t really understand the entrepreneurial space or appreciate it. The awards gave me the opportunity to meet other finalists and opened my eyes to the true entrepreneurial space,” says Vuyani Lonzi, founder of Hamba Nathi, a ride-sharing service for people with disabilities.
He received a Development Award at the 2018 Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. He used his R300 000 prize money to fund the purchase of a vehicle and branded uniforms.
His advice to future entrepreneurs? “Do something you love and be genuine. Identify a problem and ask yourself why you are the best person to solve the problem.”
Clothes 2 Good, the overall winner of the 2018 Disability Empowerment Award, was also in attendance. It provides sustainable jobs and micro-business opportunities for people with disabilities and their families through a clothing-recycling programme. Tammy Greyling from Clothes 2 Good says that the prize money of R1,2 million has helped grow this business.
“We now have a bigger office space and are renting a space across the road. Our capacity has increased by 100 percent. We also employ four wheelchair users now. In the past, there was no space,” she says.
I Love Coffee, the 2016 winner of the Disability Empowerment Award, was another representative of the SAB Foundation in attendance. This company was only five months old when it received the award. Founder Gary Hopkins says the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“The building we were operating in was demolished a month after we won. We were able to relocate and continue our work,” he explains. The café is operated mostly by baristas who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“The business is at occupational capacity; however, the summit does offer us great exposure and networking opportunities,” Hopkins says. His advice to new entrepreneurs is not to give up. “Learn to fail and fast,” he says. “Keep going. If it’s good enough to serve, serve it. With time it will get perfect.”