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Hope made visible, as elections near

South Africans have proven themselves to be resilient through decades of strife, but our ‘bounce back rate’ may well see us returning to increasingly lower levels of optimism, as we navigate from one crisis to another. Now just weeks away from the municipal elections, we hear rallying cries for solidarity and unity, though divided across party lines.

While the toll of Covid-19 has certainly laid bare our social and economic inequality, there is an equally concerning decay in the belief that a better future is indeed possible at all, despite what our politicians tell us. In response, a group of purpose-pioneers have sparked an initiative to tangibly represent calls for a more positive, connected, and unified society, by filling our city streets with meaningful messages of hope.

Designed as a shared-value platform, the ‘Grow Hope’ movement leverages the power of creativity to improve national sentiment, by uniting artists and brand sponsors to showcase murals of hope and togetherness on large scale billboards as part of a national, synchronised outdoor media campaign.

“We had to do something to dissolve despair and make hope our emotional fuel for a brighter tomorrow. We can rebuild South Africa together if we believe it in our heads and feel it in our hearts” says entrepreneur Tom Fels, who along with several collaborators, founded the social impact initiative.

Post use, the material from these hope-billboards are recycled into vegetable grow-bags by Growbag Upcycled, a social enterprise, and are distributed to food security NGO’s that administer community agriculture training in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, along with financial support for their work.

It’s an approach that Fels describes as ‘brand good’, offering corporate sponsors the benefit of branded exposure on artworks created by South Africa’s hottest design talent – from street artist Keith Vlahakis, to Mandela Rhodes Foundation designer Vumile Mavumengwana and young fashion design maven Ishaarah Arnold – together with the downstream impact of providing the recycled materials and support to community NGO’s. This straddles both brand marketing and CSI – with mutual benefit for every Rand spent.

With access to a national network of billboard sites through initiative partner Tractor Outdoor, Grow Hope is positioned to reach up to 10 million South Africans. “The potential impact of seeing colourful and inspiring artworks every day to brighten an otherwise gloomy outlook gives us all a great sense of motivation,” says Fels. It is a sentiment being shared early on by corporate partners, who see the timing of this initiative as necessary. It is the contributions of these partners that activates the for-good ecosystem, putting the citizen back in corporate citizenship.

Fels is keen to build a growing network of nation-building brands to sustain and fuel the movement, believing that “If we can disrupt everyday monotony with flashes of hope and unity that register a response, then we can inspire people to own their role in building a brighter future. That’s a South Africa we all want to be a part of”.

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