Shona McDonald describes the story of her and her business, Shonaquip

Initial motivation

As a young mother my interests had been in sculpture but when my second daughter was born with cerebral palsy, disabled, unable to speak and almost totally deaf, doctors and therapists advised me to put her in a home and rather have another baby. I was shocked at this advice, and refused to accept it. Instead, I was determined to start building a positive future for her. With the help of a local therapist, we started the long road to teaching Shelly ourselves.

When Shelly was 18 months old and getting too heavy to carry, I saw pictures of a special seating support electric wheelchair in a Swedish magazine and made contact with the bio-medical engineering department at UCT to help me build a similar machine.  This led to the first South African battery-powered buggy, and provided the foundation for establishing Shonaquip CC in 1992. The buggy gave Shelly great freedom and enabled her to attend a local pre-school, where, with all the stimulation she received, she progressed rapidly on to primary and then high school.

During this time I became involved with starting a Not for Profit Organisation (NPO) for assisting other children who could not speak. This gave me the opportunity to meet many other parents of children with disabilities, who together with their therapists persuaded me to design and manufacture special devices for them too. .

  • I wanted to prove that people in wheelchairs could earn respectable incomes and, become primary bread winners. 
  • I wanted to use business to pursue poverty alleviation goals and to demonstrate to the public that we could develop practical and workable solutions via policy transformation.
  • I wanted parents to have hope again and to safely dream that their children would grow up with some pride and respect for the future.
  • I wanted to know that one day I could pass on a successful and sustainable socially driven  enterprise that would continue to grow and develop as a tool for transformation.

Without the right type of wheelchair, people become isolated and have limited access to equal opportunities. This shortage of appropriate wheelchairs has unnecessary, costly and devastating social outcomes for the wheelchair users and their families who support them.

Business Plan for the next 3-5 years

We have spent the last 2 years investing in the redesigning of our core product range for export in order to diversify our income streams and reduce the dependency on Government orders, relieving our cash flow constraints and providing us more opportunity to assist in addressing the global need for paediatric mobility devices which are suitable for under resourced and rural regions.   These devices are now completed and have been SABS tested and Certified and are available on our National Health Tender.  We have also been very honoured to receive two awards which recognise the Innovation of these new designs

Next steps include building on the success of our  sustainable Shonaquip Social Enterprise model and we are in the process of finalising a two prong approach to enter new markets

  1. We are in negotiations with social impact investors to raise working capital to take our products to new markets.  Our 3 year plan to redesign and test our products is  now complete and we are now working to reduce our dependency on Government Tenders which have grown to over 75% of turnover.  All efforts are now focused on growing our South African private medical insurance and corporate social responsibility  markets and respond to the growing demand to take our products into SADC and global export market
  2. Working with a number of development partners  we are  identifying and  training local organisations to expand their reach and build their own small sustainable social businesses. Unlike many wheelchair provision models that depend on external funding, the Regional Hubs model aims to facilitate the development of many local sustainable social businesses that provide:
  • Access to a range of WHO recognised, high-quality, modular wheelchairs that are appropriate for under resourced regions. This range includes Shonaquip devices which are customizable to the unique mobility and postural support needs of each child.
  • Accessible clinical support, including assessment, customisation, fitting and follow up services for each individual, to ensure proper fit and optimal function over time.
  • Access to local training, resource information and support for parents, caregivers, teachers, health care workers and other stakeholders to assist them in supporting wheelchair users in leading as functional and, productive lives as possible.
  • Local repair and maintenance for all wheelchairs and other assistive devices and  work skill development for people with disabilities.
  • Local community and government advocacy and lobbying activities for people with disabilities, ensuring the millennium development goals, and un convention are upheld in all policies and that practices are supportive of inclusion in community, school, workplace and in society in general.

Our partners are being mentored in small business development, wheelchair assembly, product modification, as well as maintenance, repair and clinical seating support services. For these Regional Hubs to be successful and deliver the products and effective support services and advocacy to their own countries, Uhambo, the Shonaquip Foundation´s holistic training also plays a significant role in growing parallel development processes that influence regional and global policy development and implementation.

Where would you like to further import or export your goods or services and why are you choosing this/these markets?

