ASPIRING entrepreneurs with talent, vision and capabilities, but without formal experience and qualifications – Awethu Project, an entrepreneur development programme, wants you.

Awethu, which has been operating for 14 months, helps young people start up their own businesses, by partnering with them and providing mentorship.

But before being admitted as a member, candidates’ business competencies are tested through a gruelling three- to six-month assessment. If they pass the assessment, they are ready to start operating a business.

They are given skills training to prepare them for the business world, and Awethu also invests money and resources, including infrastructural facilities, internet, marketing opportunities and capital.

In return, the entrepreneurs enter into a 50-50 deal with Awethu – the entrepreneur owner gets a 50 percent stake in the business, and the project gets the other 50 percent. In this business model, Awethu is showing its commitment where it counts – its success is entirely dependent on the businesses with which it has partnered.

Despite the risks involved, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Awethu, Yusuf Randera-Rees, is determined to accomplish his dream of creating opportunities for young people, especially in disadvantages areas.

“We think there is a lot of talented young people who are deprived of opportunities because of lack of resources and experience. Our goal is to provide young entrepreneurs with resources and a platform to put their talents to good use,” he says.

“From day one of joining, members must be active and show potential. We need people who never had systematic opportunities, but who have the capabilities.”


Randera-Rees is a Harvard graduate, and read financial economics and African studies at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. His main objective, he says, is to alleviate poverty and create jobs for young people, especially those with limited opportunities in the poor parts of South Africa, and to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.

The model of developing entrepreneurs from under-resourced communities can make a real difference in the economy, he points out, adding that young people who are already in the programme are developing faster. “Most importantly, the entrepreneurs in our incubator are quickly developing into entrepreneurial leaders and role models.”

Randera-Rees founded Awethu with his friend, Ryan Pakter. The organisation recently received the international Echoing Green Fellowship Award. Along with 22 other organisations, it was named as the boldest social change visionaries in the fields of economic development, human rights, health and the environment.

It has four young entrepreneurs signed up, and is looking to add more numbers in the near future. “We have been trying to get to the point where we can sign more entrepreneurs. By next year September we hope to have signed more than 10 entrepreneurs.”

Randera-Rees says that at the moment, Awethu is not making a profit as it is still helping young businesses to find their feet. The organisation has partnered with a number of companies that help in providing funding, including Discovery Holdings, Standard Bank, University of the Witwatersrand and Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs.
The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) supports Awethu Project, says Susan Monyai, the agency’s marketing manager. “This is a great initiative that is giving young people the boost they need to set off their own business.”

She believes the support and experience the entrepreneurs receive will help them go far. “I am confident they will succeed. With the support and guidance from the project I believe these entrepreneurs will reach their business potential.”

The JDA is an area-based development agency for the City of Johannesburg. It aims to regenerate decaying areas in Joburg and promote economic empowerment through the structuring and procurement of developments.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can apply to join Awethu Project via email at, with the word “Apply” in the email subject line. They need to send their names, identity numbers and cellphone numbers. They can also telephone the company on 011 024 1606.

Awethu Project is based in the Constitution Hill Precinct, 11 Kotze Street, Braamfontein