Tshidiso Ramogale makes the list of the M&G’s 200 Young South Africans

Tshidiso Ramogale makes the list of the M&G’s 200 Young South Africans

Tshidiso RamogaleCandidate Allan Gray Fellow, Tshidiso Ramogale, was recently identified by the Mail & Guardian as one of their 200 Young South Africans. This initiative by the Mail & Guardian is in its 9th year and celebrates young men and women under 35 who, in the words of Editor-in-chief, Chris Roper, “are people who can do whatever they put their mind to … [and] inspire us to do stuff that’s out of the ordinary, even if it’s based on the ordinary.”

Of his selection as one of 200 Young South Africans, Tshidiso says, “My first reaction when I heard the news was to reject it as I truthfully do not think I have done enough to deserve such an honour. However, I have accepted it as a sign from God to continue on the journey.” He explains that while many see themselves drowned in circumstances beyond their control and use that as an excuse to not do anything, he has chosen to see things differently. “My life has come to mean more, it is no longer about me but about the people I am surrounded by. It is living my life cognisant of the influence my decisions [have] on the next person. I believe in the power of humanity.”

Tshidiso’s life began a little more than 21 years ago when he was born in Johannesburg. At that stage his mom and dad were still together, but in Tshidiso’s Grade 9 year his father walked out on him, his mom and his sister. He cut all communication with them and left the family to fend for themselves. In addition to his mother losing her job, their home had been unlawfully sold in execution. Despite all these difficulties encountered Tshidiso still managed to matriculate with six distinctions. As a result he was granted an entry scholarship to the University of the Witwatersrand where he is now in his final year of LLB studies.

During his first year at Wits he also applied to the Allan Gray Fellowship opportunity and was granted a Fellowship. His choice in joining a community of young people, Candidate Allan Gray Fellows, set to become a generation of high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs is linked very likely to his initial decision to study law. Says Tshidiso, “I chose law because I see it as an instrument that could bring about change. I believe in promoting social justice.”

It is no wonder then that the Constitution and giving people the life of dignity it promises is something he is very passionate about. It angers him to see people being treated inhumanely sometimes to the point of shedding a tear. But instead of remaining angry he finds himself moved to act. “I have dedicated my life to social justice, education and youth development.”

That he is a man of action is especially clear when one considers what made the Mail & Guardian sit up and pay attention. He founded Change SA, a marriage between entrepreneurship and education that has helped a number of learners gain access to the country’s best universities. Fatima Asmal of the Mail & Guardian also cites him as having “played a role in the litigation that enabled informal traders evicted by the City of Johannesburg to return to their lawful trade.”

When a young man is excited by the idea of accomplishing his goals and when those goals are centred on promoting social justice, we as a country and we as the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation cannot but celebrate and cheer him on.

Why I love working at the Foundation by Sue Marx

Why I love working at the Foundation by Sue Marx

DSC_0328I am a Cape Town girl who loves living close to the sea as my family is mad about surfing.I have a 17-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son who continuously fascinate me with their quirky senses of humour and love for their family. I have a degree in languages from Stellenbosch University and love reading, travelling and (this may come as no surprise to everyone in the Foundation) chocolate.

In the 90’s, I had the pleasure of working with Margie Worthington-Smith and James Thomas at the Triple Trust Organisation for five years during which time I was lucky enough to win the South African Secretary of the Year competition. In late 2010 Margie introduced me to the Foundation. I was and am inspired by its vision, its relentless pursuit of excellence, and the sense of reward and upliftment achieved by working in an area of such social need. I so admire how bright and hardworking our Scholars and Candidate Fellows are. When interacting with them, I can’t help but think that if they ran our country, the future of South Africa would be bright indeed.

My wish for South Africa is that the government collaborates with experts to develop and put into practise a truly excellent education system for all. Now there’s a project for one of the Foundation’s emerging entrepreneurs!

I enjoy working in the Executive team as it gives me an overview of what other departments are doing and allows me to indulge myself by doing what I do best– meeting and chatting with people. I am awed by Anthony’s capacity for hard work and learning, whether it is for the newest trends in global entrepreneurship or the latest iPhone app.

I still haven’t decided what I want to be “when I’m big”, but I am enjoying the journey along the way.

