2011: Timbali Technology Incubator

Shining a light on shared understanding.

Trusting internal stakeholders with your message, and equipping them to deliver it, is an extremely powerful stakeholder management strategy, as DevCom experienced when we collaborated with a client in the world of agri-incubation.

Timbali Technology Incubator is an agri-incubator that helps small-scale farmers to establish their own businesses. In doing so, it addresses burning national issues including food security, land utilisation, and youth unemployment. This non-profit organisation receives its funding from government, private companies, and international aid organisations.

Timbali empowers farmers on-site, at its Friedenheim Farm near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, and off-site across South Africa. The farmers sell their goods at market prices and pay Timbali rent and levies for services received. There is a clear distinction between the cost of development (skills and business development) and the cost of farming. The latter is met through product sales, while public and private funders cover the former.

Timbali’s model has a remarkable track record. In the eight years before DevCom started working with it, the incubator had created 205 SMMEs with a combined annual turnover of over R41.4 million, and all of its small-scale farmers had survived their first and second years in business.

It’s no wonder, then, that the model has been written up by the World Bank and that Timbali’s CEO, Louise de Klerk, is a regular speaker at global incubation and agriculture best practice forums.

DevCom’s involvement with Timbali started in 2010, with stakeholder management as our brief. At that stage, the Incubator had only one funder and limited, ad hoc communication with its stakeholders.

We were given R5,000 per month with which to make a difference. We started by spending it on research.

A series of focus groups confirmed that Timbali was not telling its stories. We responded by gathering the abundance of success stories and publishing them in a monthly electronic newsletter that was sent to selected individuals.

Simultaneously, we expanded Timbali’s database to include the influencers in the agriculture and business incubation environments.

Within a year, these simple yet strategic efforts had assisted in bringing three more funders on board, namely the Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative (SSACI), Eskom, and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

This early success allowed us to further unlock the value of strategic communication and we were given extra budget to do the in-depth research that was necessary to properly understand Timbali’s stakeholders.

The resultant audit covered internal (employees and off-site and on-site farmers) and external audiences, including funders, policy-makers, government departments, and private agriculture and corporate social investment role-players.

The research revealed that:

  • Neither employees nor the farmers fully understood how the Timbali model worked. This impacted their commitment to quality and standards, as well as their productivity. In addition to addressing these business concerns, it was imperative to ensure that the farmers understood exactly how the Timbali network benefitted them.
  • Timbali needed to improve specific aspects of its operation before it could successfully duplicate its model in other provinces.
    DevCom was given specific, business-integrated targets. Our campaign had to increase operational and project funding by R250,000 in order to be self-funded, and our communication efforts had to realise a 15% increase in production.

We designed an integrated communication campaign based on the belief that if we empowered internal audiences with the tools to talk about Timbali at every opportunity, we would reach the funding goal without having to invest heavily in an external campaign.

Our campaign, which was implemented over a six-month period, was built on four pillars, each developed in response to the stakeholder characteristics, needs, and beliefs uncovered in the research (see table below).

Results

The Timbali campaign was a resounding success. It achieved all its objectives, directly impacted the business’s bottom line, and laid a communication system foundation to build on in future.

We helped Timbali to increase its funding, not by the targeted R250,000, but by R2.5 million. Production increased between 74% and 96%, depending on the crops concerned. In addition, the campaign increased the audience’s understanding of the Timbali model to 100%.

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