If you’ve ever purchased a Cotton On Foundation product sold near the till point of a Cotton On Group store, you’ve contributed to raising the equivalent of R1 billion for educational projects across South Africa, Uganda, Thailand and Australia over the past 10 years.
The Cotton On Foundation is the dedicated philanthropic arm of the Australian-born Cotton On Group, the global retailer operating the various Cotton On brands, as well as Rubi, Factorie, Supré, and gifting and stationery brand Typo.
In lieu of simply having a CSI-focused department within the group, the decision was made to create a fully-fledged and staffed non-profit, a setup that allows the company to take on long-term projects and give them the attention they deserve.
Removing barriers to quality education
The Foundation is focused on empowering youth through the delivery of quality educational projects that assist in breaking the cycle of poverty. “We know that our responsibility goes far beyond selling clothes. The Foundation was set up to both fundraise and oversee education projects in under-resourced regions,” explains Tara Stretch, South Africa manager of the Cotton On Foundation.
Cotton On Foundation products – the trendy tote bags, tins of mints, printed packs of tissues, and bottled water – are found in over 1,500 Cotton On Group stores around the world. Often enthusiastically sold as add-ons in store, these items form a vital part of the Foundation’s fundraising strategy.
Globally, the Group sells one Foundation item every 2 and a half seconds, with 100% of the proceeds funneled into the non-profit’s projects. In South Africa specifically, R33.6 million has been raised from the sale of Foundation items in store, all of it going towards educational projects in some of SA’s most at-risk communities.
Locally, the Foundation’s work is perhaps most lauded in the township of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal. Reflecting South Africa’s historic spatial inequality, KwaMashu is located just under 20km away from the upmarket resort town of Umhlanga. Though boasting a vibrant performing arts scene, the KwaMashu community grapples with social issues like unemployment, violence and abuse.
Over the last few years, the Cotton On Foundation has been working with eThekwini Primary School, located in the heart of KwaMashu, to create an additional 1,280 educational placements, made possible through extensive infrastructure upgrades, which the non-profit has funded and managed.
The latest development includes the addition of 16 new classrooms. While previously the school was only able to cater to students from Grade R to four, the renovation will allow learners to complete their final years of primary school, without having to leave their community, before transitioning to high school.
Further upgrades to the school include 37 new ablution facilities, two kitchens, a staffroom, tuckshop, two fully-equipped playgrounds and a new admin block for staff.
A considered approach
The Foundation prides itself on adopting a holistic approach to its projects, ensuring they’re multi-faceted, scalable and sustainable. “We don’t just cut cheques, we’re about executions – from conception and design, to build,” says Stretch.
Any barriers preventing children from accessing quality education are analysed and addressed. “Quality education is about more than just upgraded facilities. It requires skilled and supported staff, good nutrition and programmes that empower learners,” Stretch adds.
In line with this belief, teachers at eThekwini Primary are provided with additional training and members of the surrounding community have access to the Foundation’s education-based Nutrition Mission programme, which covers basic nutrition, common health problems, hygiene, kitchen equipment and safety, as well as practical cooking lessons.
Late last month, the Foundation officially announced Dr JL Dube High School – located just 1.5km away from eThekwini Primary – as its second South African school project. The high school accommodates over 1,200 children in Grade 8 to 12, but current facilities are overcrowded, rundown and under-resourced.