March, 2014 | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
International Boys’ School Coalition Conference 2014

International Boys’ School Coalition Conference 2014

IMG_9904On 15 March 2014 Wynberg Boys’ High School hosted an International Boys’ School Coalition Conference in Cape Town. The conference was attended by principals from various boys’ high schools in South Africa.

The keynote address was given by Anthony Farr, the Foundation’s CEO. He explained the key features of an entrepreneurial mindset and how to develop it. Anthony highlighted the importance of developing such a mindset at a young age, that is, at school. He suggested some measures for principals to implement in their schools in order to ensure such development, but also encouraged creative thinking and collaboration among principals to come up with further ideas.

A number of Allan Gray Fellows were given the opportunity to share with the principals. Douglas Hoernle, Mbali Khanyi, Ludwick Marishane, Tokologo Phetla, Matthew Piper, Aldrin Boraine, Patrick Kayongo and Kevin Rodrigues each led discussion groups that centred on the themes of innovation – the consciousness thereof, its usefulness in education and its snowball effect – school motivation and leadership systems. These Fellows were also able to provide suggestions for introducing and nurturing entrepreneurial thinking at school.

The conference offered the hosts and participants an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas around entrepreneurship and its development from a young age. It was especially encouraging and inspiring to see the effect that exposure to entrepreneurship from a young age has already had in the lives of the Allan Gray Fellows.

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Living in the future: why imagination is our most important resource

Living in the future: why imagination is our most important resource

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree, Spier, Western Cape.Anthony Farr’s latest blog post published on Ventureburn.

A sophisticated pill bottle that harnesses the internet of things by glowing when medication is required, failing which an audible alarm is activated, before finally sending a text message to a designated person to ensure that chronic medication is never missed; A unit to process sewerage in a way that harvests methane, water, biomass and nutrition for growing food; A shopping cart that automatically calculates the cost of items through sensors as goods are placed in the cart; Public sleep cubicles that address the rampant levels of sleep deprivation affecting society; An unsnoozable ankle alarm bracelet that only turns off once sensing consistent foot movement; Imagining a new battery system that allows phones and other electronic devices to be charged using energy from other devices transferred via Bluetooth; and so the ideas keep rolling in.

These examples are a small sample of the some 1 300 ideas that were submitted last year as part of our Fellowship programme to develop future entrepreneurs.

It is a process to instill what we call intellectual imagination in these individuals – an ability to see the unseen, challenge the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently.

In this pursuit of developing entrepreneurial capacity there is often the question – why start in the realm of the imagination? Surely this is not tangible enough, lacking the practical application of actually getting things done.

This focus on action, rather than thinking is quite pervasive in the execution orientated world of entrepreneurship.

Recently, Gallup the global research company and home to the Clifton Strengthsfinder Test, came out with the Entrepreneurial Strengthsfinder. A tool that measures an individual according to their 10 defined talents of entrepreneurship which includes: creative thinker, knowledge seeker, independent, risk-taker, determination, confidence, promoter, delegator, relationship builder and business focus.

Despite coming up with a powerful definition of entrepreneurship as the art of turning an idea into a customer — a closer look at these talents shows that only one, creative thinker – described as having “a curious intellect that helps them constantly imagine new products, services, and solutions” — as a thinking talent. And yet doing is the easier part of the process.

As Y Combinator founder Paul Graham explains to prospective entrepreneurs at university, the doing part of entrepreneurship is the easy part. “What you should be spending your time on in college is ratcheting yourself into the future. What a waste to sacrifice an opportunity to solve the hard part of starting a startup—becoming the sort of person who can have organic startup ideas—by spending time learning about the easy part [the doing]. ”

There is another problem in this action first approach and that is it limits one to doing what is immediately apparent and in front of you. It lacks the core ingredients of a truly entrepreneurial mindset, the requirements for curiosity and creativity. It ignores the fact that entrepreneurship is not about what is likely, but rather about what is possible. It lacks what Graham describes so well as “living in the future”. Simply it lacks imagination.

