Durban Chamber of Commerce Digest Magazine

Managing owner Darlene Menzies describes it as a commercial ICT company, which is business minded, but also has socio-economic and humanitarian issues at heart.

Durban Chamber Digest

The Development House (TDH), based on the Berea, Durban, has been providing data management sytems for corporate clients and a number of Non-Profit-Organisations since it was founded by Menzies and Anneline Breetzke in 2004. Menzies has since taken over as sole owner, and has guided the company towards award-winning contracts with the private sector and a successful model with public sector and civil society organisations. This includes work for the hospices across KZN; refugee centres in several provinces; i-Care programme for street children; youth development programmes; systems for international Aids research projects for the University of KwaZulu-Natal and University of Zimbabwe; and projects for Columbia, Yale and Harvard Universities. It has also put together the Opportunities Database for the unemployed in the eThekwini area on behalf of the eThekwini Municipality and an ARV Treatment management system used by PEPFAR funded hospitals and clinics in KZN.

Menzies started working in the IT industry in 1987 as one of the first women involved in the industry in Durban. She initially worked for Absa, followed by a 7 year stint at Business Connexion, before a trip to Malawi left her wanting something more than what the corporate world offered.

“I had been aware of the poverty in South Africa, but this trip really opened my eyes. I wanted to carry on with my work but to use my expertise do something to help alleviate people’s suffering.”

She started working as an economic development consultant in Cato Manor (basically, helping poor parents and unemployed youth find work), where she realised that all documentation and paperwork for work applications and grants would be better organised in an electronically managed system. After designing the first customised system, Menzies realised there was a real need for customised systems for other NGO’s and that this was a gap in the IT market, her plans for a new business progressed from there.

And the company has made great strides. TDH was a finalist for ICT Company of the Year in both 2007 and 2008 ( eThekwini Municipality – Smartxchange) and was recently nominated for the FNB KZN Top Business of the Year Awards in the Business and Financial Services Category. Among the 150 nominees across the 12 categories were Mr Price, Illovo Sugar Ltd, Tongaat Hulett Ltd, Spar, Alexander Forbes and Group 5.

In June this year, an international initiative for ICT companies in developing countries (Trestle Group and Voices for Innovation in partnership with Microsoft) selected Menzies to be included in the Microsoft Empowering IT Entrepreneurs Programme. A film featuring Menzies and Robynne Erwin, CEO of SmartXchange, was shot in South Africa in June and premiered at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner conference in Houston, Texas, in July, and was also screened at the Microsoft MGX conference in Atlanta, Georgia, later that month.

Two exciting projects the company is currently working on are a system to track and manage donor funding to African nations, and a new internet-based management system for small businesses called SMEasy. SMEasy will be aimed at the crucial SMME market and will include a basic package option at a minimum cost.

Menzies says the system was designed by small business owner for small business owners; for those who were good at business, but not necessarily good at admin. It involves the simple electronic management of: customer details; sales invoicing; petty cash; loan accounts; bank transactions, etc.

Menzies says TDH offers a development rate for organisations that are not for profit and a separate competitive market rate for commercial ventures. “We recognise that the large enterprise market is important but we have also found a niche market in the civil society and SMME sector. People often fail to realise that the NGO sector employs 140 000 people in this country − more than mining. This is a huge market that needs to be serviced professionally.”

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