Vusi Vokwana is the founder and director of consultancy biz Kasi Catalyst – “the upcycle name we have given to the township”. A derogatory term for black areas in SA during apartheid, Vusi and her team decided to put a positive spin on it.
As a catalyst, Vusi’s company is (re)activating township economies one underserved community at a time. Kasi Catalyst acts a guide to corporates looking to enter the townships ethically and sustainably, while showing communities how to leverage their collective buying power to revitalise their local economy and bring dignity back to townships and rural areas.
About Vusi Vokwana…
Vusi has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Hawaii Pacific University, Hawaii (USA). But her entrepreneurial roots run much deeper – to a childhood spent in the townships of South Africa. “I spent every day after school, weekends and holidays in retail businesses my parents owned in townships in the Western Cape. While growing up, I didn’t realise I was learning how to run successful businesses in the same community I lived in during the most volatile time [during apartheid],” she says.
Vusi is passionate about access
She’s passionate about access to financial products that are created by us, for us. Access to markets – because finance and all the best products are nothing without access to markets. And access to information – because there are many services available in the global (and domestic) market that the average kasi entrepreneur has no knowledge of, or access to.
“I am really passionate about levelling the playing field by amplifying the successes we have achieved as kasipreneurs, which reflect our adversity quotient (AQ). Someone has to change the current narrative about black people, black consumers and black small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs),” she says.
Change is coming!
“Graduates who want to get into the kasi space are welcome,” says Vusi. “If you can imagine the kind of space you want and are willing to carve it out for yourself and work hard to retain it, then this is the space for you.”
But, she warns, “this is by no means an easy place where you can read a handbook or follow the models you learnt at university. This is a dynamic environment that pushes you to the edge of anything you ever expected.”
Because while there are many platforms in the urban space with access to online material regarding the idea of townships as one homogenous marketplace, there is no info or any platform that looks at kasi business in the hyper-local sense, written by insiders actually running businesses in that market.
Vusi’s journey: from family biz, to finance, to Kasi Catalyst
“My career started out as a critical member of a family business started by my father in the 1940s. [But] the longer I worked in these family businesses, the more I realised that I was only part of the free labour force of this business, not an equity partner, as I had believed or maybe assumed.
“When I left to pursue a career in the finance industry, it was to develop the skills to come back and take over,” she says. “My assumption was that skills gained and honed in the urban space would prepare me to take over my family’s township businesses. They didn’t!
“What I did learn from my foray into corporate was that I hated having a boss who was usually less educated than I was, and that there are so many things that are biased about the current banking systems in SA.”
For Vusi, the biggest learning was that she was an outsider… everywhere. She was an outsider in the corporate space because they had predetermined what her roles would be limited to as a black woman. The clients, who were predominantly white, needed her to constantly prove that she knew enough to be trusted with their money. “I learned to watch and learn from a distance,” she says. “Quietly. Quickly. Alone. I learned how to depend on only myself and measure myself on who I was yesterday and nothing else.”
Vusi’s top money-saving tips
Take all the free lunches offered by people further along the journey than you. “Save as much as you can of your own money and use other people’s money whenever you can,” she says. The biggest tip? “Marry a partner who is vetted by third parties you trust,” she says.
Words of wisdom for the next generation
1/ Don’t ever allow anyone who hasn’t walked in your shoes to tell you anything.
2/ Don’t ever accept the first “no”.
3/ Have a squad of women who are at different stages, in different industries and of different races surrounding you. You always need to have all the perspectives.
4/ If you’re the smartest person in the room, leave.
A book every woman should read…
The Daughters of Nandi by Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang.
The art of self-care
“I’m a recently-divorced mom of three so I rarely have me time,” says Vusi, “but if I get into the car and put on hip hop or old-school rap at full blast, then I’m in my happy place.”
And then there’s her friends. “When I do have time, I hang out with my girl squad and we eat plenty of meat and enjoy lots of laughter. I always surround myself with people who love me and constantly remind me of how much of a ‘badass’ I am,” she quips.
Connect with Vusi
Vusi Vokwana on all platforms.