And a lack of imagination is much more serious than a flawed approach to developing entrepreneurs. If Thomas Friedman is to be believed, the future will be most decisively categorised by dividing countries into high imagination enabling countries and low imagination countries with the latter failing to develop their people’s creative capacities and abilities to spark new ideas and industries1 .

The importance of imagination was confirmed again when at the beginning of this century ‘Evaluate’ was replaced by ‘Create’ (including the sub action of imagine) at the pinnacle of the hierarchy ofBloom’s taxonomy for learning objectives within education.

It is not hard to find examples of the impact when people and industries harness the imagination that is required to be at the forefront of a rapidly changing world and look to ‘live in the future.’ Elon Musk is perhaps an extreme example of this. When he was in college, he decided three things would affect the future of humanity: the internet, sustainable energy, and multi-planetary life. He wanted to contribute to all three. This clarity of purpose and scale of imagination has been converted into reality with Paypal,Telsa and SpaceX.

In South Africa we have a powerful example with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project. A dream to create a radio telescope that will survey the sky 10,000 times faster than any other telescope and look to answer some of the fundamental unanswered questions of the universe. On completion it will be the largest scientific instrument in the world processing a significant fraction of the world’s entire data production (an exabyte per day) from the tip of Africa. Already opportunities are opening up around its ecosystem for big data, fast computing and very fast data transport.

When I was much younger I was inspired by the words of Lawrence of Arabia in his famous quote: “All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

These words were a powerful personal motivation to make sure that stuff actually happened. Yet looking back, I realise that what I missed about this call to action was the truth that the action is still entirely dependent on the dream, daytime or otherwise. It is the dream that paints the future and focuses the action to live there.

And finally, imagination is not the product of some gene pool lottery. We can all develop our imagination.

It starts with the simple act of practicing a new way of thinking and using your daily experiences to grow this thinking through noticing challenges or inefficiencies.

It is a thinking that creates a habit out of a lifestyle of questioning and creating solutions. It will most probably start with pill bottles, shopping carts and ankle alarms, but it may well end in multi-planetary life and dark energy, such is the journey of living in the future.

1As an initial proxy of this, the current African situation is troubling. In the 2013 Global Innovation Index, the average ranking for all 32 Sub Saharan Countries, out of the total 142 countries participating was a lowly 114.

From Russia with Entrepreneurial Love Part 2 – By Immanuel Commarmond

From Russia with Entrepreneurial Love Part 2 – By Immanuel Commarmond

GEC 2014 Moscow buildingDuring this week Anthony Farr and I are attending the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress currently happening in Russia.

Yesterday Anthony gave an overview of the Conference and some of the key points from the sessions he attended.  In this post, I will provide some of the key learnings from a few of the sessions I attended.

I chose the Startup Leadership: Critical Skills & Resources and the session that focused on platforming Entrepreneurial Heroes as they focused on the role of founders and teams in developing products, business models, customers, securing and managing resources (including early-stage funding), taking products to market, and scaling in their businesses.  The session structure was a panel discussion which consisted of startup entrepreneurs, early-stage investors, representatives of entrepreneurship support organisations and other relevant stakeholders within an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

This session in particular resonated with me in terms of the work we do at the Foundation which focuses on equipping future founders with the requisite mindset in order to be active participants within an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Additionally, the emphasis on teams/communities which work together to solve problems are all key areas of focus within the Fellowship as well as a recognition of being part of bigger entrepreneurial ecosystem.

One particular panelist, Jeff Hoffman of Colorjar and, provided an insightful summary of what a successful entrepreneur needs.

Jeff provided the following nuggets:

  1. Entrepreneurs need to take ownership of the problems they see and attack the solutions!
  2. They need to be inspired individuals – this is at their core – inspiration.
  3. Entrepreneurship is their career choice; they do not want to settle for less.
  4. They have a need for role models – brave mentors who have tried.  They need mentors more than they need money.
  5. They need empathy; this will keep them in touch with the real world.
  6. They need storytelling skills.
  7. They need to be even better listeners.
  8. They need to fear apathy more than failure.

