By Charndré Emma Kippie
Tracey Chambers is a Chartered Accountant with 25 years’ experience in the corporate and social sector. Early in her career, Tracey worked for Woolworths as their Head of Financial Planning and Performance Management. In 2010, she then founded The Clothing Bank with Tracey Gilmore. The Clothing Bank is a non-profit organisation which inspires, skills and supports unemployed South Africans to eradicate poverty in their families.
The GROW with Educare Centres (ECD) project is pioneering a new social franchise model for quality early childhood education in South Africa, and Tracey’s latest social projects. These projects currently support over 1000 business owners who made in excess of 74 Million in profits in the last twelve months, and 45 GROW ECD centres that have capacity to educate 2100 children daily.
You recently launched the ‘5 Steps to 5-Star’ ECD programme and fully integrated mobile App suite. Please tell us about this project.
We have launched this innovative programme to help ECD (Early Childhood Development) owners in low-income areas run more professional centres and turn their facilities into financially sustainable businesses. Through this programme, GROW is equipping ECD facilities across South Africa with all the right tools to manage their journey of becoming a 5-star early learning centre, measure their performance and access essential training content.
Why is empowering South Africa’s Educare Centres through integrated tech solutions so important to you?
Quality ECD is globally recognised as the most impactful investment in human capital that a country can make and in developing countries, poor quality early learning can be a life sentence that perpetuates poverty and inequality. We believe that ECD centres in disadvantaged communities should be able to provide children with the quality learning they need to set them up for success while also providing high-quality jobs for educators. That’s why we are changing the status quo in the ECD sector by offering quality and professionalism that disadvantaged communities have never seen before.
Each educare centre we partner with is fully equipped to ensure that every aspect of the business is managed professionally. Right from the start, we held a vision of creating a model and brand that could scale, to equip women owners of ECD centres to be capable and confident professional business owners who are champions for quality early education.
What are your goals for this project? How do you hope to make a difference?
At GROW, we believe that excellent pre-school education should be accessible and affordable in every neighbourhood. We also believe that qualified teachers and centre owners should be paid fairly. We want to help ECD centre owners achieve success in both education and business. We need quality early learning, as well as job creation, to drive growth and eradicate inequality in our country. As an enabler in the ECD value chain, we believe the GROW mobile App suite has the potential to make a significant catalytic impact in aiding future policy and resource mobilisation.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
It is wonderful to see the potential in a human being ignited. I believe that everyone has the potential to take responsibility for themselves and their family, and to overcome poverty. It is so satisfying when someone who has been part of our programme discovers this for themselves by experiencing what we call “I can” moments. It is like watching a genie being released from a bottle and it’s beautiful to watch them start to believe in themselves and become a role model in their community. This creates a ripple effect in communities, which ignites the entrepreneurial spirit and restores hope.
What tips do you have when it comes to implementing solutions in your field?
- Focus on the problem and don’t be fixed on the solution. As you start implementing, you will discover so many things that you hadn’t considered or understood. You also need to adapt and not have fixed ideas.
- Do things holistically, when working with people, you need to work with the whole person, we call it a “heart, head, hands approach”.
- Humans are complex and multi-dimensional and don’t underestimate what it takes to bring about real lasting change. Short-term programmes, single interventions are unlikely to work for individuals who are stuck in intergenerational poverty.
- Make failure your friend, there are many things that will be out of your control and use every setback as a learning opportunity.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?
There are a few books which have shaped some of my thinking. Of particular significance is the work of Vivienne Schultz, who founded the A2B movement, and wrote a book called From Dependence to Dignity. This methodology taught us so much about what it takes to create the right ecosystem to unlock human potential, especially for individuals who are trapped in the dependency cycle. The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle was also an important book that came at the right time in my life. It helped me to slow down and led to me taking a sabbatical from my corporate job, which ultimately resulted in me finding my purpose and starting a new journey as a social entrepreneur.
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line? And how do you stay motivated?
As a social entrepreneur, you need to understand the problem that you are trying to solve – as that is your ‘why’, the very reason as to why you have started your initiative or organisation – that will keep you going in the dark days. My ‘why’ is to use small business as the solution to solve South Africa’s unemployment and to eradicate poverty in families. We have a particular focus on women, because if you help a woman, you also help a child.
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
My work inspires me. I love to come up with new ideas and to inspire my team to grow and deepen the impact we are having with our programmes. Standing still is not an option for me. I suffer from what I call ‘divine dissatisfaction’, which means I am always challenging myself and my team to reach higher, to innovate and find solutions to the many problems we see in South Africa.
As a woman in your field, who has worked her way up the ranks, what advice do you have for young women/future generations who aspire to work in your industry?
My advice to young women is to not start on the entrepreneurial journey too early, unless you are a born entrepreneur, which in my opinion, few are. Take time to develop your technical and leadership skills because these are critical to building a sustainable organisation. Find a great company to work for and a great boss as a role model, and get varied experience within a company that aligns to your values. Build some wealth and start saving so that this gives you the financial freedom to make a choice to begin your entrepreneurial journey when you find your ‘why’. Never burn any bridges, networks are incredibly important, and you never know when those connections will be needed in your future endeavours. Do everything you do with integrity; if it doesn’t feel right and align with your values, have the courage to say no.
*Interested in discovering more on current affairs? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.