Scholars’ Grade 8 & 9 Development Camp

Scholars’ Grade 8 & 9 Development Camp

IMG_3985The annual Scholars’ Development Camp for Grade 8 and 9 Scholars took place from 27 – 30 June this year. The intention for this camp is to foster an understanding of the Foundation’s Five Pillars – Achievement Excellence, Courageous Commitment, Intellectual Imagination, Spirit of Significance and Personal Initiative – and how they can be lived out.

The camp comprised numerous activities that ranged from inspiring speakers to learning activities that challenged the Scholars’ existing study methods and their engagement with and understanding of greater society. A highlight of the camp was an adventure race that sparked  more than a little competitiveness among the Scholars.

The Director of Cape Winelands Education District, Mr Juan Benjamin, gave the opening address and encouraged the Scholars with the following message, “All we want you to do is to know that you are great and, most importantly, believe that you are great.” Following this was a presentation by the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute at Stellenbosch University. The Institute presented the body of work of Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert’s fight against apartheid and this provided an example of living out the Foundation’s Pillar, the Spirit of Significance.

Graeme de Bruyn, the Foundation’s Head of Programmes, and Uhuru Malebo, Allan Gray Fellow, each had an opportunity to address the Scholars. Graeme’s session centred on the Foundation Pillar Personal Initiative and Uhuru motivated the Scholars through his life story to strive for Achievement Excellence by not becoming comfortable with good enough but aspiring instead to be the best they can be.

IMG_3825Scholars’ study methods were broadened with a different approach to studying through “Whole Brain Learning”. Entrepreneurial Leadership Officer for the Fellowship, Daniel Hampton, facilitated an Ignitions session which aimed to encourage Scholars to think entrepreneurially. The Scholars excelled in this activity. Their vibrant presentations were full of out-of-the-box thinking that had the Scholarship Team brimming with pride.

An Amazing Race, organised in conjunction with Stellenbosch University, allowed Scholars to familiarise themselves with the various Faculties at Stellenbosch University which the Fellowship opportunity supports. This fun-filled exploration of Stellenbosch campus not only saw Scholars competing to finish first but also saw them displaying great teamwork and resourcefulness. The Scholars once again revealed great potential and and talent, giving us a glimpse of the potential they hold to shape the future.

 

IMG_4031

Association Leadership Seminar by Akosua Eunice Koranteng

Association Leadership Seminar by Akosua Eunice Koranteng

IMG_5906The Association of Allan Gray Fellows held its first national event of the year this past June. It was a leadership seminar entitled ‘The Intellectual Needs Society’ and constituted the second leadership event in the life of the Association. Allan Gray Fellows flew in from all over the country to attend the event in Johannesburg from 28-29 June.

The seminar’s theme was based on an address by Julius Nyerere, one of Africa’s most respected figures. As a teacher, politician and president of Tanzania, he was passionate about education. When he addressed the University of Liberia in 1968 he stated, “Intellectuals have a special contribution to make to the development of our nations, and to Africa. And I am asking that their knowledge, and the greater understanding that they should possess, should be used for the benefit of the society of which we are all members.”

The seminar focused on three aspects of leadership:

      1. Personal Leadership,
      2. Thought Leadership and
      3. Societal Leadership.

The Personal Leadership component was facilitated by Veda Sunassee, a faculty member at the African Leadership Academy’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership. During one of these sessions the Fellows received a copy of their original Fellowship application forms. In particular, we were encouraged to look at the answer we gave to the question “What is the South Africa you want to see in the next 10 years?” As Fellows we were reminded of the commitment we made to ourselves to transform our society for the better.

IMG_5882The Thought Leadership sessions comprised 3 Master Classes on Africa. They were led by entrepreneurs within and experts on the African context. These sessions challenged and developed thinking around the context within which the intellectuals in our community operate. Master Class 1 was presented by Robin Miller who spoke on the use of ICT to for Africa’s development. The title of Master Class 2, presented by Victor Kgomoeswana, was ‘Africa is open for Business’. It explored the book he had written with the same title.

Misan Rewane presented Master Class 3, a case study of West African Vocational Education.

