@tanglefoot; I wrote a very lengthy reply (yep, lengthier than this), listing our commercial/social business building achievements, and even explaining each of your derived assumptions on our business. However, after much reflection, the team (3 equal partner/owners, all native SA, and all registered with CIPRO thank you) decided this is exactly what we do not do; we DO build businesses for and with partners in socially responsible areas, that make a real difference to SA; we do NOT seek fame and glory for it. In fact, market awareness has, in the past, resulted in us receiving tons of unsolicited requests for help, many of which are very delicate to avoid (eg the business of a BEE liminary's son). It also undermines the cred of our partners, such as SAWS, and that's cred they actually want and need in most cases.
We've thus decided to do this instead; following is a brief list of our achievements in SA to date, each project stated crisply, with a focus on proving that we are all about sustainable social development, from the highest ethical and moral high ground you are likely to find in SA. If you wish to test matters further, I would be happy to do a dinner with you, at my expense, anywhere in JHB and we can chat about anything you want.
FutureForesight is the holding group of the businesses we have built in SA to date. Each business gets it's own company, primarily to allow for our partner (we always partner) to have an equity stake. Our businesses span a range of industries, although healthcare is probably our spike, with one thing in common; they are ALL about breaking new ground in a way that furthers SA in a substantive way. Here are a few things we have done since 2000 (yes, our CIPRO reg'n number is 2001/01):
- Led the winning BBBEE bid for the SNO license, now Neotel. This bid was SAs very first BROAD BASED BEE, and as the largest BEE deal in SA to that date, it forced everyone to go BBB thereafter. That's meaningful.
- Led MTN into Iran, a biz that is now larger for them than SA. The scale achieved here has been key to averting an international acquisition of MTN with consequent expropriation of SA consumer profits (economics 401 here so I'll not go into detail).
- Took over an Aquarius Platinum mine for a year and turned them from R20m/m loss into substantive profits. AQP is a strongly black empowered team, and the first company in SA to test the new-age junior-mining model, with important SA benefits (such that they now manage reserves for neighbouring Anglo Plat who could not mine the same reserves profitably)
- Right now we work with CSIR's disability unit (Mareka) and the Ministry of Disability; if our work flys it'll be all over the news...but I can't explain further as the announcement MUST be seen as someone else's credit.
- We're also rolling out a cervical cancer (the next big epidemic in SA stemming from HIV survival) project for Government (yes, once again commercialising rather than nationalising). That's a cost-recovery model which will cost us about 2 years of our lives to implement.
- On SAWS, since we started, 687,000 (today's 3-month UU count from Google Analytics) South Africans now get the weather reports vs under 100k on the site 2yrs ago. And they get way more info, in a digestible fashion too. A wealth of new products exist for mining, agri, construction, and several other industries (you don't see this 3D GE driven product set I'm afraid). We cover nearly every mining group in SA with a primary focus on lighting safety. The SAWS benefits now have a specific line item in every board agenda, and DEA's (nee DEAT) driving force is to reduce taxpayer input to SAWS, whilst removing ALL cross-subsidisation.
- In total, we've built 22 businesses in SA. Only one (you may recall Quickies; 1-minute movies on SABC that ran for three years back in 2001) has failed: We were young and naive, and allowed the social objective (empowerment for the industry) to override the sustainability imperative - it's a lesson we carry with us every day and the reason we will not allow avcom intimidation to make us whimp out. Others need this to succeed.
- Lastly, the subject of your cynicism; we pioneered EVERYTHING to do with HIV treatment in SA and currently run the largest treatment center on the planet, for which we get absolutely NOTHING monetary. Allow me to expand on this a little:
- Right to Care (Google that, not FF) was founded by myself and Dr Ian Sanne, back in 2000. It is an NGO, non profit, and required that we go without income for 2 years, something I have repeated more than once since, incl this SAWS project.
- RTC is now African's largest recipient of USAID funding, with the Nigerian Government a distant second
- We employ 700 people directly, and 4000 through sub-NGO's which we screen, accredit, fund and manage (we are super-grantees in USAID terms). Key here is our management of huge US funds in an environment where a Boesak down the line is a Boesak for us. And that means jail time for everyone in the chain.
- We have treated 1-in-4 of SA's HIV patients, and a crude calc done last year attributed us with over 560,000 man-years of life extension in SA alone (we do a lot in SADC too).
- There are ancillary businesses related to this non-paying NGO work, I'll admit, and we're by no means struggling any more given these and the above successes:
- We own SA's 5th largest pharmaceutical retail company, where we supply HIV drug to NGO's at cost (management fees cover the cost of a large team of BSc and MSc graduates) in order to bypass the price increases drug SEP legislation bought with it
- All this started out as Africa's first ACTG-accredited clinical trials site, through which every HIV drug in SA was trialed (hence our expertise and access) in order to receive local registration.
- Whilst this was going on, we became the only pharmacy in country able to import and distribute unregistered drug, a rather vital skill during the early days, but still in use today for leading-edge medication
- We built one of SA's leading workplace treatment programmes, and now manage very large workforces such as Telkom.
- In the early days, FF was unquestionably SA's leading HIV consulting team, and we single handedly influenced around 150 blue chip companies to fund the HIV treatment of their workforce (there's a complex cost/benefit analysis) incl Anglo American where we guided their medical director Dr Brian Brink, who has remained close to RTC ever since.
- On your Mantu comment; we dispensed illegally for years, until the NIA paid us a brutal visit. We turned that into an ANC NWC (then under Pres Mandela) audience and secured unofficial permission to proceed. That probably gave us the cred that later bought USAID on board. That plus a similar initiative we did to secure access-priced HIV drug for NGO's - years prior to SEP and Minister Zuma's compulsory licensing.
- I am no longer on the board of RTC, but rather sit as USAID's single member (representative). My Board consists of Dr Ali Bacher, Josina Machel (Graca's daughter), Dr Brian Brink (long time board member of Anglo), Allen Knott-Craig (snr, not jnr), and Dr Ian Sanne of course. RTC is widely regarded as one of Africa's most successful NGO's.
All this was done whilst we did the other 22 SA social-responsibility companies listed above, all in the last 10 years. Everything we do has a strong social imperative, even to a fault, yet our claim to fame is bringing true sustainability by understanding business, and most importantly knowing how to operate within the brutal constraints of donor funding and PFMA legislation. We are the polar opposite of nationalism. We are the antithesis of entitlement. Yet we are far from naked capitalism.
PS: On my gopher status; yes, when we build a business you will find me washing windows one day, and negotiating with the Minister the next week. You will find me selling to the CEO of Naspers in the morning, and answering the phone in the afternoon. You will find me dealign with an irate call from the mine manager of BHP's largest property, and programming a change to our alarms service that night. You will find me negotiating to help the Mozambique Met office in the morning, and writing this forum reply in the afternoon (that was today). And you will find both Barry and Richard doing all the same things; equal gophers, and rather proud of it.
My offer for dinner stands.