Cape-based social enterprise, The Relate Trust recently had the opportunity to host a team of students from Harvard Business School (HBS) in Cape Town for one week as part of a required first-year course at HBS called the FIELD Global Immersion.

Relate was one of 157 FIELD Global Partners spanning 14 countries around the world. Together these Global Partners hosted more than 930 HBS students.

Through social enterprise, The Relate Trust has raised R26million in the last three years alone, and close to R50million since it became a Trust in 2010 for over 100 local and global causes. They have created more than 400 jobs for  the underprivileged in the process. Their innovative approach to the non-profit sector has attracted global interest, and they now also operate in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australian markets. They will also soon be launching in New Zealand.

The non-profit, which has grown from humble beginnings is well on the way to becoming a globally recognized brand.

“Relate’s global brand attraction shows our credibility, trustworthiness, and reputation for doing good. We do good work, enabling us to make a positive impact worldwide. Our success is, in large part, due to the fact that we operate in the same way that a for-profit business would instead of relying on handouts,” said Relate’s CEO Neil Robinson.

“This allows us to help more organizations around the world, and create more jobs for underprivileged people. It was a pleasure to share our unique business model with the Harvard Business School students, and to gain their valuable insights into new product development through key consumer insights – product innovation being a key pillar in our strategy.”

The purpose of the FIELD Global Immersion is to provide students with the opportunity to do real fieldwork on an innovation project, in an unfamiliar context. The course is designed to strengthen and develop students’ global intelligence – their ability to manage and operate effectively across cultures and business contexts.

Relate executives had been working with the team remotely in the months leading up to their arrival in South Africa. And while in Cape Town, the students pitched their ideas to the leadership team, conducted field research with consumers and major retail brands around Cape Town, and presented their final recommendations to management.

Harvard is quick to acknowledge that this important learning experience would not be possible without the Global Partners.

“We are extremely grateful to Relate and all the FIELD Global Partner organizations for all they do on behalf of our students,” said Professor Juan Alcacer, the faculty head of FIELD. “The students benefit immeasurably from this experience and we hope the partner organizations do as well.”

According to Robinson the HBS visit is a major accolade in recognising the work that Relate has been able to carry out over the last few years. The FIELD Global Immersion has added great value to what the Relate brand might offer in the future.

Robinson also recently took part in a trade and investment mission to the UK with Wesgro and the Western Cape Ministry of Economic Opportunities to meet with key joint venture partners, retailers and buyers of products and services. Relate was the only social enterprise in a select group of businesses chosen to join Minister Alan Winde, Wesgro’s CEO Tim Harris and other diplomats.

Closer to home, Relate is also currently featured in retail bank Nedbank’s “See money differently” brand repositioning campaign. The Nedbank campaign seeks to highlight innovative ideas that make a big impact, and spotlights Relate as a perfect example.

The HBS FIELD Global Immersion, the Wesgro delegation and the Nedbank partnership are all great initiatives that will help grow Relate’s work in delivering positive social change in South Africa and the world.