Crisis communication at its best


DevCom implemented a R14-million, commercially viable, community development project, the Limpopo Jewellery Cluster, for the European Union, SEDA, DTI, Anglo Platinum and Vukani-Ubuntu in Polokwane, Limpopo, in only 16 weeks. It passed all the financial and project delivery audits without any qualifications.

When a skills development and job creation project with international stakeholders almost ran aground, DevCom proved communication’s power to avert a crisis.

The Limpopo Jewellery Cluster (LJC) project was conceived to empower historically disadvantaged individuals with the skills to establish their own jewellery businesses, while also supporting sustainable mineral beneficiation through large-scale production.

of project goals were met
week implementation for a 18 month project period
awards; IABC African Regional Quill and PRISA Award

The project received R7 million in funding from the European Union (EU) in 2008 and R3 million from a local funder, and was given 18 months to establish itself in Polokwane and produce the first year’s financials.

By February 2009, the project was on the brink of disaster. It was running a year behind schedule and an empty building in Polokwane was what it had to show after a year of project implementation. The local co-funder had withdrawn and the EU was seriously considering closing down the project. This posed huge reputational risks for all parties involved, specifically Vukani-Ubuntu, the lead consortium. In addition, the directors of Vukani-Ubuntu faced serious consequences as they would have had to take financial responsibility for the project.

Internally, the project team was fragmented and not focused on delivery. Each team member had a different idea and power struggles made progress impossible. There was also no formal communication with the local stakeholders, partly because the project offices were in Pretoria and the project itself in Polokwane.

DevCom stepped into this situation in March 2009 when Vukani-Ubuntu appointed our CEO Mari as project manager. She had 16 weeks to renovate the premises, procure the equipment, recruit staff and beneficiaries, and establish all the technical operational activities the centre needed to function.

The communication goal was to avert a crisis and manage the reputational risk. In terms of hard project goals, the LJC had to pass the final funder evaluation in July 2009 – its survival depended on this – and be viable and ready to be handed over to a local management team by May 2010.

Mari’s first step was to get to grips with the situation. By talking to stakeholders and working through reports, contracts and correspondence she produced a SWOT analysis and a goal sheet. She had one-on-one briefings with every funder, project partner and team member, helping them to understand and embrace the bigger picture and their roles in it.

Project staff communication was a priority. Mari created a series of posters explaining the LJC goals, procurement and other processes and each team member’s role. These posters were laminated and put up next to people’s desks on notice boards. The staff was encouraged to have fun with the notice boards by adding their own notes and putting up pictures of their families. The team received feedback at weekly status meetings, which were also used as opportunities for team building and destressing. For instance, a weekly staff meal was instituted and each staff member had two turns during the 16-week project period to provide lunch that showcased his or her culture.

The consortium team, the key funders and other partners received an update every Friday to inform them of the week’s progress, and to highlight areas of concern where Mari needed their assistance.

The LJC vision – jewellers manufacturing – was realised through solid communication and project management skills.


At the end of the 16-week implementation period, two independent EU project evaluations and two external financial audits gave the LJC a clean bill of health. All the project goals had been met. The first pieces of jewellery produced by the emerging entrepreneurs were showcased at the project launch event on 10 July 2009. The final reports were submitted to the EU and the 20% final payment, which depended on proof of successful implementation, was received in August 2009.

Communication emerged in all the evaluations, and the reference letter from the EU project manager, as a key strength of the project. The LJC went on to receive an award at the 2010 African Incubation Conference for its contribution to local economic development and received positive local and international media coverage. In May 2010 it was handed over to local management.

DevCom and the Limpopo Jewellery Cluster won an IABC African Region Quill Award and a PRISA Award for effective crisis management.

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