Changing lives one reed at a time



Pascalinah Kabi

ROMA-Worried that years of sleepless nights spent studying at university would all be in vain, three enterprising Roma residents decided to take the bull by the horns and create jobs for themselves and their fellow citizens.

That determination culminated in the establishment of Reed Basketry (Pty) Ltd in June last year, whose registration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry on 4 December 2015 marked yet another milestone for this innovative firm.

Reed Basketry is an amalgamation of three companies—Arts and Crafts Explorers Innovation Hub, Roma Reed Furnishers and Isaak Reed, Craft and Designs—and produces exquisite reed and timber dustbins, laundry baskets, furniture and décor.

Reed Basketry has since won recognition from Maluti Mountain Brewery’s (MMB) Kickstart Entrepreneurship Project, which recently awarded the company M99 000 to enhance its operations. The firm also won the 2015 Boliba Savings and Credit Youth Entrepreneurship competition and recognition from Hook-Up Dinner.

Reed Basketry was officially launched on Friday last week, with its Chief Executive Officer Rethabile Lesenyeho giving a background of the venture, while also speaking of the exciting times ahead.

“We possessed different skills, from business management and marketing to production and decided to join forces and form Reed Basketry. We were operating from Oblate Scholarsticate in Roma where we are to this day,” Mr Lesenyeho told guests attending the launch.

All the company’s founding members and most of their 15 employees hold tertiary qualifications, according to Mr Lesenyeho.

“When we started Reed Basketry, we only had five employees, and because of limited resources, we could not produce as many products as we would have wanted. We had to focus on dustbins and laundry baskets to make sure there were enough products for our clients. We are currently producing 100 baskets per week and work on special wardrobe orders on Saturdays and Sundays,” Mr Lesenyeho said.

“It’s true that we face many challenges in our business, but I am happy that in the short time we have been in existence, we have been honoured by Boliba, MMB and Hook-Up Dinner.”

Boliba Savings and Credit would fund the company’s operations, while Hook-Up Dinner Maseru, a networking community of local entrepreneurs, would help the firm with online marketing. The M99 000 from Kickstart’s second round of helping out promising projects would be used to cultivate reeds which are the company’s main raw material.

“We decided to join the MMB competition after realising our raw material was slowly running out. The reeds are not easily accessibly due to their location in different parts of the country and also the fact that they are not planted at the right time for them to be available whenever we need them,” Mr Lesenyeho said.

According to Mr Lesenyeho, the company recruited 11 employees last month due to increased business.

Negotiations to supply two major retailers with their products were at an advanced stage, Mr Lesenyeho further told the Lesotho Times.

“One of the retail companies wants us to supply their 13 stores around Africa with our products. This is good news to us and at the same time, a challenge that we must up our game so that we don’t disappoint our clients.”

Mr Lesenyeho further said plans were at an advanced stage to produce 1000 baskets and wastebaskets a week from the current weekly output of 100.

“Our target is to have at least 150 staff members by the end of this year because we can’t meet demand with our current workforce.”

Asked if increasing staff tenfold was not too ambitious for the company, Mr Lesenyeho said: “We can only meet production demand by increasing the number of our workers. And like I said, one of the retail stores which I cannot name at this stage, wants us to supply them with 1000 products weekly and with our current staff, we only produce 100 per week. So it will be impossible to produce 1000 top-class products with 15 workers.”

Mr Lesenyeho added: “We have seen potential in this business and need to ensure we meet market-demand by producing quality products. And if it means we have to increase staff, we will do just that.”

Mr Lesenyeho further said Reed Basketry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with one of the local tertiary institutions which supplies them with reeds.

“They supply us with raw material in exchange for a mentorship and internship programme which we offer to their students. As part of the MoU, and our corporate social responsibility, we also sponsored one of their business competitions.”

On his part, Reed Basketry production director, Isaak Tankiso, said his experience in the business meant he could lead from the front.

“I have been in this line of business since way back in 1994 and I would use everything I came across – grass, trees and reeds—to make beautiful products. My vision is to see this reed business growing in this community and I have no doubt this dream will come true,” Mr Tankiso said.

“I must thank all the staff because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have come this far as a business,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the employees, Mpho Chobokoane thanked the management and donors for funding the company.

“I pray for the success of this company because it has helped in the fight against unemployment. This business is not new to most of us; what we are appealing for is support from the community and all the various stakeholders. We don’t want this company to be another statistic of failure hence my plea for support from all well-wishers,” Mr Chobokoane said.

“I studied carpentry and joinery at LOIC (Lesotho Opportunities Industrialization Centre) and I am happy that I am putting my knowledge to good use here.”

Bernadette Kalaka, who spoke on behalf of the parents of the management, said the initiative was something to be extremely proud of.

“We have seen most of the youths who have gone to school and graduated, idling at home while their certificates gather dust in the house due to the high unemployment rate in this country. But these children chose to make a living for themselves instead of complaining and sitting in pubs the whole day,” Ms Kalaka said.

“We will continue to support them in good and bad times as we know there will always be challenges in any business. I must thank all the companies which have supported these children and believed in their dreams.”

Boliba Savings and Credit’s Koena Molepi explained why the company decided to partner Reed Basketry.

“We normally want to be employed and are always blaming government for the scarcity of jobs but these young Basotho decided to go about the situation differently,” Mr Molepi said.

“Reed Basketry won first prize in our competition because of their clear business plan and good, quality products.

“They are now job-creators and as financiers, we will continue to support them in every way possible so that this business grows and passes the test of time.”

In his address, Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) Principal Consultant, Abiel Mashale, warned Reed Basketry about the dangers of ineffective time-management. BEDCO is a government-owned corporation whose primary responsibility is the establishment and development of Basotho-owned enterprises.

“For you to say we only started one hour late is not good enough because in the business world, that excuse is not acceptable. Your orders will be returned because they would have failed to reach the client at the scheduled time and you will turn around and say people don’t buy your products,” Mr Mashale said.

Mr Mashale also lamented most Basotho’s attitude regarding entrepreneurship, citing the country’s continued importation of food and clothing.

“The problem is Basotho don’t want to use their hands to better their lives, and also stop unnecessary imports. As BEDCO, we have programmes targeting Basotho businesses and one of them is the Bacha Entrepreneurship Project in which the youths are expected to submit their proposals for assistance. The deadline for proposals is end of March 2016,” he said.

BEDCO runs the Bacha Entrepreneurship Project jointly with Standard Lesotho Bank and the Lesotho Revenue Authority.

Mr Mashale added: “Statistics have shown that 70-80 percent of businesses in this country collapse in the first three years of their establishment and given the potential we see in this initiative, BEDCO is going to work very hard to ensure it thrives and does not collapse.

“First we must teach them that they don’t have to live off their profits but should have salaries at the end of the month to ensure the business survives, and also that there is full accountability.

“We are also going to train them about quality management and how to resolve conflicts at the workplace as these are some of the reasons why businesses collapse.

“We will not separate their conflict management training by organising one for management and another one for staff. They need to know in business, both management and staff have to work closely in order to increase productivity and profit.”

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