All these aspects of leadership came together in practice during the Societal Leadership session. This session saw the facilitation of a Consulting Challenge, which has as its objective the putting to use of our intellectual capital in society. Fellows were assigned the challenge of providing consulting services to a youth development agency over a minimum period of three months. After teaming up with four or five other Fellows, they selected one of the following agencies to work with over the next year:

      • Thusanani
      • Umuzi photo club
      • Creative Thinking

The Association’s aim with this leadership seminar was to aid Fellows in identifying that they are the ‘intellectuals’ Julius Nyerere envisioned – a group of individuals privileged by their education and socioeconomic fortune who have a responsibility to use their relative privilege to effect positive change in the society they operate in. We also hope that this seminar helped the Fellows realise that before they can influence change in society we need to look inward and consider our goals and dreams and how they might align with that which is outward.

IMG_5840I believe that the leadership seminar succeeded in its aims. Fellows walked away having activated a mode of introspection as well as ‘outrospection’ and feeling challenged – convicted to continue living out the vision they had when first joining the Foundation, that of transforming the socioeconomic landscape of the region.

As a Fellow myself this seminar reminded me how important it is to have points of reflection and take stock. It’s needed if one is to refocus one’s vision and reposition oneself in order to achieve that vision. The seminar has also filled me with excitement to see the all the Fellows’ response to the challenge of using our relative privilege in aid of objectives that benefit the greater society.

National Fellowship Jamboree 2014 by Charlene Nel

National Fellowship Jamboree 2014 by Charlene Nel

IMG_4912Thanks to the Beach Boys’ 80s hit, Barbara Ann, Jamboree 2014 had its own theme song. The halls of the Protea Hotel in Techno Park, Stellenbosch, where this year’s Jamboree took place, are still reverberating with the vibey, energetic and upbeat tune “Jam jam jam, jam jam-boree-ee-ee!!! Twenty fourtee-ee-een!!!

This year’s Jamboree was held from 18-19 July and again saw the bold and brave Candidate Fellows pitch their ideas to a crowd of about 250 people. Previous Jamborees have always been spoken of with great excitement and enthusiasm and since this one was my first, I am happy to say that the event lived up to its expectations.

The event’s opening address was a passionate plea by Matsi Modise, the Executive National Director of the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum, to help previously disadvantaged people in South Africa and Africa gain access to entrepreneurial opportunities.

IMG_5004Afterward the Candidate Fellows took to the stage to each present their 30-second elevator pitches. Of the 57 ideas presented only 10 made it through to the finals. The 10 finalists presented their ideas to a panel of industry experts the following day. The winning idea at Jamboree 2014 was that of Naeem Ganey. His idea was based on versatile home automation technology. Matthew Piper, whose idea was a student investment platform, and Karidas Tshintsholo, who presented the idea of a South African clothing brand, took second and third place respectively. Naeem will be eligible to apply for seed funding for his idea from E2, a partner of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation that provides venture capital financing to Allan Gray Fellows who wish to start their own businesses.

IMG_5359Besides giving Candidate Fellows the opportunity to vie for seed capital for their business ideas, Jamboree also allows them the opportunity to apply their minds and become innovation fit, that is, develop the required fitness to turn questions and challenges into innovative solutions. The quality of ideas presented at Jamboree 2014 testified to the fact that the Candidate Fellows were well on their way to thinking innovatively and progressively. The Candidate Fellows are truly a creative group with a strong desire to impact and shape the future of South Africa. They continue to unleash their own greatness by speaking up and sharing their ideas. They have challenged my thinking regarding entrepreneurship; recognising inefficiencies as opportunities for growth and change. As the Cape Regional Manager of the Fellowship I am excited to be working with these young people and to contribute in a small way to the long term development of these future high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs.

IMG_5118

Entrepreneurial Universities: the search for academic enterprise

Entrepreneurial Universities: the search for academic enterprise

A TSiBA student guides the Circle of Excellence Principals around the university's Cape Town campus.
A TSiBA student guides the Circle of Excellence Principals around the university’s Cape Town campus.

A few weeks ago the Economist headlined with the phrase – “Creative Destruction” Now one would expect that they were applying the iconic phrase of the founding father of entrepreneurship, Joseph Schumpeter, in relation to some new technology or a flagship industry of the economy. It therefore might be a surprise to learn that they were actually using it in reference to an institution, which has remained largely unchanged in its thousand-year history – none other than the university.

