ICT and beyond

Lonwabo Rani, Silulo Ulutho Technologies

From humble beginnings selling refurbished computers, the Rani brothers have grown Silulo Ulutho Technologies so that it’s now on course to have 100 ICT training facilities across the country by 2020.

Little did Lonwabo Rani realise when he sold his first few refurbished computers that it would set him and his brother Luvuyo on a journey, which would result in the building of a business empire. Simultaneously, they would help in upskilling thousands across South Africa and set the foundation to potentially help millions in the rest of the SADC region.

Education plays a key role in the story of these two entrepreneurial brothers. “My brother (luvuyo) was a teacher in Khayelitsha,” says Lonwabo Rani, “and I was bored with my job at the time, so I asked a local businessman if I could work for him selling refurbished computers. Outcomesbased teaching was being introduced so we targeted teachers, assuming they would then utilise these computers in their teaching preparations.”

What followed wasn’t quite what the brothers had anticipated. Teachers kept phoning the brothers complaining that the computers weren’t working. It soon became apparent the problem wasn’t with the computers, but with the teachers, who didn’t know how to operate the PCs properly.

It was impractical for the brothers to visit each teacher individually to provide training, and so space was rented at a local shopping centre, which meant the teachers could be trained in groups.

The problem was teachers could only attend after school or on Saturday mornings. There can be few businesses that can successfully operate part-time. And so, when the teachers weren’t being trained, the premises doubled up to allow community members to make photocopies, print documents and send emails. “We realised there wasn’t an internet café in the area and we were best suited to provide this service,” adds Rani. “In the mornings, we operated an internet café and in the afternoons, we turned it into a computer training centre for teachers.”

Before the brothers had changed their business model to accommodate both markets, residents had to take public transport from Khayelitsha to Cape Town to access such services.
As residents started to realise the importance and opportunities offered by IT, the Rani brothers identified the need to offer training to the wider community as well as the teachers. The training facility started to take on a life of its own, and Silulo Ulutho Technologies was formed in 2004. “It wasn’t our original intention to do this; we naturally fell into this business,” says Rani.

Today, Silulo Ulutho offers ICT-related courses and is accredited through the relevant ICT sector SETAs. Rani says the company is considering introducing business courses to complement the existing courses on offer.

To date, 35 000 students have passed through the doors of the training facilities, and Rani says approximately 80% of its students are female.

Regional growth
Originally from the Eastern Cape, the brothers realised a lot of the students coming to their training facilities were actually from that region too. In 2012, they opened a branch in the province, and it’s currently the company’s biggest region, with 27 training facilities located there. The Western Cape is home to 18. But the brothers aren’t done yet.

“We’re looking at opening a franchise in Soweto this year and then in 2019, We envisage expanding in parallel through both gauteng and Kwazulu-natal,” says Rani. “Our aim is to have 100 training facilities throughout the country by 2020; then we can start expanding the concept into the rest of the SADC countries.”

Empowering others

With the business growing at pace, the brothers have also been able to follow up on a dream they had 10 years ago — to help grow entrepreneurship in the areas in which the company operates. The Silulo Business Incubation Centre, situated halfway between Khayelitsha and mitchells Plain, opened this year. “It’s about offering business services to small businesses in the area and mentoring them in growing their relevant operations,” says Rani.

The plan is to have 10 similar hubs around South Africa by 2025
Asked if they’ve had government involvement and support, he says: “We’ve showcased our work to potential government stakeholders, and if we get their support in our business venture, then that would be wonderful; if not, we’ll still carry on expanding into areas where we can make a positive impact on our student’s futures.”

As Rani says, the business hasn’t relied on government support, despite the central premise neatly tying into key government ambitions to help uplift communities, improve digital literacy and encourage SME growth.

The brothers, with their partners and stakeholders, have set about growing the business from, as they describe it, the bottom up. The vision, Rani says, is empowering people through small beginnings. Key to the company’s growth is the fact that the company also employs former students as consultants with the aim of enabling them to become franchise owners of their own training facility. It's job creation and empowerment at its finest.

Education, skills development and access to technology are key enablers in building the country’s economic fortunes and the rani brothers believe they’re making a difference in the lives of the students who’ve progressed through the training facilities. The Margin salutes their achievements.
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