Fix Forward is a non-profit organisation that connects homeowners and businesses wanting to renovate, with hand-picked quality tradesmen. Having seen first-hand how basic marketing resources and a good reference helped a struggling tradesman friend from Diepsloot secure work, Josh Cox established Fix Forward in 2012 to help others achieve similar success.
Many skilled tradesmen from low-income communities do not have professional networks or access to effective marketing resources, and therefore struggle to secure contracts. Fix Forward aims to assist skilled tradesmen – who have the initiative to build successful businesses – by connecting them with potential customers. Fix Forward monitors the quality of the services that are provided, thereby ensuring client satisfaction.
Many people see the problems, difficulties and hardships that affect the lives of others but not many people actually get around to doing something about this. What motivated you to start something and move into action?
Like most social entrepreneurs I know, my journey began not by thinking about how best to tacklea huge social issue, but simply by helping solve a problem for one individual. That person was my friend, Simon, who was living in Diepsloot township and struggling to grow his painting/tiling/paving business. Low credibility and a lack of resources to market himself meant it was a constant challenge for him to find new business, even though he was offering a very professional service. A reference letter from me (he’d also worked for me for a short while) and some business cards really helped Simon to better access the market and grow his business. I quickly realised that providing similar support for other tradesmen like Simon could have a big impact on developing entrepreneurs and creating employment. In my view, the best way to get into action is to start really small, focusing on one person (or one family) and then scale up from there if you’ve indeed found a solution that addresses a real need, and it’s a need that others share.
Of the many things that you could do, how did you come to do this specific activity?
More than anything I think that this activity found me. I had almost no construction industry experience and no experience in developing entrepreneurs. What I did have was an openness to seeing opportunities where I could possibly help someone out. And from there I had a curiosity to explore whether that same solution could be applied to help others.
Can you give some realistic insight into the process of doing something for the greater good – how people reacted, how you got people involved, how it impacted you and what made you keep going at it?
When you are passionate about your idea and genuinely not in it for your own gain it is remarkable how much support becomes available. From very early on in the Fix Forward journey, which started with an idea in 2008, I have been amazed at how willing and enthusiastic people have been to share their time and expertise to help make the project a success. I started by speaking to as many people as possible, to get support for the idea and to look for critical feedback, and also to understand what might not work. In 2009 a friend got involved in helping me run a small pilot in Nomzamo, a township outside Somerset West. We began identifying our first tradesmen through a local church in the community, a partner of the church that I was attending in Somerset West. Both my friend and the pastor of the church in Nomzamo are now trustees. I was also connected to a mentor through an organisation called LifeCo UnLtd SA, who find, fund and support start-up impact entrepreneurs. My mentor has added greatly to the project and has also become a trustee. Getting a good team around me early on was key to persevering in what was a very long road before we showed any real success. So many times I wanted to give up, and the people in my team wouldn’t let me. A wise entrepreneur who I met early on said that the most likely reason such a project was not yet being run by someone else was not because no-one else hadn’t thought of it. Instead it was because all the people who had thought of the idea either didn’t act on it, or gave up. That day, I made myself a promise not to give up until I was 100% sure that the idea could not work. I haven’t reached that point and so I’ve never walked away.
What has Fix Forward meant to you personally and what do you think it has meant for the people who work with you?
Since I began working on the project full-time in February 2014, there is not a week that goes by , where I don’t reflect on how grateful I am that I get to do this work. I love seeing the personal growth and individual stories of change unfold amongst our tradesmen. I also love the unique challenge of both trying to build a profitable (or at least sustainable) business and ensuring that we are delivering meaningful impact through our development programme. In my view, this combination adds a layer of complexity that makes it more challenging and exciting than running a business or an NGO. Perhaps what excites me most is the growth of Fix Forward into a tech start-up, which opens up enormous possibilities for scaling our impact. I know that for our tradesmen, being part of Fix Forward has meant a great deal. They have accessed new opportunities, both to earn more income and to develop as entrepreneurs and leaders. Since joining the programme the tradesmen see themselves differently too, taking pride in thinking of themselves not just as tradesmen but as entrepreneurs too.