A disturbing thought has continuously plagued Lauren Gillis’ mind. The prevalence of inequality in many societies still today was something she understood to be inevitable — however, very fixable.

“I was frequently kept awake at night by thoughts of so many people suffering because of the lack of opportunity available to them,” Lauren says. “I wanted to find a creative way to make an impact and lessen the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in society.” 

Starting out as a social worker, Lauren devised a unique solution to aid this great divide and consequently co-founded Relate Trust, with Neil Robinson. “I believed that a simple connector could provide dignity, hope and opportunity to unemployed people,” she says. “This, in turn, could fund other charities and connect humanity to brands as well as each other. It came in the form of the Relate bracelet.”

The NPO was founded on a unique blueprint that has engineered skills development, entrepreneurship and social investment into a single unit. How does it work? Relate Trust employees refugees, youth and underprivileged individuals to handmake the Relate bracelets. A portion of the funds generated from the bracelet sales is then poured back into another charity fighting a cause.

Not only is it an effective crowdfunding tool that addresses societal issues, it’s also a smart solution to sustainable job creation in South Africa. “The project has afforded countless underprivileged people with trade and entrepreneurial skills which are vital in today’s world,”  she says. “Relate is attuned to the needs of the causes it supports as well as the the country’s business and economic environment.”

For trailblazers like Lauren, South Africa is an entrepreneur’s dream when it comes to business opportunities and social development. “South Africa is a hub of entrepreneurial networks that have the power to elicit change for the benefit of all citizens in terms of job creation, upliftment and new business ventures,” says Lauren. “However, a constant and sustained effort is needed to keep that message alive in the minds and hearts at home and abroad.”

Read more in the March/April issue of Fast Company South Africa.

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