Doctor of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship graduate Ms Gnanam Pillay’s research into social entrepreneurship in KwaZulu-Natal aims to address social issues such as unemployment and inequality through empowering the youth to become self-sufficient and independent.

For her dissertation titled: “Developing Social Entrepreneurship in the field of IT at FET Colleges in KwaZulu-Natal”, Pillay adopted an action research model which saw her design a model for developing social entrepreneurship at FET colleges.

As a Curriculum Manager at Thekwini FET College, Pillay wanted to make a positive impact on marginalised communities because of the wide geographical spread of FET colleges in KwaZulu-Natal.

‘The research has shown that a lot can be achieved through social capital and networking even where finance is not readily available.  Even more exciting is that the participants and I have registered a co-operative together.  We applied to join SmartXchange, an IT business incubator, and were successful.

‘This means that we have a hot-desk at SmartXchange and access to facilities such as boardrooms, support and training.  We have already received an invitation to present our business to the Municipality at Umkhanyakude and hopefully we begin working with them and the surrounding communities soon,’ said Pillay.

Pillay’s passion   for raising awareness around social entrepreneurship which is crucial for economic development in KwaZulu-Natal motivated her to initiate a project in IT at Thekwini FET College in 2009. The IT project was sponsored by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism through a partnership involving the Moses Kotane Institute, the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT-India) and six other FET colleges in KwaZulu-Natal were involved in training unemployed youth in software and network engineering and database processing.

Although the project was a success, Pillay felt that it was important to take the initiative to the next level. To be able to do that she needed a PhD qualification to expand her knowledge and empower her with the skills needed to carry out research that is practical and collaborative.

‘Reading for the PhD expanded my knowledge and experience and it is certainly a worthwhile qualification to have. I already had a Master’s Degree in Education (Adult Education) from UKZN and wanted to see the development of social enterprises that would add social value to communities in urban and rural areas.

‘The research was very intense and required a lot of reflection and analysis despite it being action-oriented.  It was also a very humbling experience for me as I learnt so much,’ said Pillay.

While most people might be considering slowing down after such a challenging academic journey, Pillay is not one of them as she intends to use her qualification to grow her academic career through writing articles and papers for journals, attending conferences and getting the model that she has conceptualised and developed for social entrepreneurship at Thekwini College, implemented at other FET colleges in KwaZulu-Natal.