Job opportunities don’t come often or easy to destitute black South Africans. Adding insult to injury, the depressed economy saw the country’s unemployment rates drop to an astonishing 24 percent.
But a local Chabad rabbi is about to change that with a program that will empower them to achieve real change in their lives.
At the annual Miracle Drive dinner last week, Rabbi Dovid Masinter of Chabad in Johannesburg launched “1 Time Shoe Shine,” a new addition to a bevy of non-sectarian programs developed to create sustainable futures for individuals with disadvantaged backgrounds. At the bedrock of Masinter’s work is a commitment to improving the lives of people, irrespective of race, color or creed.
“The Rebbe told us to do acts of goodness and kindness,” Masinter explains. “This means touching the lives of all people, whoever we can possibly reach out to.”
The result of his books in the Grow Your Life Series authored by Masinter, 1 Time Shoe Shine will launch a pilot program with 180 unemployed individuals. Each will receive a shoe shine box, learn instructions on using the apparatus, and train in basic entrepreneurial skills by an instructor. Then they’ll take their skills to the market. Some will be setting up shop in schools and shopping malls while others will open their stands in corporate offices and other busy venues.
The program translates into meaningful dividends: Masinter says these individuals will take home decent wages. Participants are also encouraged to expand their start-ups by selling auxiliary products like shoelaces, insoles and shoe horns.
“It’s the best gift we could give them, by providing an opportunity for unemployed people to stand on their own two feet,” says Rabbi Masinter, who is coordinating with schools and companies to allow the shoe shiners work at their locations.
Rabbi Masinter wrote Grow Your Life, a children’s book that aims to instill a culture of entrepreneurship in underprivileged children, with the hopes of imbuing young readers with a sense of responsibility and community life. Currently, three editions of the series are used in 1,100 schools across the country. Another series of books by Chabad of Johannesburg teaches basic ethics, and is a part of the government curriculum for all schools in Gauteng—South Africa’s most populous province.
Miracle Drive has won the support of major corporations who view this model as a worthy investment, including longtime sponsors like Nissan South Africa, Virgin Airlines and Whirlpool appliances.
The Miracle Drive Dinner at the Santon City Convention Centre last week was fully sponsored; the hotel provided the venue at no charge, drinks for the night were on Chivas Regal and Coca-Cola, and Draftfcb South Africa, one of the largest advertising agency in the country, designed the brochures and promotional literature for the event pro bono.
Nearly 2000 people attended, raising close to $1.8 million. The money raised will help finance programs offered by Chabad, which include an addiction rehab center, a seniors program, a camp for challenged children, and Project Natan, which provides entrepreneurs with capital so they can start their own business.
Named “Miracle Drive” for Nissan (Hebrew for “miracle”) South Africa which began donating cars for a raffle at the event, the dinner’s objective is “to provide an attractive first prize so that Miracle Drive can leverage the cash and value of the supporters’ gifts to generate funds,” explains CEO of Nissan South Africa, Mike Whitfield, who donated three Nissan Micra’s for the raffle at the dinner.
“The true testimony to the good work that he is doing is the fact that although we get requests every day to be involved in other causes, we’re still sponsoring the first prize every year for the past twenty years, since the first dinner.”
In a troubled country, where the unemployment rate for blacks is five times higher than whites, 1 Time Shoe Shine promises to bring positive change and stability to hundreds of unemployed people. Masinter expects 500 shoe shiners will be employed by the end of the first year.
That’s what makes Masinter’s work so extraordinary, says South African tycoon Natie Kirsh, a supporter of Chabad is a private investor and owner of Jetro Cash & Carry, leading warehouse wholesale stores in the US.
“Rabbi Masinter’s programs are not specific to rabbinics or religion. They go way beyond the community to help everyone, to help all people think differently and help themselves find opportunity.”