Are you StreetSmart? See How One Organisation is Keeping Vulnerable Children off the Street

How do we cater for the thousands of marginalised street children in our communities?

While there is no definite statistics on the actual number of street children, a study carried out by the United Nations indicated that there are up to 150 million street children in the world today, most of who have been chased from home as a result of violence, natural disaster and socio-economic collapse. Many of these children end up making a living on streets by scavenging, begging, hawking in the slums and polluted cities of the developing world, Africa included.

This begs the question of what Africans are really doing about this, especially if we have more than 30 million street children struggling through life across the continent, mainly because of poverty and lack of social welfare.

In South Africa, StreetSmart, a community-led initiative operating across eleven cities in the country including Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg and Pretoria is using a creative means to effect the normalisation of the most vulnerable children by providing an additional income stream for existing and well-run beneficiary organisations. This assists social workers, and supports and enables skills training and job creation that directly and positively affects the lives of street children.

Rural Reporters had a chat with one of the founding members of StreetSmart South Africa, Melanie Burke. Ms Burke is currently the chairperson of the organisation and in this interview, she tells us about the organisation’s work with the streets and its working philosophy of not ’throwing money at the problem’ but ensuring that social initiatives for   street children produces real outcomes in the areas that matter most such as education, skills development, family re-unification and societal integration.

DSCF6061 Monneaux

Hello Ms Burke, please introduce yourself and tell us about your journey to being part of StreetSmart South Africa?

I am a former banker and information technology specialist and for the last 10 years I have been an entrepreneur. When I first moved to Cape Town, the founder of StreetSmart South Africa, Margi Biggs was one of the first friends I made. We were both involved with women in business and we were chatting one day about the possibility of working together on a project. She immediately whipped out the StreetSmart table card that she had brought back with her from the UK and asked whether I would like to become involved with this in South Africa. So, StreetSmart SA was set up in 2005 by a group of concerned Capetonians under the patronage of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and comprises resourceful board members representing business, as well as the hospitality and tourism industries – Nils Heckscher, Annette Cockburn and I are still serving the board of StreetSmart SA. That was 10 years ago and I am still thrilled to have been invited to be part of the group that started StreetSmart SA!

The current board members of StreetSmart comprise myself, Nils Heckscher (vice-chairman), Caroline Bagley, Su Birch, Bradley Bordiss, Annette Cockburn, Donald Kau, Leonard Hersch, Sabelo Mzanywa and Nils Warner. As the new chairman of StreetSmart SA, it is a real privilege to lead an incredible group of people into the next phase of our commitment to achieving the vision of the organisation.

Where did the inspiration for StreetSmartSouth Africa come from?

StreetSmart was first set up in the UK in 1998 and a campaign is run annually during November and December. StreetSmart is also operational in the USA, India, Holland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

In South Africa it was set up in 2005 and the StreetSmart campaign is run all year round. StreetSmart SA has grown organically and is now active in nine centres, consists of a national board of volunteers, and each centre has a committee of three to five volunteer members that run StreetSmart locally.

How does StreetSmart South Africa work?

StreetSmart SA is a registered and properly constituted conduit fundraising organisation. We raise funds through affiliated restaurants, for organisations that run education, skills training and family reunification programmes for street children and children at risk of becoming street children, and we ensure that every cent donated by diners goes towards these programmes. This makes StreetSmart a community initiative working towards social re-integration and normalisation for children on the street and those who are at risk of becoming street children. We encourage the public not to give money into the hands of a child as this keeps them on the streets. In essence, eating and donating at a StreetSmart SA restaurant is a responsible way to help a street child.

For me personally, starting StreetSmart SA was a no-brainer. It is such a simple way to support credible organisations who do essential work towards creating viable lives for vulnerable and street children. StreetSmart SA also resonated with my professional philosophy to enable real impact and sustainability. Not to “throw money at the problem” but to ensure that real outcomes are achieved in the areas that matter most such as education, skills development, family re-unification and societal integration. This is active citizenship at work and the members of the board of StreetSmart SA all serve in this way. There is something in the quote by John Bunyan ‘You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you’, and this is the StreetSmart SA response to a specific need in our society.

Melanie and children from Kusasa

 What does StreetSmart South Africa believe are the difficulties faced by underprivileged South Africans, especially street children?

South Africa is rated the most unequal society in the world and we anticipate that the need for the services of StreetSmart SA beneficiary organisations will increase as the societal challenges grow, especially as they relate to preventative work i.e. to ensure that children at risk do not end up on the street.

How has StreetSmart SA been successful with catering for the needs of these street kids?

Our impact has been in providing an additional income stream supporting and enabling our beneficiary organisations with financial support to the value of over R5 million. StreetSmart financed some 19 programmes that directly and positively impact the lives of children. Some of these funded programmes involved job creation, provisions for social workers and auxiliary social workers, in order to assist the youth with life skills training and statutory interventions. Currently there are 90 restaurants signed up and last year alone, they raised more than R1 million for our beneficiary programmes. Imagine how much more impact we can enable if more restaurants signed up to StreetSmart SA!

What is your organisation doing in terms of child’s right?

StreetSmart SA is a conduit fundraising organisation, and therefore does not work directly with children. We partner with the relevant organisations who have the expertise and knowledge required to work within the framework of the Children’s Act and serve the rights of the child. StreetSmart SA is however, also represented in the various street children’s networks and work closely with our beneficiary organisations.


What communities, projects or initiatives have benefitted from StreetSmart?

In 2015 StreetSmart South Africa has given substantial financial support to beneficiary organisations in various areas, such as Cape Town: Cape Town Multi Service Centre, Home from Home, Learn to Live, OnsPlek and TLC Outreach Projects; Franschhoek: The Kusasa Project; Stellenbosch: Home from Home; Plettenberg Bay: Masizame; Johannesburg: Kids Haven, and Pretoria: PEN Streetwise Project.

How can we keep children off the streets?

There is a proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child” and so each of us as part of the bigger village can make a contribution in this area. The life of a street-affected child is a complex one, and there is no simple solution, no one service, no particular programme or indeed no one intervention that can solve the problem by itself. So, as a small part of the solution we work with legitimate organisations who bring their expertise to bear in this regard. We discourage people giving money on the streets as this keeps children on the streets longer. We encourage people who encounter street children to refer them to their local networks of care. Most cities have a “Give Responsibly” programme and have as part of their local network of care many organisations that can help.

How can privilege people help the vulnerable ones, especially those living in marginalised communities?

One of the ways we encourage people to help is to make a difference simply by where they choose to dine. Dining at a StreetSmart restaurant and making your R5 donation is an easy way to help. As we say #EatOutHelpOut

How does one get involved in the StreetSmart South Africa Project?

There are so many areas where the public can support StreetSmart. We encourage volunteer participation to raise funds, assist with events and projects, and encouraging their local restaurants to become StreetSmart.

StreetSmart encourages collaboration with other organisations in business, government and the not-for-profit sectors. We are always interested in partnerships such as corporate social investment opportunities, employee volunteering, fundraising initiatives, responsible giving campaigns, and payroll giving. Examples of meaningful sponsorships include pro bono services received from organisations such as Grant Thornton, Formeset Print, CNT Graphics, Out of this planet catering, GC Communications, SitePro and Zoom Advertising. These are all very useful ways to support the work of StreetSmart SA and reduce our administration costs.

What project is your organisation presently working on?

We have just celebrated our 10th anniversary by holding a birthday party for children from TLC Outreach Projects, a current beneficiary operational in the Cape Town area. Africa Melane, popular radio personality, was the master of ceremony at this fun-filled party, which was attended by several StreetSmart board members, including the founder Margi Biggs who was thanked for her vision and contribution over the decade of StreetSmart SA’s existence. We were so blessed to have most of this event sponsored.

What should we expect from StreetSmart South Africa in the nearest future?

There are several initiatives to respond to the opportunities ahead. A restaurant recruitment effort is underway, several information and engagement campaigns are planned as part of our 10 year anniversary celebrations and we will continue to build on the foundations and goodwill achieved since we started.

Our goals are multi-pronged – to be part of the process of social normalisation, to educate the public on responsible giving and to partner with a variety of organisations who can support our goals and the goals of our beneficiaries. Our biggest goal however is to have a StreetSmart chapter in every city throughout South Africa, to enable to local communities to help the vulnerable children on their streets in a responsible and sustainable way.


Thank You!




Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

Subscribe to our mailing list