Leadership and inclusion have been the main topics at the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa. The meeting aimed to design policies allowing everyone to benefit from economic growth, says DW's Manuela Kasper-Claridge.
It's not even fully light out here, on this early morning in an industrial area of Durban. But there are many women here, all of them dressed in simple clothes and all of them black. They are here for the "Clothing Bank."
Tracey Gilmore is one of the founders of the company. She wants to lift women - and mothers in particular - out of poverty. "We focus on mothers, so we have a double impact because by empowering a mother, we also empower a child. You know, the first thing that mothers do is spend money on their children's education and then they improve their home and their living conditions."
Out of poverty
Here, the women can buy clothing cheaply that companies have no need for anymore. Thousands of pants, T-shirts and dresses hang on the premises of The Clothing Bank. There is underwear, there are shoes and many other things. The women resell the goods in the streets and markets of Durban. The revenue secures the livelihoods of them and their children. Many come from extreme poverty. Thabisa Mathandabyzo used to work as a maid. The single mother was barely able to feed her child.
"My life wasn't what I wanted it to be. I was working as a maid and was poor. Then I heard about The Clothing Bank and that they also teach people how to run a business and I have always wanted to start a business but I never knew how and now my life has changed dramatically."
Mathandabyzo has no idea that only a few kilometers from The Clothing Bank, politicians and business leaders are contemplating the big gap between rich and poor in their country. Inclusive growth was one of the main topics at the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Growth that doesn't leave anyone behind. Even South Africa's President Jacob Zuma spoke about it in his inaugural address: [We have to be] "mindful of the fact, that opportunities from that growth must not be enjoyed only by a few," he says. He omitted any kind of self-criticism, however, despite the fact that under his political leadership, the situation of the poor has not improved significantly.
One urgent problem is high unemployment - including among young people. It currently stands at more than 25 percent and just like in most African countries, South Africa's population is growing fast. According to estimates by the IMF, 18 million new jobs are needed in sub-Saharan Africa every year to prevent a rise in poverty.
During the discussions at the World Economic Forum, hardly anyone offered viable solutions. Instead you heard a lot of "one has to" and "one should." Business leaders praised the opportunities that the African continent offers. The African politicians like to talk in fundamental and abstract terms about the problems in their countries.
How to do business
Meanwhile, at The Clothing Bank, the women sit in their business class. When they aren't at the markets or in the streets selling things, they are in school. That is Tracey Gilmore's concept. Education is the way out of poverty, she is convinced of that and offers courses on financing and marketing for small businesses. The women learn to present themselves confidently. By selling the clothing, they earn 4,000 South African rand (US$292) a month on average. That is not an awful lot but it's more than many civil servants make.
"Now I am able to provide for my kids and my family. I have three kids. My dream is to become a big successful business women," 33-year-old Zinni Mazondo says proudly.
Perhaps the participants of the World Economic Forum should have gone on an excursion before each debate. To where the people live who are affected by their decisions.
"As Africans we need to take the challenge for our destiny," said Jacob Zuma at the World Economic Forum in Durban. There is no better way to put it.