But after a slow start, the university is making up for lost time in the change department. Three fundamental forces are driving this reinvention of the university: Rising costs, changing demand as life long learning starts to become a reality of innovation shifts in the job market and disruptive technology. Technology in particular has long held out the promise of new possibilities for greater effectiveness in education, but now this potential is finally being delivered. It is remarkable to reflect on the new world of learning that is now so easily accessible. In the last few weeks I have signed up for a Stanford Introduction to Computer Science course, transported into the epicentre of Silicon Valley at the click of a mouse, while at the same time hearing a headmaster relate his excitement from sitting in a local coffee shop listening to the top academic in the field share his insights around leadership in education in a MOOC (“Massive Open On-line Course”) he has just started.

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, in his recent book “The One World Schoolhouse – Education Reimagined” paints a vivid picture of where this future might take us. His “new” university places a much heavier emphasis on practical experiences and internships, which are then supported with on-line self-paced academic platforms to provide the underlying theory of the disciplines covered. Not so much a flipping of the classroom as a flipping of the whole university! And while this might sound far fetched, already the University of Waterloo in Canada is regarded as one of the top engineering universities in the world with a educational approach that includes graduates finishing their degree with a full twenty four months of internships at leading companies.

Now while this sort of change might seem intimidating, it provides a powerful opportunity. For a related example, Brazil has similarities to South Africa in that significant numbers of youth are not accessing tertiary level education. In response, it it is reported that Brazil’s for-profit educational institutions now have three-quarters of the country’s higher-education market, largely driven by their low fees and improving quality. An equivalent statistic for private universities in South Africa would be closer to 10%. Given the challenges of access and throughput in South Africa this is not an opportunity we can afford to miss.

Leigh Meinert, co-founder of TSiBA, speaking at the Circle of Excellence Principals Conference.
Leigh Meinert, co-founder of TSiBA, speaking at the Circle of Excellence Principals Conference.

This is not to say that there has been no innovation in South Africa. One only has to look at the Tertiary School in Business Adminstration (“TsIBA”), the free university established in Cape Town with a strong focus on entrepreneurial development, as a powerful example of the possibilities of thinking differently. But while there might be aspects of innovation it is not pervasive. As a Foundation driving entrepreneurial mindset with our students at nine universities across the country, it is evident that entrepreneurial thinking is not a central focus. Yet a more consistent understanding of our institutions as academic enterprises is required if we are to move South Africa forward.

One of the leading examples of re-orientating a university into an academic enterprise is Arizona State University. ASU President Michael Crowe states: “Enterprise is a concept sometimes wholly lacking in discussions about higher education. ‘Academic enterprise’ and the entrepreneurial academic culture that such an orientation instils encourages creativity and innovation with intellectual capital—the primary asset of every college and university.” It is a matter of simply realising that universities can only effectively become incubators of entrepreneurship and innovation if they themselves practice entrepreneurship.

There are important benefits for South Africa to capture in this higher education revolution. Firstly higher education history is framed around the tension between scale and excellence. Historically you had to choose between one or the other. The “new” higher education institution can pursue both, a very enticing prospect for a country currently burdened with both low access and throughput rates. On the scale side of the equation, the cost benefits of integrating technology more fully into the educational system allow for greater access, while at the same time harnessing opportunities such as the adaptive learning platform, Knewton, to maintain excellence in academic performance through previously impossible customisation of learning pathways, even at significant levels of scale.

How should our universities be responding to these seismic shifts in higher education? We look forward to your thoughts.

Mashokane Mahlo & Personal Initiative

Mashokane Mahlo & Personal Initiative

Mashokane Mahlo 3It all started with a hip hop dance craze in her high school years. That’s when Mashokane Mahlo and some friends started their own hip hop dance group, Lyrical Sneakers. That’s also when she got her first taste of being the boss.

As manager and co-founder of Lyrical Sneakers Mashokane was responsible for booking the dance group for events and making sure their attire, music and dance routines were ready. On top of it all she had to ensure that her school work would not be neglected. The group enjoyed great success, performing on an award-winning video with the artist Pro Kid and briefly working with other artists such as Slikhour and Shugasmaxx.

It was all this multitasking that got Mashokane thinking, “I enjoyed managing my own thing and I was good at selling ideas and pulling people together to achieve a goal. From then, I just knew I wanted to start my own thing. “In Grade 11 she realised that her multitasking abilities could be preparation for one day running her own multimedia company.

Though this idea was now firmly planted, Mashokane’s journey to her multimedia dream was only just beginning. She followed the advice of her teachers at Mondeor High School and applied for a bursary that would guarantee employment. She was offered one by Sasol and made the trek from Johannesburg down to the University of Cape Town to study BCom Law and Economics. Her reasoning was this: she was creative enough to figure out a thing or two about media on her own, but she knew nothing about business.

When she moved into her flat in Cape Town and made her first friends, she realised that both her flatmate and two very good friends were part of the Allan Gray Fellowship. Their talk of entrepreneurship and their engagement in various Fellowship activities intrigued her so much that she applied to become a Candidate Fellow as well. Wanting to still hold on to the promise of employment offered by Sasol, Mashokane declined the financial support offered by the Foundation and retained Sasol as her main bursar. After spending two vacations working at Sasol, however, she realised that the corporate environment was not for her. After negotiating with both Sasol and the Foundation she was free from obligation by her third year. That’s also around the time when she got her idea for the next big thing.

‘The Next Big Thing’ would be the name of a TV show that would celebrate successful young people in South Africa rather than celebrities. She pitched this idea at the Foundation’s Jamboree, which was held during her third year, and received the approval and encouragement of both the judges and other Candidate Fellows. She came up with the idea when she pondered how being surrounded by inspiring individuals like the Candidate Fellows had inspired her. She explains, “peer motivation, especially good peer pressure was more impactful in driving ambition and initiative in young people than role model motivation.” She found that despite their exposure to various industry leaders, “the consensus among the Candidate Fellows was that just being around the community stimulated [them] more.”

Mashokane Mahlo 1In order to realise her dreams she instinctively knew that she needed guidance from some industry leaders. A month after the Jamboree Mashokane dared to contact Khanyi Dhlomo. It may have been the quality of her idea, the persuasiveness of her email or the fact that she read Khanyi a poem during their first teleconference meeting; whatever it was, Khanyi agreed to mentor Mashokane. And so began a very fruitful period of refining the idea behind The Next Best Thing and registering her company YEP Media, which stands for Youth Entrepreneurs Media Platform.

Of her decision to focus her business energies completely on media she says, “I believe media is a powerful tool to shape the direction of a nation… I want to use YEP Media to empower, inspire, connect, educate and ignite the youth of South Africa. And hopefully by successfully changing the economic mindsets of the country positively, we can change the behaviour and truly achieve a world-class South Africa in every sense: economic, social, environmental and political.”

Mashokane now has a team working with her on the four tiers of the company. There’s the online platform geared towards engaging youth and connecting them with mentors through The Village Club one-day-mentorship programme, then there’s the corporate media services branch through which she and her team provide design, provide web development, video and communication services to their clients. The third tier of her company is a monthly publication titled The African Youth Writers Publication –The Voice of a Conscious Youth, which publishes articles on current affairs by young writers.Finally, the fourth tier of YEP Media deals with the production of the TV show The Next Big Thing. The pilot episode, featuring Mandla Mdakane, the professional motor sport racer, has already been shot and is under review by eTV for the funding of the other 11 episodes.

A few months out of university and Mashokane Mahlo is already making things happen. She is the epitome of the Foundation Pillar, Personal Initiative: a person who makes things happen and celebrates the satisfaction of bringing new things into being; someone who is independent, proactive and self-starting.

Written by Alexa Anthonie.

Shape the Future Series: Nikola Tesla

Shape the Future Series: Nikola Tesla

Tesla_circa_1890As we continue our journey into the mindsets required for entrepreneurial endeavour, we come to one of sciences more interesting characters. In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Being Knowledgeable and profiled Leonardo Da Vinci. In this post we look at the attitude of being Focused which forms part of the Resourceful mindset under the pillar of Courageous Commitment.

We define the attitude of being Focused as applying resolutely your mind and concentration to a particular task in a disciplined way that resists distraction.

When one mentions the name Tesla, one might (in current times) immediately think of Tesla Motors currently spearheaded by South African born Elon Musk. However, whilst the name is exactly the same, the Tesla we are referring to is the electrical engineer and physicist, Nikola Tesla after whom Tesla Motors was named.

He was considered a mad man during his life time. Tesla described things such as a death ray that could obliterate aircrafts from a distance of 250 miles and shot lightning bolts from his hand in front of crowds of people. Tesla invented wireless technology and demonstrated the world’s first remote controlled boat in Madison Gardens.

Modern cynics may roll their eyes in bored amusement at these feats, but what is mindboggling is that these inventions were developed and tested before the turn of the 20th century! A magician, obsessive compulsive and “insane” in the opinion of many at the time, Nikola Tesla’s thinking has resulted in significant technology that we still use today.

Tesla was a student of mathematics and physics in Graz, Austria. He furthered his education through studies in philosophy in Prague.  Soon after that, he began working for a telephone company in Budapest.  During this time, while walking in a park with a friend, he saw the solution to the rotating magnetic field for an induction motor in a vision.

According to Wikipedia, “Tesla was renowned for his achievements and showmanship, eventually earning him a reputation in popular culture as an archetypal “mad scientist”. However, Tesla’s relentless pursuit to perfect his craft seemed to be driven by something else; perhaps his own words gives us an idea as to what drove him. Tesla said that “Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs.”

Without Tesla’s body of work around Alternating Current (AC) power, only the wealthy would ever have had access to electricity as DC power (invented by Thomas Edison) was expensive and required more equipment. Incidentally, quite soon after immigrating to the USA, Tesla worked for Edison. However, history leads us to believe that the two did not part ways amicably due to a payment disagreement. Tesla subsequently entered what became the “War of the Currents”, an electrical standards battle waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, firmly on the side of AC power. It’s a good thing that AC won this battle as this is the power supply source for most homes and industries today.

Tesla is a great example about how our individual perspectives shape our opinions. One person’s “mad scientist” is another person’s focused individual dedicated to creating energy sources that serve humanity. One thing we can say for sure is that Tesla’s focus resulted in a body of work that we are still benefitting off today. Tesla said it best when he said, “Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine”.

Mad Man or focused scientist, we can learn the following 5 things from Tesla:

  1. Be a voracious learner. Tesla’s official studies included mathematics, physics and philosophy but over and above that, he was a keen observer and learner from the world around him.
  2. Work with or learn from the best people you have access to. Tesla, during his lifetime, worked for or learnt from some of the top scientists and inventors of the time such as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.
  3. Believe in your ideas, no matter how crazy other people might think they are.
  4. Just because it’s been invented, this does not mean it cannot be innovated further. Edison spearheaded DC Power, Tesla did not let this stop him from pursuing what became AC power.
  5. Focus on mastery of your craft and you will create solutions to human needs – as Tesla said, “Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain.”
African Schools for Excellence – recovering a lost word in our education

African Schools for Excellence – recovering a lost word in our education

African School for Excellence
From left: Mampho Langa (Head of School, African Schools for Excellence), Molefe Mohlamonyane (Scholarship Development Manager, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation) and Nonhlanhla Masina (Operations Manager, African Schools for Excellence)

If there is one word that has gone missing in the growing challenges facing the South African education system, it is the word excellence. Shifting the matric pass mark in some subjects to 30% and a staggering 13% of the entire South African Grade 9 cohort passing the Annual National Assessments in 2012 for Mathematics are but two higher profile examples in a sea of others. They all show an inevitable and dramatic loss of any possible claim to excellence in our country’s education.

And so in this depressing educational context it is encouraging to know that there are still initiatives that refuse to give up on the importance of educational excellence. One of these emerges from an unlikely place – Tsakane Township in the East Rand, Gauteng. It is in this township of over 100,000 people, in the middle of simple white prefabricated buildings that excellence is pursued fiercely and passionately and most importantly, successfully, at the African School for Excellence.

Tsakane African School for Excellence (“ASE”) is the first high school of many more planned in the future with a simple if not audacious mission – that their students will graduate “with the skills to succeed at the world’s best universities and with the character and leadership to transform their communities.” And if that was not already bold enough, all this will be achieved at a total cost per student of R7,000 per annum(of which parents will contribute only R200 per month.)

On arrival we are taken on our school tour not by the principal but by an engaging student, Ntokozo. She takes us through the various classrooms, pointing out that each is named after a different African country. Her passion and excitement for the school is infectious. I am slightly thrown by her first question – “How many books have you read in your life?” Not a question I have ever had to answer before (and still not sure that I know the answer), but it is indicative of the thirst for knowledge that pervades the school.

We then walk into a classroom and interrupt a lively modern interpretation of Macbeth, with the simple classroom transformed through their imagination to mediaeval England in a conveyor belt of battles and powerful speeches. In the next room the students are watching an old classic movie production of the same play on the classroom screen.

Slowly the picture of the school’s innovative “rotation” approach to education starts to take shape. Each subject is approached in a rotation consisting of three elements: Independent work, team work and instructional time. This approach is based on enquiry based learning, and harnesses the opportunity of technology, particularly in the independent work rotation, where free products such as Khan Academy can support learning. The genius of this approach is that for each cycle of three rotations a fully qualified teacher is only needed in the one rotation (instructional) while in the others academic advisors (trainee teachers) can manage the class room. This is one of the key mechanisms for achieving ASE’s low cost education. You can listen to co-founder Jay Kloppenberg discuss the ASE model here.

While all of this innovation is compelling, what has been the actual outcome? It is still too premature to make any conclusive assessment – the first class only finished grade 7 last year and are now in Grade 8. But initial reports of the progress in Grade 7 are very promising. By September 2013, only nine months after starting, 99% of the ASE scholars had achieved the standard required by British Education at the end of primary school. And this cohort of scholars were entirely drawn from Tsakane Township applications with the only bias in selection being towards teachability rather than outright performance. So within a space of nine months ASE transformed these township children into globally competitive learners. The immediate goal is that later this year students from ASE will be in the Top 1% of the Grade 9 Annual National Assessments (“ANA”) – while they are still in Grade 8!

Yet as impressive as one finds the model, my lasting impression was of the people involved. They are the real soul of this initiative:

Including our host Nonhlanhla Masina, the operations manager, a suitably broad description to cover her multitude of responsibilities.  She is a graduate of Tsakane, walking eight kilometres every day to high school, and now having obtained an honours degree in biochemistry at Wits University, while at the same time spending any free minute growing the vision of ASE

Or the Head of School, Mampho Langa. She was previously the Head of Academics at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls but has given up the comfort of Henley on Klip for the dust of Tsakane to be part of this grand educational initiative. Their commitment to the vision and the genuine sacrifices they have already made to make it happen are inspiring.

The values of African Schools for Excellence.
The values of African Schools for Excellence.

My colleague and I left Tsakane with the words of ASE co-founder Jay Kloppenberg echoing in our heads: “One thing I am sure of: the problem is not the students. South Africa’s townships are filled with exceptionally bright, hard-working learners with enormous potential. The vast majority do not receive the quality of schooling they require to reach their ambitious goals”

ASE is one small example that excellence need not be lost in South African education. But if educational prospects can be turned around so powerfully with a little vision, clear focus and lots of hard work, at no additional cost, why are we all so accepting of mediocrity elsewhere? We let our children down if we do not expect more from all of those within the system from parents, guardians, teachers to government and learners. Ultimately expectations drive outcomes.

I, for one, will be waiting for this year’s ANA results with even more interest than usual to see whether a small group of learners from the East Rand can decisively demonstrate how excellence has indeed been recovered. Incidentally, talking about expecting more, did I mention that the required pass mark for learners at ASE is 80%?

 

The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Micro-Entrepreneur by Dinika Govender

The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Micro-Entrepreneur by Dinika Govender

Danika Govender
Dinika Govender

Allan Gray Fellow Dinika Govender’s latest blog post (The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Micro-Entrepreneur as shared by a Cameroonian in Cape Town) published on Medium.