The World Health Organization (WHO) World Report on Disability (2011) estimates:

  • 70 million people with disabilities need an appropriate, well-designed, well-fitted and affordable wheelchair as a first step towards social inclusion.
  • 80% of them live in emerging or under resourced countries and most children in low income countries do not have access to appropriate mobility and posture support services.
  • 32 million appropriate wheelchairs need to be produced, fitted, adjusted, supported and maintained per year to meet the demand.
  • Currently, an estimated 3 million wheelchairs are being produced annually – this mirrors the WHO estimate that only 5-15% of people can access assistive devices.
  • 100% of children will develop spinal deformities without access to appropriate adjustable seating support devices. Spinal deformities will ultimately results in loss of function, increased suffering and reduced life span if surgery is not available or possible.
  • Most children require an average of 4 different wheelchairs during their growing years.

Children and young adults with disabilities in less resourced settings seldom achieve the full human potential of which they are capable. This is a loss both to the individuals who are unable to enjoy the fullest possible quality of life, and to their communities who are unable to access their talents and may experience their care as an excessive burden. This unnecessary waste is often a result of the absence of services, equipment, and training which could facilitate the expression of these children’s abilities, and minimize the challenges stemming from their impairment.

This situation stems not just from lack of resources, but also the lack of availability of products, services and training well matched to the users and their physical, social and economic setting, as well as insufficient skills and/or knowledge on the part of agencies who supply products, services or training.

Based on 20 years of experience and client impact research results, Shonaquip has identified a huge market need in the area of awareness-raising, education and the provision of our appropriate mobility devices which are designed to meet these specific needs.

Shonaquip is currently working in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe and we have received requests to take our products and training to  Madagascar, Mauritius, Botswana, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Turkey, UAE, USA  and India.  Shonaquip is also open to working in any other country where we are invited and where there is need.

Shonaquip is also exploring opportunities to join forces in a partnership in which Shonaquip would function as the provider of product, BOM, clinical  and technical training and service provider.  The partners need to offer the access to technical assembly facilities and marketing and sales expertise.

Have you or are you involved in mentoring other women in your company or community? If so, please describe.

Shonaquip was started with young enthusiastic therapists and other woman who have had the opportunity to grow and develop their skills within the organisation in many cases leaving to start their own organisations or take on prominent roles and responsibilities  in Government and the private sector

I take a great deal of pleasure in being part of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation mentorship program  and also provide coaching and mentor a young woman from KZN who have been studying through the Amani Institute.  I am working with her to set up her own social enterprise  

What is your philosophy on corporate social responsibility and how does your company you support it?

Shonaquip is Social Enterprise – a business established and run for social impact purposes. As no legal entity, like a CIC exists for Social Enterprise in South Africa we have developed a hybrid legal entity structure where the PTY and the NPO work together to achieve our long term vision and purpose

The vision of both entities is an inclusive society, without barriers, for persons with mobility disabilities.

Our mission is to assist children in under developed regions with mobility disabilities by increasing the availability and access to appropriate, well-fitting mobility and posture support products, services and training, thereby addressing inequality, enhancing human capability and empowering communities.

Our goals are to:

  1. Expand the market reach into under-resourced and developing areas by collaborating and building local partnerships.
  2. Create an additional income stream by exporting products to developed countries.
  3. Expand the range of innovative, quality modular products that meet the clinical, functional, environmental, aesthetic and individual requirements of children with moderate and severe mobility disabilities.
  4. Provide coordinated, community-based, mobile seating services in partnership with government, thereby reducing the development of secondary health complications and positively impacting the quality of life of individual users and their caregivers and reducing the overall national health budget spend.
  5. Provide quality, needs-appropriate, outcomes-based training, skills development and regular mentoring and monitoring support services.
  6. Increase and deepen the global body of knowledge about the problem through partnership building, documentation, research and communication.

Long-Term Objectives:

  1. Ensure sustainability of existing seating services in Southern Africa by involving government and key service providers – Shonaquip is already working together with local education and health departments, as well as non-governmental organisations working with children with mobility impairments in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
  2. Provide wheelchairs, training packages and service models that are relevant to other less resourced countries, globally.
  3. Expand the service model and training to adult wheelchair users.

Project Priorities

  • Test new concepts in the regions of South Africa where infrastructure exists such that failures can be corrected without harm to participants.
  • Test mature concepts in extremely challenging regions of Southern Africa to show that strategy and tactics are valid under worst-case conditions.
  • Replicate successful systems through pilot projects to validate global applicability of model and reach a population-dense region.
  • Expand our impact through growing our  sales of products  to more developed regions earning more income and supplementing the work of our foundation

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