Another helpful tip from Jeff was as follows: “The answer is not in the office.  The more we are engaged with the real world, the better our solutions will become.  The only way to make the world a better place is to be in it”.

Further to this, Jeff mentioned that Entrepreneurs are the drivers that will “Shape the Future.” This, coincidentally emphasises the Fellowship’s 2014 campaign with the same tag- line that seeks to drive our current search for future responsible entrepreneurs

It is encouraging to hear stories from a seasoned high impact entrepreneur that remain focused on the areas that the Foundation holds dearly, a fixed emphasis on the individual, one’s purpose and a Spirit of Significance that holds empathy and  a consistent attitude of learning and problem solving for the common good close to heart.

One of the final quotes from Jeff that resonate is “Perhaps the next person’s life you will touch may be the person who will change the world” – and in our case I am convinced of this truth!

From Russia with entrepreneurial love

From Russia with entrepreneurial love

GEC OpeningThis week the Foundation’s Fellowship Director, Immanuel Commarmond and I, as part of further policy meetings of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, are attending the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress(GEC) in Moscow, Russia. This year is the sixth iteration of the congress which has previously been hosted in diverse cities such as Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai.

The event grew out of the success of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) which has over 140 countries participating in November each year.  All these countries involved in GEW felt the need to gather together in one place to share learnings leading to the birth of the GEC which itself is now one of the largest entrepreneurship events of the year with over 4,000 delegates expected in 2014.

One of the main objectives of both GEW and GEC is to drive greater understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship and create an enhanced entrepreneurial culture in participating countries.  As described by the Kauffman Foundation’s Jonathan Ortmans in his opening address, “Entrepreneurship has been transformed from a subject of narrow commercial significance into one of substantive cultural consequence that signifies the potential of human endeavour for the benefit of all.” This message about the possibility of entrepreneurship was reinforced by the opening keynote address from Vivek Wadhwa of Singularity University.  Wadhwa challenged those present to divert their attention from such things as photo sharing apps and focus on building the things we have been dreaming about, the things that matter, because for the first time in human history entrepreneurs have the ability to solve humanities grand challenges.  If we don’t do this we will be missing the biggest opportunity of our time. This consistent message of the possibilities of entrepreneurship was even more powerful when one considered that these statements were all being made a mere stone throw away from the Kremlin!

The importance of entrepreneurial culture was brought home in a session on Entrepreneurship Education  through a stark comment from a Russian panelist now working at MIT in America stating that: “20 years ago being an entrepreneur in Russia was shameful. “ This observation serves as a strong reminder of the powerful underlying influence of a country’s entrepreneurial culture; its invisible evaluation of the status and value of entrepreneurship – an area where there is still work to be done in South Africa.  Thankfully in Moscow at least, this previous shame has been transformed into celebration in the form of the resounding success of the 2014 GEC.

The most inspiring session of the first day was an afternoon meeting entitled “Unleashing African Entrepreneurship”.  It was exhilarating to see one of the largest halls of the conference filled with people, from 30 different African countries, demonstrating their dedication to entrepreneurship on the continent, including none other than one of our Allan Gray Fellows, Ludwick Marishane.

Ten speakers shared on a range of exciting initiatives from Zambia to Cape Verde, not forgetting South Africa.  Much of this was being facilitated by LIONS@FRICA, a partnership to enhance the startup and innovation ecosystems of African economies.

An important initiative announced during this time was the request for Africa to make use of the Startup Genome platform to map the different entrepreneurial ecosystems in Africa.  The highlight of this session was a public declaration from GEW Chairman, Jonathan Ortmans that he wants to see the GEC hosted in Africa in the next few years.  Now there is an opportunity worth pursuing.

