The Daily Dispatch has embarked on an innovative project to reach out to its readers – bringing experts in to advise budding entrepreneurs.  Deputy editor Andrew Trench describes it on his blog.

Daily Dispatch deputy editor Andrew Trench writes on his blog:

I spent a fascinating morning in Mdantsane on Wednesday where we were hosting a business forum for local folk along with Absa. As I told the local entrepeneurs who attended, this project of ours is a bit of an experiement for us in a field called “civic journalism”. This involves the media doing more than simply talking to its readers, or describing problems, as it does traditionally, but getting their hands dirty in trying to fix a few things.

For most of this year we have been working with Fort Hare’s Students In Free Enterprise who, along with our reporters, visit new and emerging businesses in Mdantsane and help these people analyse their business’s strengths and weaknesses, plan for the future, help them consider some of their business choices and so on. Then we write about it and share the examples with other people.

Today’s session was about taking that a step further and we brought about 100 entrepeneurs together where the Sife students and other experts were involved in talking to the folk about accessing financing, managing staff, marketing and so on.

As far as I know we are the only newspaper in SA doing something like this, bringing experts down to the ground to deal with people’s businesses directly.

It is early days for this Thetha iPondi project as we call it, but I am hopeful it will provide a new model for community activism within our industry.

A note to other media executives: the loyalty to our brand and publications as a result of this programme is palpable at a session like today’s – and if one takes a long view – the relationships being built with the potential advertisers of the future is priceless.

But that aside, it also feels really good to be doing something positive and direct in our community.