Coenie Middel is a serial entrepreneur and founder of one of the largest private accounting practices in the country, with eight branches and more than 170 staff.
He’s also the founder of a string of media companies: Dondoo Studios, involved in virtual and augmented reality; Talent Planation, which provides new technologies in the field of education,; Left Post Production, offering post-production of commercial and films; And Tixsa, on online ticketing business.
One would imagine that’s enough to keep anyone busy, but when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Middel decided it was time to step up his game and prepare for a post-Covid world.
He immediately launched a worldwide research project and investigated 748 different ideas that had the potential to change the world for the better. In the end, he settled on four of them.
“I realised that Covid would have a severe and lasting effect on the way we live, interact and do business, and the plan was to see if we couldn’t find a way to make people’s lives easier,” he told Accounting Weekly. “We settled on four concepts that we believe will have massive impact on the lives of people going forward.”
What’s astonishing is that most people are more concerned – perhaps understandably – about their own personal survival during the Covid lockdown, but Middel chose to research and launch four major concepts with the potential to change the world for the better.
“We researched innovations for a post-Covid environment. These innovations had to have significant impact on the world and be free or made available at very low cost,” he says.
Some of the ideas are brilliant in their simplicity. And they’re not just ideas – they’re already up and running. For instance, distributing food to the needy using vouchers rather than cash, and through already existing retail outlets rather than by making people join queues. Middel explained the reasoning behind the four innovations.
- Food call – “People need food, and many have no money. In SA, we already see that the government’s response to the need for food has been flawed because it is supplying in bulk, and there are a host of logistical issues. Some types of food needs to be cooled, and much of it needs to be delivered to rural areas where young and old people stand in a queue. The result is a 40% loss in value of that food,” says Middel. “We devised a voucher system, where the government issues vouchers to your phone or by hand, and people can redeem these vouchers at participating stores.” Only certain types of food can be redeemed and this can be monitored by government. The scheme is designed to help small retailers and spaza shops could stay alive. Sadly, this idea is getting enthusiastic response from several other countries, notably Spain and Mexico, but not yet SA. “Spaza shops have the infrastructure to distribute food, so there is no need for government to replicate this, nor does it need to employ additional people for food distribution.
- Tech scout – Here, Middel set out to bridge the digital divide and assist businesses to get online as a strategy to overcome the Covid lockdown. He found that many small businesses don’t know how to manage their businesses online, nor did they have the digital skills in rudimentary applications such as Excel and Word. “In the past, if you wanted to do a course on Excel, Word or accounting software, you had to go to a physical location. A lot of the cost of training went into paying for physical infrastructure, such as classrooms. With Zoom or other similar tools you can reach hundreds of thousands of people,” adds Middel. Two small towns in Italy are currently testing this new online “business digitalisation” training programme, which focuses initially on simple tasks such as how to operate email, search functions, Word processing, and then basic coding. The potential for tech scout is huge, and could completely alter the economic trajectory of participating towns, and will assist struggling municipalities in helping businesses to recover, so they can pay their rates and taxes. Tech scout is busy signing up volunteers to help local businesses embrace the convenience and economic possibilities of going online.
- Covid Busters – who are you going to call? This was an obvious response to the Covid crisis, says Middel – a health app on your phone to manage your health and wellness. The app, called My Health, is already developed and being rolled out to users at a small fee. “Many people are in lockdown and employers are losing physical contact with them, so they could be overlooking employees’ psychological issues, or actual physical illness,” says Middel. The app was used as a tool in the development and training of elite Olympic athletes, but has now been modified for use by the general public. A company with say 500 staff, or a medical aid with 10,000 members, can get a report on the overall wellness of staff and members. The app is already in use in 11 countries, and Covid Busters is now partnering with health care providers to make this app available at a low cost to the business of $1 per month per employee or medical aid member.
- Universal Teacher – there’s no question that the old school model of teacher standing in front of a class full of children is increasingly outmoded, and Covid has made this all-too-obvious as more and more children attend classes by Zoom. In many cases, children are being homeschooled by parents. Universal Teacher is helping teachers to stay closely connected to learners by offering them high quality, engaging content produced by the very best teachers in the market. “We all know what impact a great teacher can have on our lives. A good teacher may be talking to 25 kids in a class, but should be talking to millions. We find the super-hero teachers and make them available on a vast scale through the use of technology,” says Middel. There are 13.4m learners in SA and 26,000 public schools, and the results show that educational standards are declining. Universal is intended to raise the quality of education and make it available to all.
Yet another innovation launched by Middel and his team is Wenovation, which is aimed at providing world-beating management skills to social enterprise organisations and NGOs, which are now under severe pressure for funding. Many of them are having to provide services on a vastly reduced budget, which means making their rands stretch further. “We are able to show them how to make their budgets go further, how to source additional funds, and how to innovate their organisations,” adds Middel.
You can find out more about these and other innovations at: http://www.forthinnovation.com/
You can find out more about Talent Plantation and how the company is transforming education here: https://talentplantation.com/