Throughout the many varied sessions from public policy, education, and mentorship to technology, discussions often returned to the three basic elements of human, social and financial capital. No matter how complex this field might appear it is these three that remain constant.  The same three that are at the heart of our mission, with the Foundation focused on developing human capital, and the resulting Fellowship creating a powerful catalyst for significant social capital, before finally having E2 able to provide financial capital.

The most impressive statistic of the day was from a quote referencing a Kauffman Foundation research report which revealed that MIT Alumni founded companies generate a combined annual turnover of $2 trillion. It made me speculate briefly as to what figure might yet be generated by Allan Gray Fellows, before remembering the far more interesting earlier challenge from Vivek Wadhwa. Responding to the latter would without doubt be an investment in greatness.










Shape the Future Series: Intellectual Imagination

Shape the Future Series: Intellectual Imagination

In this second post of our Shape the Future Series I will be outlining one of our 5 Pillars, namely, Intellectual Imagination.


It was Albert Einstein who said that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

The Foundation defines Intellectual Imagination as an enquiring and active mind demonstrated by an established record of intellectual achievement.  An ability to see the unseen, challenges the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently to create new opportunities.

It has, and continues to be a real pleasure and privilege to meet so many young South Africans that carry this capacity for intellectual imagination.  The future, envisioned by each and every one of them, inspires me both in my day-to-day work and personally, knowing that the custodians of the future, who will share the same future as my own children, are imagining a world beyond the grasp and reach of those of us who won’t necessarily be around to see it all realised.

As I mentioned in a previous post, all people have the will to create encoded in their DNA.  I have witnessed this relentless pursuit for creative expression many times, but encountering it at the Foundation’s very first selection camp in 2005, through an individual who still continues this pursuit is something that I will always remember.

As part of the first cohort of Allan Gray Fellows (there were eight of them who graduated at the end of 2008), Batandwa Alperstein personifies the essence of Intellectual Imagination.

He initially achieved his undergraduate in economics (in order to understand the business world) Batandwa then went on to complete his honours degree in Brand Leadership.  Early on he established a clear recognition that combining business and strategic creative skills would provide a solid basis for him to pursue the type of creativity he envisioned for his future.

Since graduating, Batandwa has been on a journey to continue expanding his skill set and gaining varied experience.  During his time as a strategist for the Jupiter Drawing Room, Batandwa was responsible for the conceptualisation and implementation of “Constructus” which was a support platform for black entrepreneurs with the aim of transforming Cape Town’s creative industry.

In 2012, at the first Foundation Startership Challenge along with a team of Allan Gray Fellows, Batandwa was involved in the conceptualisation, ideation and eventual launch of the Eduvator Platform which won funding at the Design Indaba.  As a member of the first executive team of the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, he led the Startership portfolio and during the second Startership in 2013, focused the Allan Gray Fellows on ideas which could provide food security solutions.

His most recent creative venture is THE VCG (The Visual Content Gang) which is a young production company started by Batandwa and his business partner, Zunaid Green at the beginning of 2014. The VCG is an underground crew of creative professionals with an obsession for moving pictures, who aim to produce videos and related digital content that builds communities.

Batandwa strives to unite the creative influences in our country to re-establish the glory of Africa, through mobilising a new generation of young South Africans to lead a more independent and prosperous life.  “All the projects I work on need to have an element of direct social value as a result of their activity – not merely an afterthought,” he says.  “I believe that the only way for Africa to overcome its challenges and charter a way forward is through creativity.”

Batandwa’s dream is to launch a creative project involving the mass production of fresh food in the urban and rural areas of Africa. “I cannot predict the future; I just try to make the best decisions I can and keep my mind and soul open to the best possible path ahead,” he concludes.

I have no doubt that in the coming years many other young South Africans will join Batandwa and through their collective intellectual imagination, will be at the forefront of the continuing economic and social transformation of this region.

