Wednesday 25 May 2022

The British Council’s Innovation for African Universities programme helps support graduate entrepreneurs in South Africa

There are 2.8 million people in South Africa who have a disability*. For many people with a disability it can be hard to find work, and many decide to become self-employed or start their own businesses, often in traditional crafts such as basket-weaving.

But many young South Africans with a disability want to use the knowledge and expertise they’ve learnt in higher education to start businesses that put their skills, such as technology and design, into practice.

The British Council’s Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme is supporting the Inclusive Innovation project, a partnership that brings together experts at the Central University of Technology, Bloemfontein, the South African Disability Alliance and Aston University in the UK.

The project is supporting two wheelchair manufacturing businesses set up by South Africans who have a disability with product design, marketing and technology support for their businesses. The idea is to strengthen their capacity and capabilities in designing and manufacturing better equipment locally. Additionally, the project will ensure that more cost-effective avenues for supporting the wheelchair production sector in South Africa are utilised .

Able Wheelchairs makes wheelchairs for rugby players and Real Steel Wheelchairs manufactures a range of wheelchairs for South Africans. Design for Disability will support these start-ups with developing the key business skills needed to grow and market their businesses, and enhanced design and technical skills to create leading products that have the potential to become the category lead in South Africa, and across the continent and beyond.

The project also involves business students at the Central University of Technology learning about how to take products to the market. Thywill Cephas Dzogbewu, Central University of Technology, said: “The students are learning from the manufacturing side and the business side, so it allows them to understand the whole value chain in a production. When the students have been doing this for a while, it helps them become good entrepreneurs, good innovators and they can take their own business from start to finish.”

Dr Tim Whitehead, Lecturer in Product Design, Aston University, UK, comments: Projects like this get me really excited because we are hopefully seeing a wheelchair come to life, a business supported, the future generations of designers, entrepreneurs coming together to solve problems so that is what interests me. Practical, applied research which has a real impact on the world.”

Online learning resources and shared learning between the universities and businesses will be part of the legacy impact of the project.

The project is part of The British Council’s Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, which includes partner universities and enterprise and innovation organisations in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and the UK. The programme comprises 24 project partnerships and aims to grow universities’ capabilities for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, developing the skills graduates require to build sustainable industries, companies and services.

Meekness Lunga, spokesperson at The British Council, commented: “Through stronger peer to peer connections and sharing best practices and knowledge between higher education institutions, the programme aims to enhance students’ employability and support economic development across South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa now and into the future.”

To find out more about the British Council IAU programme visit:

Notes to Editor

*7.5% of the population, source: 2011 census

For more information please contact:

Per Behzat,

Jhilla Khodaie,, +44 (0)7340 738013

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall, including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter.

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society.

Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Saskia Hansen is the interim Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive. Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.

For more information please contact: Nicola Jones, (+44)7825 342091