The business partners set out to find a way to encourage South Africans to come together to use their talents and skills to improve their environment. On Mandela Day in 2015, they launched their rewards platform, called Going the Extra Mile (GEM), which acts as a loyalty programme for community service. Users can download the app and search for a cause or event that suits them and earn redeemable points for their good work.

“Our aim all along has been to connect low-income individuals with NGOs in need of community assistance by allowing equal opportunity for empowerment using only a small reward,” says David Shields. “We’ve managed to do just that and partner with over 40 NGOs who’ve joined us in our pursuit of a happier and more productive youth.”

Inspiring change

Over the past two years, GEM has attracted over 9 000 registered users and hosted over 800 community engagement events in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria. Each month, about 60 events take place at different venues, ranging from animal shelters and orphanages to soup kitchens.

To date, GEM has awarded its community members over 200 000 GEMs (redeemable points) for their participation in various events. These points can be redeemed for airtime, data, movie tickets, and grocery vouchers at Checkers, Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay and KFC.

While GEM has garnered tremendous success, the co-founders admit that their entrepreneurial journey hasn’t been without its challenges.

“Social entrepreneurship is perhaps one of the most difficult things one can do. Not only do you have to sell a product or service, but you also have to sell the idea that it will serve to benefit society. As business partners, we have been persistent in finding solutions that offer immediate results along the way so we can keep the GEM train moving forward,” says Shields.

Moving partners

The business partners are currently working on expanding the platform to other parts of the country, including Durban, Nelspruit and Port Elizabeth.

They have also developed and launched GEM Quiz, a platform that allows users to earn GEMs by answering questions, which allow stakeholders to run awareness-building campaigns, collect data and promote products and strategies – and citizens are still rewarded for their actions.

What business advice does Shields have to share? “Don’t dream so big that you forget to take the first step.”