Shonaquip, the first woman-run wheelchair business of its kind on the African continent, and founded by the inspirational Shona McDonald, has just won the top prize at the Cape Chamber of Commerce Exporter of the Year Award, beating 12 other finalists along the way. The competition, now in its 25th year, was celebrated at a gala event held on 5th November at the Kenilworth Racecourse. Shona’s win puts her in good company, as there have been been notable winners in the past who have enjoyed spectacular success as exporters, including Mark Shuttleworth’s company Thawte which won the Exporter of the Year in 1999.
Speaking to journalists at the awards ceremony, Shonaquip founder, Shona McDonald said: One of my children was born with disabilities as a child, and we were told to put her in a home and have another baby. But I just wanted to make sure that she had a life that was full and had a quality, and to that I started designing equipment for her, and the company has now grown and grown, to where we are now helping kids all over the world.”
The Shonaquip Story
Shonaquip promote and support the right and equal participation of people with disabilities in their families, communities and broader society. The company has has provided over 70 000 children with quality, adjustable, modular children’s posture support wheelchairs and posture management systems appropriate for resource poor settings. Shonaquip is Africa’s leading wheelchair services provider and continues to strive to influence this sector in its shift from charity and pity to one of medical responsibility, innovation and social inclusion. Shonaquip does this by providing wheelchair users, their caregivers, community health care workers, rehabilitation, other professional service providers, businesses and government departments with access to professional and appropriate wheelchair support.
Established in 1992 by Shona McDonald, Shonaquip was the first woman-run wheelchair business of its kind in Africa. It was established as a social enterprise to provide appropriately fitted wheelchairs for children and adults, capacity-building training for local wheelchair practitioners in addition to empowerment and advocacy programs for people with disabilities living in Africa. Shona believes strongly in the growth of local infrastructure and manpower to manufacture its range of pediatric wheelchairs, appropriate for use in both urban and under resourced and rural areas. She says:
“We work hard to build an inclusive work environment which reflects the rights of all to access work and use our factory as an incubator to build skills and provide opportunities for our staff to become our suppliers. Working with our local government and other internationals and regional partners we are developing a new skilled profession of wheelchair practitioners across Africa. This combined effort helps ensure that wheelchairs are available more widely and that they can be maintained using locally sourced materials, local health provides and service technicians.”
Shona believes that long-term sustainability can only be achieved by empowering wheelchair users, their families and caregivers to advocate on behalf of their and their children’s rights to affordable, quality devices and accessible support services. With ongoing support of local and internationals partners, investors, funders and Governments, it is Shonaquip’s aim to continue to facilitate and develop the expansion of local skills and infrastructure that will provide and ensure that appropriate devices and responsible services for people with disabilities living in Africa and other developing economies grows to meet the demand.
When Shelly McDonald was born in 1982 and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Shona and her family experienced first-hand how difficult it was to find appropriate assistive devices.
As Shelly’s mom and Shonaquip founder, Shona McDonald felt it was vital for her to turn the negative diagnosis, accompanying negative advice and depressing prognosis into something constructive, solving not only her and her daughters personal needs but to find ways to share and promote the broader need for parent empowerment. They were offered a cardboard insert for their pram and she refused to settle for this inadequate and ugly solution which was the only seating available to her in South Africa at the time. Because Shona had personal experience of Shelly’s needs, she was determined that she could design a device perfectly suited to her challenges. Shona threw herself into designing and building her first full body support wheelchair so that by the time Shelly was only two years old, she was already testing out her ability to control her first motorised wheelchair.
Shona soon realised the need for specialised disability equipment extended far beyond their family, and so, in 1992 Shonaquip was born. It started out as a small closed corporation that enabled Shona to raise funds for and sell a few of her custom-made buggies and support devices to the parents of children with disabilities, who she had met in her journey with Shelly and grew from there. Shonaquip has developed from a small staff of two operating out of her garage to a well-established and reputable business that employs over 40 technicians, seamstresses and therapists. Their unswerving compassion and dedication has enabled the Shonaquip team to improve the lives of thousands of children with disabilities by providing essential devices, support services and training across Southern Africa.
To find out more about ShonaQuip visit www.shonaquip.co.za