Philippi Village CEO wants it to be a community space

Containers which Philippi Village rents out to small businesses.

Philippi Village CEO Bushra Razack arrives 30 minutes late for our interview but apologises for the delay citing that most -e-hailing drivers were unwilling to take the trip to Philippi.

Ms Razack said she understands this as she was in an attempted hijacking incident recently around Philippi while she was driving to work with her son when criminals shot through the window a few times but she was lucky that they escaped unharmed.

However, she said this did little to dampen her spirit of making a difference in the area of Philippi through the Philippi Village.

Philippi Village is an integrated, mixed-use development which is home to a diverse community of entrepreneurs and small business owners with retail, office and event space as well as sporting, educational and cultural facilities.

Their primary focus is to provide collaborative workspaces for small and micro business owners as well as create employment opportunities and up-skill community members while at the same time providing a vibrant and safe place for socialising.

The bubbly and soft-spoken 37-year-old was appointed as the CEO of Philippi Village in 2020 and has been given the bigger task of transforming the space into responding to the community’s needs.

Ms Razack comes with community development experience and knowledge and believes that community development work is not a 9 to 5 job; it is non-stop.

She believes it takes an entire village to effect change as they play different roles in cultivating, transforming and building the community into becoming a better place.

She said her biggest mission is to ensure that Philippi Village is a space for young people to be imaginative, creative and inspired.

She believes that the moment one has a platform to imagine differently then one is able to-bring a different solution.

She said they wanted to make this a community space and each household here must know that the ultimate safety of this space lies in their hands.

Ms Razack said their theme this year is community safety and they wanted to challenge the community and other stakeholders to think differently about community safety.

Despite being shot at while coming to Philippi she still has big ambitions for the place and the community.

In order for her to be part of the solution, she said needs to be as close to the issue as possible and cannot sit in an office in town and wants to work towards community change – one must be close to those who are closer to the problem and most affected so that they could drive solutions together.

“After I was shot at like that I had to ask myself do I run or is this the reason why I need to be here or can we create an alternative, or can we think about safety differently.”

Ms Razack said they lose millions every year and business is not financially successful in terms of revenue. And sometimes, she struggles to understand whether she is a good CEO or not.

But on the flipside of things, she said it also depends on what success means because even if they could rent out every single unit in their premises they still would not break even.

She adds that they then started to think about success differently and started consulting with the community about what they want in a space like Philippi Village.

She said they have consulted about 1000 households asking them what they need in a space like this and if they say sport they did not just build a soccer field but asked specifically what kind of sport.

And as a result, she said they built bicycling tracks and are in the process of building a soccer field. They tested everything and responded to every one of their suggestions.

“At some point we found ourselves at loggerheads with the community of Siyangena when we wanted to built a wall which would go around the open land that we have which is close to them.

“But the community at first resisted the erection of the wall and broke it because they used the vacant land to relieve themselves, and our tenants wanted a hall built fearing for the erection of illegal structures.

“Through this incident as the Village we then realised that we did not really know what challenges our neighbours were facing. We therefore facilitated a lot of discussions with various stakeholders and the City to find a solution of toilets for them.

“I believe that when you put community at the heart of decision making they know what is best for them.

“Through establishing a great relationship with our community we at some point created emergency houses to support for shacks which were flooded during the winter season and gave them containers to live in.

“We gave them containers on a lease basis for the winter season and gave them the opportunity to join our job-seekers database so that if they need work if we need to employ people they would be the first people we consider. That changed the community mindset.

“Most people are now starting to change their mind that there might be more opportunities that will come through Philippi Village.

“Now that people value space , the threat of damaging the Philippi Village is becoming less and less,”she said.

Asked about some of the challenges she faced as a young CEO, Ms Razack said the biggest challenge since she took office is understanding what the priorities are because everybody needs something different, and responding to these.

Another general perception that people have about Philippi Village, she said, is that they have more resources than they do and people often think that they can solve everything including problems such as drainage and electricity.

In an effort to raise money to keep their doors open, she said they have just set up an NPC to try to raise funds because as the company they are not in a position to raise funds like how a non-profit organisation would.

Asked about her style of leadership, she said she believes in diversified leadership, which recognises everybody’s strengths and where there are gaps and which creates a strategic approach to things and how you can lean on people who know different and know more.

Her leadership approach is consultative and collective and which understands that it takes the entire community to effect change.

She said she is a person who is committed to an outcome.

Philippi Village CEO Busra Razack