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Polak Creates Jobs in South Africa

Alicia Polak helps to alleviate poverty in South Africa through providing jobs to single women working for Polak’s company, Khaya Cookies. Polak visited campus to discuss her own type of social entrepreneurship this Tuesday. “There are many different definitions of social entrepreneurship. My personal definition of social entrepreneurism is to create wealth and to redistribute that wealth using a company as a vehicle,” said Polak. “When I say wealth I don’t mean the women I help are driving around in BMWs. I created a company that was able to create some wealth on a relative scale, not an absolute basis. I am able to redistribute that wealth in the form of salaries for my workers.” Polak founded Khaya Cookies after spending time in South Africa and witnessing the many economic issues firsthand. “70% of black women from South Africa who are the heads of their households are unemployed. At Khaya Cookies we employ these women to give them a job that is much needed. They now have a steady income,” said Polak. “The women want to work. They are ready to work. They have an average of eight dependents due to the high pregnancy rate and a high death rate. Most of these deaths of course relate to the AIDS problem across Africa. It’s frustrating to see all the responsibility these women are forced to have, but that’s Africa, that’s they way it works,” she continued. Polak said, “The connection I share with South Africa comes from when I was studying there while getting my MBA in journalism at NYU. I immediately fell in love with [South Africa], but saw the many problems occurring there at the time. I wanted to fix these problems by helping in any way that I could.” After returning to New York, Polak became an investment banker, but throughout her work in finance, she longed to serve the South African community. “After 9/11 I decided I had to do something with my life. I then went back to South Africa permanently and worked for little to no pay for an organization that distributed radios,” said Polak. “Still I felt unhappy because I felt we were giving them away and that was it. After talking with my boss about a program that gave a warranty to the recipients of the radios and getting the idea rejected, I decided to quit and start my own cookie company in 2004. It was a self-funded organization at the time.” Polak’s two major cookie companies are in located in two different townships in South Africa. According to Polka, “Townships are basically ghettos times ten. There is very little running water and electricity.” “Since many single mothers are forced to leave their homes in the cities and move to townships and farms, I decided to name my companies Khaya which means home in Africans and Khayaditcha which means new home in Africans,” she added. The Khaya Cookie Company teaches its employees financial skills in order to promote financial stability and links its employees with banks via the postal service because banks in South Africa are very expensive. Polak chose cookies because they “are great products to sell because they are so easy to ship and bake. Plus cookies appeal to all cultures and can be sold across the world.” However, the cookies are not Polak’s main concern, the cookies are a byproduct of her social entrepreneurship. “To be honest, I didn’t even know how to make cookies when I started, but after six or so years of making and selling cookies, I now am able to keep up with the workers, for the most part,” she said.