A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Douglas ‘Dug’ Racionzier and I jokingly agree that we should describe him as ‘avuncular’. We like the word. It has a large, lovely tone to it. ‘Avuncular’. ‘Yes, that is it’, and then we crack up laughing. You see, Dug thinks it is funny, but I think it is apt- for he is a man with a big heart, big laugh, big spirit and big ideas.

The ideas? Well, there are lots of them. Essentially though, through his company, Sunstyle, he is spurring the economic development of townships by promoting and supporting local entrepreneurs. To do so he has a hand in many different businesses and his back garden is a shrine to his inventive approaches. There is an up-turned satellite dish which has been converted into a solar oven, and a refrigerator which has been made out of oil barrels. There is also a large sign for ‘The African Burger’- something Dug and Sunstyle designed to market a type of burger which is popular in the townships- a sort of pitta bread, meat and mango chutney combo.

To Dug, this township ‘third sector’ economy is an essential driving component in the overall economy- but all to often is overlooked. The townships are treated as dumping ground defunct goods, or the guinea pigs of product development, seen as the tail end of the economy. But who is waging who? To Dug, the systems within the township are complex and many. Product marketing means knowing the local slant or environment to promote business in the area.

Dug tries to explain what he does in language I can access. Currently, he describes, 1 rand passes once or twice between hands in the townships. The money leaves the place quickly. However in the Indian or Jewish communities, business stays within the communities and so has a knock on economic benefit for the community as a whole. What Sunstyle tries to do is keep that 1 rand passing hands more times in the township, thus creating a market, jobs and an economy. But much of the success of the business lies in marketing. So Sunstyle teaches local entrepreneurs how to do it and helps them launch.

That is at one level. At the other, Sunstyle works at the corporate end of the market- as a knowledge bank of how to do business in the townships; but in a manner beyond dumping ground territory.

Alongside all of that, Dug is working to promote a mechanism of accountancy known as full cost accountancy, which makes businesses account for their full economic, social and environmental impact. It is a way of calculating the real costs of business. Through such ways some huge corporations who would ordinarily be seen as operating multi million dollar (or rand, or yen, or yuan) businesses would be operating at a loss, whereas social organisations would be operating at net profit.
I never thought that accountancy could be so radical.

Dug keeps a blog in which he outlines there ideas and more. He is also a cartoonist, and I didn’t escape the pen. He gave me some cartooning lessons too!

(Thanks to Dug, Andy, Benjamin and Katie for putting me up, and for putting up with me while in Pretoria!)


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