Xavier Richardson

Making a difference in South Africa

Xavier Richardson, a 2017 graduate of the Thomas S. Johnson Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program, recently participated in the Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) program.

EESA participants spend six weeks assisting historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs in the townships around Cape Town, South Africa. The program aims to make these ventures sustainable.

Learn more about Richardson’s experience in South Africa.

Q. Why were you interested in being a part of EESA? What led you to sign up for the trip?

A: “EESA presented an amazing opportunity to contribute to something much bigger than myself, to immerse myself in the everyday challenges faced by township entrepreneurs, and partner with them to create practical solutions and sustainable value. After learning of my peers’ positive past-EESA experiences and attending a very insightful information session led by Dr. Michael Morris, I knew I needed to take this risk: to interrupt my life to impact someone else’s. It was all worth it!”

Q. What was your initial impression of the people in South Africa?

A: “South Africans are “unreasonable men and women” who don’t take no for an answer, hard workers, gritty and resilient. Not only are they dedicated to solving critical socioeconomic problems, but also creating job opportunities for fellow Africans and writing a new future from a past, even present (in some aspects), filled with political and economic constraints. They are builders, pioneers, change makers, and innovators, and embody what it means to be entrepreneurial. You can feel this entrepreneurial energy in the air walking across the University of the Western Cape campus (our host university) or driving through the streets of Philippi; it is truly phenomenal.”

Q. What entrepreneurs and ventures did you work with in South Africa?

A: “I was fortunate to work with Ms. Grace Dila (known to her patrons and my consulting team as “Mama Gracie”), owner of Dila’s Corner, a restaurant in Philippi Village Container Walk, and Mr. Victor Baraza, owner of Baraza Funeral Directors housed in the Philippi Village Business Activator – two distinct entrepreneurs and businesses facing their own unique challenges.”

Q: How beneficial was the hands-on experience you had working with entrepreneurs? 

A: “Working alongside my entrepreneur clients was like playing a game of “Around the World of Business” in six weeks. Entrepreneurs really do wear 17 hats, and I got a glimpse of how they all fit. One minute we would be greeting customers and taking food orders, the next, negotiating lower prices for vegetables with local suppliers while handling a customer’s request for extra napkins. Today, we may be showing coffins at a partner showroom, tomorrow, filing burial claims with a family’s insurance provider and a death certificate with South Africa Home Affairs. From customer service to supplier relationship management, sales to operations, I saw business full-circle and learned strategies that are transferable to any scenario, business or person. I can now tap into my EESA experience for quick reference while on my own entrepreneurial journey.”

Q. What was your biggest takeaway from the EESA experience?

A: “My biggest EESA takeaway came in the form of a pep talk I had with myself while boarding the plane back to the states. It went something like this: “Xavier, the ball is in your court now. You have the tools, resources, and drive to start a business, transform lives and be the change you want to see in the world. Do it for Grace in Container #55. Do it for Victor. Do it for all the entrepreneurs out there in the townships working sun up to sun down. You owe it to them, you owe it to yourself. No excuses! Your “what if” will work. Now get out there and win the game.” In traveling to South Africa to empower entrepreneurs to action, I left empowered, ready to transform my country, my community, my church, and my family. I am ready to make a ding in the universe. Looking back, submitting an application to EESA was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Q. Would you recommend EESA to current students in the future? 

A: “Yes! EESA will be one of the most transformative experiences of your life. You will make friends, gain confidence, and have a blast. All you need to make sure is that you apply with a desire to learn and add value. Growth is inevitable.”