The Clothing Bank CEO is invited to the World Economic Forum after winning sought-after international social entrepreneur award

NGO that trains unemployed South African mothers to be meaningfully self-employed receives international recognition at Davos, Switzerland

Tracey Chambers, Founder and CEO of one of South Africa’s most impactful social entrepreneurship programmes, The Clothing Bank, has been invited to attend The 48th World Economic Forum in Davos as a guest of the Schwab Foundation.

In 2016 the organisation’s co-founders, Chambers and Tracey Gilmore, were awarded the Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the year award in recognition of the work they do to develop unemployed mothers into viable small business owners in the retail sector.

The Clothing Bank assists 800 unemployed mothers every year journey out of poverty by training them to become informal clothing retailers. The Clothing Bank’s two-year programme puts beneficiaries through intensive business, computer, life skills and personal finance workshops, training them to successfully operate their own business and make positive life choices that benefit themselves and their children. The business model works thanks to strategic partnerships with most of SA’s clothing retailers who donate their excess stock to the organisation. Beneficiaries buy this merchandise from The Clothing Bank and sell it in their own informal businesses.

Within two weeks of starting on The Clothing Bank programme the beneficiaries are running their own businesses. By the time the women leave they have established other sources of product to sell, or even other businesses like crèches, laundries or transport services, and they are financially independent, confident women, earning on average R4000/ month. This is above the minimum wage with the added benefit of flexi-time as most of the women have children.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is a not-for-profit, independent and neutral organisation that advances social entrepreneurship and fosters social entrepreneurs globally. The Schwab Foundation highlights leading models of sustainable social innovation, like The Clothing Bank, at a global level, such as at events like the WEF. The aim of the Foundation is to identify a select community of social entrepreneurs and engage it in shaping global, regional and industry agendas that improve the state of the world.

As Schwab awardees, Chambers has been selected as 1 of 40 social entrepreneurs to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018. She said: “It is particularly important that the voice of social entrepreneurs, who have – through years of trial and error – found sustainable solutions to complex social problems, are heard by industry and government leaders. Social entrepreneurs who are running projects that are really working and creating meaningful change to people’s lives can bring new perspectives to global leaders. If successful social projects can be scaled they could bring about systems change, which can significantly transform the lives of millions of people living in devastating poverty,” she said.

Over the last eight years, The Clothing Bank has learnt a great deal about what it takes to help poor women journey out of poverty and the organisation has begun applying these lessons to new projects with men and children as beneficiaries. The Appliance Bank project uses the same principles and methodologies as The Clothing Bank to support unemployed men (mostly fathers) establish small businesses repairing and selling damaged or returned appliances sourced from our retailers partners. The Grow with Educare Centre project focuses on quality Early Childhood Development by supporting women in poor communities to establish excellent quality pre-schools that are also sustainable businesses. To date this project has established 21 schools, educating over 800 children daily. The plan is to rapidly expand this model using a micro-franchising business model.

“We began The Clothing Bank as a small programme in Cape Town in 2010 and have managed to scale it to five branches around the country and spin off other entrepreneurship projects. Along the way we have learnt so much about working with people who are suffering the debilitating effects of poor education and poverty, and the best ways to build someone’s confidence and belief in themselves to change their own lives. I am looking forward to passing on some of what we have learnt so others can use the information to benefit more people.”

The theme of this year’s WEF conference is Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World, aiming to deal with the divisive narrative in the global context. At Davos, Chambers will have the opportunity to meet, network and share The Clothing Bank’s success with captains of industry, CEO’s, senior government ministers, academics, celebrities and heads of foundations. “I am excited about being in such an illustrious company,” said Chamber. “My hope is that The Clothing Bank’s development philosophy and tried-and-tested methodology will gain traction globally.”

Track Tracey’s experience at Davos by following her on twitter #TheClothingBank or Facebook/The Clothing Bank.

To contact Tracey email her at:

To find out more about The Clothing Bank’s projects:
The Clothing Bank:
The Appliance Bank:
Grow with Educare Centre:

To follow the events at the World Economic Forum: