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An idea to connect Johannesburg's poor with its bankers

Sandton, Johannesburg's financial district, lies close to one of the city's poorest areas. (Gil.K/

For Johannesburg’s poor, the city’s financial district, Sandton, feels like an impenetrable fortress reserved for the business elite. Megan Tennant reports for on a university student’s award-winning solution for opening more doors to opportunity: an Ideas Bank.

Sarah De Villiers, a 2014 graduate of Wits University, wants to dismantle the “spatial boundaries” established by banks and other financial institutions that make slum dwellers feel unwelcome. In her masters dissertation, De Villiers proposes an Ideas Bank where anyone can “deposit” business plans via ATM-like machines. Each proposal would be promoted on social media, with the best schemes eligible for crowd funding, refinement and mentoring.

The dissertation — which won her a regional architectural student of the year award — “aims to create a loophole for everyday people to otherwise inaccessible financial portals,” the article says. De Villiers sees an opportunity to bridge the enormous divide between the township of Alexandra and Sandton. While close in proximity, they are worlds apart, with dire poverty on one side and “the richest square mile in Africa” on the other.

Urban Africa

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