Since its formation, the Other Foundation has been working to establish strategic partnerships and fund joint projects with allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities in the southern African region, especially in the business sector. The motivation for this approach is to promote economic empowerment and participation and improve social inclusion and physical safety for LGBTI people, and to change attitudes and practices towards LGBTI people in the workplace.
Exclusion from even the scarce employment opportunities that are available and workplace discrimination are continually identified by LGBTI people in southern Africa as factors that affect them deeply. At the same time, some LGBTI-owned small businesses are thriving and others are eager to do better by tapping into LGBTI markets. And some big companies are committed and eager to ensure greater diversity in their workforce and to ensure LGBTI inclusion in their supply chains. At the level of international economic and development policy, “inclusive economic growth” and development approaches that “leave no-one behind” are at the top of the policy agenda.
The Foundation consulted with business owners, individual service providers who relate to small or medium enterprises and big businesses, and technical specialists who agreed that there was traction for focused support to LGBTI owned businesses through a business network or chamber of commerce. A working group was formed to identify areas of work in which there is some likelihood of success, defining potential linkages with LGBTI workplace groups in big businesses, and map a way forward for the Foundation’s investment in the economic empowerment of LGBTI people insofar as that relates to private enterprise.
The PLUS. LGBTI+ Business Network (PLUS) was launched on 17 May 2017 as a response to the above. PLUS champions, promotes, supports and empower South African LGBTI business owners and entrepreneurs with valuable opportunities to learn, network, do business and prosper, contributing to the redress of the structural and economic injustices of our past. It intends to address scarce employment opportunities, and discrimination in the workplace of LGBTI people in South Africa, which are harmful to their wellbeing. PLUS’ focus areas:
- Advocacy for an enabling business environment and support of LGBTI entrepreneurs and opening space to normalise the environment;
- Establishing and linking with a network of workplace LGBTI groups who become internal champions of LGBTI inclusion in supply chains and employment;
- Promotion of supplier diversity;
- Establishment of a database of LGBTI suppliers; and
- Enterprise development that includes technical support, training, mentoring and coaching, market development and access to opportunities.
PLUS is planning a one-day Business Summit to be held in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 11 September 2018. The summit will bring together key stakeholders from the business sector that work on entrepreneur development, diversity and inclusion. The panel discussions will create platforms to exchange ideas on private sector practices on inclusion of LGBTI people, supply diversity and support required by LGBTI small, micro medium enterprises. The sessions will also explore gaps in knowledge and technical support required to widen the network in expanding the influence of LGBTI workplace groups and building the capacity of LGBTI businesses with a view to closing these gaps.