Social entrepreneurial leaders are those individuals who create and manage innovative entrepreneurial organizations or ventures whose primary mission is the social change and development of society or country. And one such social entrepreneurial leader is Tracey Chambers (CEO of GROW Educare Centres).
Tracey Chambers is a rehabilitated Charted Accountant. Before starting her work in the social enterprise sector, she worked for Woolworths as the Head of Financial Planning and Performance Management. In 2010, the passionate women leader then founded Taking Care of Business (previously known as The Clothing Bank) with Tracey Gilmore (co-founder).
Recalling her past, Tracey says, “I never knew it would turn into an award-winning, national social enterprise! We wanted to help women to eradicate poverty from their families, and we have learned how to do that and so much more in the years since we started. I felt inspired to do this work because of the people in my life, and also from a deep internal desire for stewardship—to leave South Africa in a better place.” She further adds, “Taking Care of Business grew and grew: we ran several programmes that helped unemployed individuals to access the skills, resources, and training they needed to become micro-entrepreneurs. My experience in retail informed many of our programmes. Our founding programme uses waste products (customer returns, end-of-season merchandise) from the retail supply chain as the catalyst to create small businesses and reduce waste.”
Leaders need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. This means I, lead by example and with integrity.
The seasoned woman leader was motivated to apply these ideas to the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector in 2014. When Tracey became a mother for the third time, she realized how many South African children are born into inequity. And their formative years are the most important but also the most overlooked. According to the research, children from poorer households are left behind throughout their early years, and that high-quality early learning experiences can alter a person’s life trajectory..
“I set out to discover how we could transform ECD Centres in under-resourced communities into sustainable small businesses that can deliver 5-star education in every neighborhood. That is how we started GROW Educare Centres,” says Tracey.
Today, as CEO, the social entrepreneur has to lead her team with a clear and consistent vision while encouraging growth, expansion, and the pursuit of new opportunities. She also has to help them think big and pursue a dream that feels overwhelming: to ensure that every neighborhood has access to 5-star early learning. Starting a small business in South Africa can be challenging with so many restrictions in the country. So she has to be innovative, agile, and flexible and remain optimistic to keep the team’s energy positive and focused on their vision.
Unlocking Human Potential Via 5 Star Early Learning
GROW Educare Centers was established on the belief that offering quality ECD (Early Childhood Development) education to the vast majority of South African children has the power to positively alter the country’s future. Tracey and her team also understood that quality could only be upheld if ECD centres and facilities were financially viable, easily accessible, and encouraged job development while paying teachers what they were worth.
Therefore, from the beginning, they set out to develop a model and brand that could scale and leave women owners of ECD centres capable and confident to run sustainable businesses and become true community champions for education.
GROW works with ECD centre owners, teachers, and other support groups across South Africa to help them run 5-Star Early Childhood Development centres that are also financially sustainable small businesses.
The organisation equips and connects ECD businesses with the tools, resources, and support they require to deliver 5-star early learning to every child. Tracy and her team understand how tough and complicated running a professional educational centre can be, especially if they don’t have a lot of resources or have seen quality in action.
They have developed and tested a full recipe for success that includes Business Toolkit and Education Toolkit components. This includes a technology platform that serves as a one-stop shop for preschools and is now open to the public. This app brings all of the tools, resources, and processes they have developed over the previous eight years, making their complete recipe for success available to anyone who wants to manage a high-quality, professional centre – on their phone!
GROW Educare Center provides-
I think leaders also need to be vulnerable and my team will tell you that I am not afraid of failure or to share when I feel lost or need help.
- Online tools (Free technology, tools and training)
- A Quality Education Programme (GROW’s daily play-based curriculum, classroom kit and education mentoring.)
- ECD Finance (Business training, mentoring plus access to affordable, low-cost loan financing for the Quality Education Programme.)
- Registration support
- Shared-value partnerships and collaborations with other ECD sector stakeholders.
Assembling A Team Of Capable Individuals
“Being a leader can be a lonely journey and you need to build a team around you that you can rely on (even in the dark times), where you have each other’s backs no matter what,” says Tracey. She believes in employing capable individuals and then putting her trust in them to accomplish the job, and she enjoys learning from others. She has high standards for herself, so she expects excellence from everyone, or at the very least, to give every opportunity their best try and to have a CAN DO attitude.
Their goal is to equip those who educate the next generation and to make running a financially sustainable 5 star ECD centre a possibility for anyone. Her staff does not regard this as a job; it is their personal mission to change the lives of women and children, and that is what drives them every day. They also like having fun and try to spend time playing and laughing as it also connects them to the heart of their work, which is playful learning for children.
The legacy I want leave is to make the world a better place and if all humans had that as their mission – imagine the possibilities.
According to Tracey, GROW Educare Centres was born out of a need to change her country’s poverty and inequality trajectory. Quality ECD is widely recognized 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.
Tracey and her team believe that self-employment is a viable answer to their current unemployment crisis, and that the informal sector is the ideal foundation for combating the increasing tide of inequality. They will continue to focus their efforts on creating sustainable micro-enterprises that promote individual agency and financial stability. In the next year, she hopes to extend the user base of the technology platform to over 3000, reach 100 000 kids, and make finance available for 400 ECD businesses to invest in their quality education programme, radically improving the quality of education for 18 000 learners in low-income centres.