A brief history of Ketso

The Story of Ketso

Ketso is a spin-off from ESRC funded research at the University of Manchester.

To see a short introductory video about Ketso from the ESRC series ‘Celebrating the Social Sciences’ click here.

You can also see a   (slightly longer) video about the origins of Ketso here. This has been developed as a case study in social enterprise by VITAE.

Ketso originated in Lesotho and South Africa


Ketso started life in the mid 90s, when it was developed to help involve local people in planning to improve their villages. Lesotho is a small mountainous kingdom completely landlocked by the Republic of South Africa. It is highly dependent on foreign aid, importing 90% of its food, and with few exports apart from manpower for the mines of South Africa. Faced with a massive scale of environmental degradation and poverty, Joanne quickly realised the need for a better way to engage people in thinking about what really mattered to them, so that solutions would come from a sense of their identity and values, instead of being imposed through a programme.

Ketso was invented to help people plan for a better future. 'Ketso' means 'action' in Sesotho, the language of Lesotho.


Projects in Southern Africa included a permaculture plan for the NGO Ketso ea Bua (Action Speaks) in Lesotho, and a new plan for the village and school at Thlolego Development Project near Rustenburg, South Africa. This incorporated new environmental ideas with traditional housing. It was here that Joanne ran a series of permaculture (ecological systems design) courses, to encourage local people’s involvement in planning and development. The courses involved use of an interactive process that later evolved into Ketso.

Ketso provided hope to rural communities

The strength of this approach has been exemplified in the work of numerous students, including: Shirley Sifunda, who used the approach to encourage 500 women in an impoverished region of South Africa, near Swaziland, to grow food and develop an income from the resources in their villages; and Mike Masuku, who used it to assess the needs of poor rural schools in South Africa and develop creative ways to meet their needs.

The most significant aspect of pioneering Ketso in Southern Africa was the evident benefit to people’s sense of hope and self-confidence, helping them to become aware of the possibilities for improving the quality of their lives, through using their own creativity and the resources available to them.

Ketso was further developed in California

Following our initial success in Africa, we took Ketso to California (USA) in 1997. Here it was used as an aid for teaching undergraduate students at Berkeley and Dominican Universities, as well as in business planning workshops with Hewlett Packard and Mondavi Vineyards.

Ketso tested in PhD research in Manchester

In 2000 Ketso arrived in Manchester (UK), where the company is now based. Joanne validated the approach in her ESRC funded PhD research with the Mersey Basin Campaign and the Irk Valley Project. You can read about the community development work in North Manchester, which led to £1.7 million funding from the Newlands Project being used to regenrate Moston Vale in this article.

This research was short-listed for the 2007 Michael Young Prize for Impact from ESRC funded research and the ideas were short-listed for the UK Sustainable Development Commission's Breakthrough Ideas for the 21st Century. During Joanne's ESRC post-doctoral fellowship, and with support from University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP), Ketso has evolved into a product accessible to all, rather than just a part of Joanne's research and community work.

Ketso launched as an enterprise with a social mission in 2009

Ketso was commended for the best plan from the social sciences, arts and humanities in the 2008 Research Council UK’s Business Plan competition. It was incorporated as a social enterprise in 2009.

In early 2010, we held a series of events to introduce Ketso. Supported by the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement, the official launch of Ketso was held at the Manchester Museum. Over 100 participants came to this event, from organisations as diverse as City Councils, the NHS, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Groundwork, local universities and private companies.

We went on to do a 'roadshow', giving workshops at the University of Birmingham, the Augustana Centre in London, the Universities of Portsmouth, Sussex, Edinburgh and Bristol. in total 288 people attended these events, discussing topics ranging from 'budget cuts' to 'planning for sustainability', to 'a healthy London' to 'an enterprising Midlands'. You can see the reports from these launch events here

Since its launch, Ketso has been used on every continent apart from Antarctica, and whilst the majority of the customers have been from the UK, Ketso has been used in countries including: Peru, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Jordan, Russia, Australia, USA, Germany, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The picture on the right was taken in 2010, in the same place a the original Ketso at the top of this page in South Africa, fifteen years after the first hand-made Ketso was ever used.