Congratulations to the 2014 COE Schools

Congratulations to the 2014 COE Schools

Circle of Excellence Schools 2013A number of years ago the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation launched an initiative to increase the pool of applicants for the Allan Gray Fellowship. We believed that by creating a network of feeder high schools we would enhance not just the number of applications we received but the quality of the applicants as well. By partnering with a number of schools we aimed to grow their exposure to entrepreneurial thinking and practices and promote the inclusion of such principles and practices in their school curricula, thus promoting our mandate of entrepreneurial progress in Southern Africa.

The Circle of Excellence (COE) initiative connected the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation with 100 schools for the first time in 2008. Schools are selected based on the number of Candidate Allan Gray Fellows they supplied the previous year. In other words, applicants from these schools would have been invited to a selection camp or accepted into the Allan Gray Fellowship.  Among the 100 schools selected this year 11 are new and three are returning COE members. Riebeek College and Southdowns College joined us for the first time in 2012, while Northcliff High School was a COE member for three years running, from 2008 to 2011. The complete list of COE members appears below.

Each year the principals of each COE school is invited to attend the Circle of Excellence Principals’ Conference where they have the opportunity to engage and network with like-minded individuals. The 2014 edition of this conference will be held in Grahamstown in September and will be co-hosted by the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics at Rhodes University.

As with previous years, attendees of this year’s conference are expected to return to their schools with renewed inspiration, focus and entrepreneurial fervour. Hereby the full list of the 2014 COE schools.

Shape the Future Series: Being Internally Controlled

Shape the Future Series: Being Internally Controlled

Over the next few weeks our Shape the Future Series of blog posts will be outlining our 5 Pillars as well as introducing some of the 120 attitudes which underpins the 20 mindsets required to fully activate our 5 entrepreneurial pillars.  By entrenching the right entrepreneurial mindset, we believe, our Allan Gray Fellows will Shape the Future and bring about societal and economic transformation in the coming years.

Through our online platform, iShift, the Foundation introduces the Candidate Allan Gray Fellows to the 120 attitudes through 120 personalities who, for us, personify the hallmarks of a particular attitude.

In this, our first post, we talk about the attitude, Internally Controlled, which forms part of the mindset: grounded, under the pillar, the Spirit of Significance.  Grounded is defined as being firmly rooted in reality with a clear understanding of how you measure up to others, and being down to earth with no self-inflated opinion of yourself.

For us, South African businessman, Herman Mashaba who founded Black Like Me, personifies what it means to be internally controlled.  We define internally controlled as Recognising that life and destiny are a result of your own decisions and actions

In 1985, Herman Mashaba resigned his sales job to start a company that specialised in ethnic hair products.  Starting up a company is difficult enough, but in apartheid South Africa, black entrepreneurs had it even tougher.

With a loan of R30 000, Herman, and his wife Connie, along with two partners started Black Like Me.  Setting up small operations in Garankuwa, Gauteng, the partners mixed the chemicals by day and bottled them at night.  The following morning, they delivered the products to customers.  Black Like Me started with a range of hair-care products including shampoos, conditioners, relaxers and hairsprays as well as a small range of body-care products.

The company soon outgrew its small premises, forcing Herman to build a bigger factory.  From humble beginnings with just four partners, to a profitable business with a staff of 130 people, the company was poised for great things.  But then tragedy struck in 1993 when the new factory was totally destroyed by a fire which threatened to bankrupt the whole company.

At this point, a lesser man may have allowed his emotions to get the better of him.  However, Mashaba was determined to overcome this obstacle.  With admirable internal control Herman Mashaba resurrected his business and worked hard to build a strong distribution and retail network.  Sales increased and market share strengthened.

By applying internal control in difficult circumstances, Herman Mashaba went on to shape his future towards achieving great success.

The Foundation is currently looking for those individuals, who, like Herman Mashaba, are able to recognise that life and destiny are a result of your own decisions and actions rather than a series of external factors.  If you know of someone in Grade 12 or 1st year at university or you are the kind of individual who wants to Shape The Future by becoming an Allan Gray Fellow, visit our website to find out more.




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