Tracey Chambers

The Clothing Bank
South Africa

The Clothing Bank provides unemployed single mothers with a path out of poverty by training them to become self-employed business women.
Focus: Women Empowerment, Education and Employment
Geographic Area of Impact: South Africa
Model: Hybrid non-profit
Number of Beneficiaries: 1600 (direct) / 5000 (dependents)
Annual Budget: $1.8 million (2014)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 45%
The Social Problem
In South Africa, the unemployment rate amongst people below 29 is 50% in townships compared to 25% outside townships. Amongst young single mothers, the unemployment rate is even higher making it difficult for them to provide a future for their children. In South Africa, 60% of single mothers are unemployed and few have access to training opportunities and job experience required to be hired into the formal sector.
Innovation and Activities
The Clothing Bank’s mission is to empower unemployed single mothers through enterprise development so they can become financially independent. The Clothing Bank recruits unemployed single mothers from townships across South Africa and enrols them in a two-year training programme. It has a strict admission policy serving only the most disadvantaged and runs a rigorous application process where mothers have to apply to enter the program. The two-year programme includes modules such as money management, business skills and mentoring by business leaders, as well as life coaching and counselling.
The Clothing Bank has built relationships with major clothing retailers such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay that donate their excess stock. The unsold clothing is used as a tool to apply the business skills the women learn in the classroom. Once the women have completed their initial training of two weeks, they start buying the merchandise from The Clothing Bank at significantly discounted prices and sell the goods in the informal sector in the townships with the objective of earning at least $280 in profit per month. After two years, the women graduate from the programme with two nationally accredited diplomas giving them the opportunity to find regular employment or to start their own business.
In addition to the clothing resale business, the Clothing Bank also has a micro-franchise accelerator. In collaboration with strategic industry partners, they build micro-franchises in townships for single mothers. These include child care centres, beauty salons, and appliance repair centres. For example, the eight child-care centres provide high quality child care for working parents at affordable prices. During and after the programme, The Clothing Bank works with each woman using the innovative Poverty Stoplight tool developed by Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Martin Burt to set goals to optimise the money they earn.
The Clothing Bank counts 1240 women as graduates, with the capacity to have 800 women enrolled in the two-year program. Since 2010, these women have collectively generated income for their families (average of 4) of more than $2.5 million USD.
The Entrepreneur
Tracey started her career in Deloitte, PWC and SAP before moving to Woolworths in the position of Head of Finance in South Africa. She is a chartered accountant and has been widely recognized as an outstanding business leader and social entrepreneur in South Africa. She has been awarded Regional Businesswoman of the Year by the Business Women’s Association of South Africa, and The Clothing Bank has received a number of awards including the SAP and Ashoka Power of Small Competition Award and the African Philanthropy Award.