I studied a business degree for a good chunk of my adolescence, and in that time I’ve been exposed to some interesting and accomplished entrepreneurs. Armed with a 40-minute guest lecture slot and a PowerPoint clicker, these business leaders would share their career paths, lessons learned and how-to-succeed lists. For any aspirant business student, these guest lectures by self-made successes are gold — if for nothing else than to get the chance to corner said self-made success after the lecture to verbally deliver a resumé worthy of an instant internship. (This tactic declined after third-year Professional Communication.)

It was around 2009, under the influence of a heady blend of Outliers, Freakonomics and Sir Ken Robinson, that I began losing interest in these talks. I was hungrier for the un-sexy stories behind the success of these entrepreneurs: of the insomniac nights of self-doubt; the serendipitous introduction to key enablers; the marathon viewings of Shark Tank and so on.

But this is not the stuff typically presented by entrepreneurial leaders — or leaders in any field for that matter.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realise now that I might also have been bored. The entrepreneurs addressing us were never very different from one another. Whilst their businesses and individual career paths were diverse, they were culturally homogenous. Not totally, but mostly. It all led underwhelmingly (and probably unwittingly) to US- and Euro-centric lectures on entrepreneurship and success.

Ah, formal education. Another topic for another time (with wine).

I finally got the guest lecture I’d been waiting for a few days after my university graduation. Irony notwithstanding, this lecture was also completely unanticipated.

I was walking through central Cape Town on an unbearably hot summer’s day, wracking my brain for the kind of clothing that would be cooling and protective enough to cycle in (#commuterproblems). That’s when I saw it: a stall brimming with cotton shirts.

I approached the man who seemed to be doing the wooing of the German tourists.

His name is Lucas, and he runs a clothing and textile business, selling his wares at stalls throughout the city. As I soon learned, he also runs two other businesses in the city, owns a few properties and is supporting all three of his children through Masters degrees in Cape Town. His plain cotton t-shirt, linen slacks and ever-so-slight slouch suggested none of this material success.

In my newfound joy of talking to strangers, Lucas and I got to chatting — about shirts and cottons. And before long, we had occupied a bench and he began to dispense his thoughts about success, the meaning of work, and thriving as a foreigner in the Mother City.

Here’s what I learned from this Cameroonian tradesman. (Paraphrased from scribbled notes penned straight after this serendipitous conversation – his words appearing in italics below)

Seven Habits for Entrepreneurial Success

1. Get out of your comfort zone. Better still, get kicked out.

Years ago, I moved from Cameroon to South Africa for better business opportunities…for a better life. But I couldn’t get professional work here. I am an engineer, but I am not South African. But there are opportunities here, so I had to make it work.

Being out of his home country and out of luck in his profession — Lucas was quite far outside his comfort zone. With a family to provide for, he had to learn about the city very quickly — from how business permits are administered to where to buy groceries. But in this displacement, he believes he gained agility.

Talk about an entrepreneurial spirit.

If there’s one thing your remember from what I say, remember this…

2. Do not get involved with the bank.

The last thing you want is the first thing in the morning to be a call from the bank telling you that owe them. Rather work for your own financing, and save up. Then reach out to friends and family if needed.

With an understanding smile he acknowledged my counter-point of all the small-business support now being offered by banks. To my appeal for the functional value of debt as leverage for higher growth he nodded politely.

You need to pay for your own mistakes. Because this is what the start of your business will be: one mistake after the next. You’re better off knowing that you can fail without falling into serious debt…You need every shred of confidence you can get, and debt does not help you build dignity.

Debt has a psychological effect too. Yoda-moment. Dad-moment came next:

3. Forget about how awesome you are.

If you’re changing your professional direction, be prepared to be the new, inexperienced or dumb one — until you can become your own captain. Put away your medals and start from the bottom: start meeting the people you need to meet; learning the skills you need to learn and putting yourself to the test until you are great in your new chosen field. It will not be easy, but you must be prepared to do what is necessary (and righteous) to raise your capital.

Lucas first worked as a security guard for a hotel in Cape Town. The hotel belonged to a South African hospitality magnate —who took a liking to Lucas (#serendipity)— and it wasn’t too long before he became a manager at the hotel. At the chance to join the hotel group at a more senior level, Lucas exited the hotel industry. He had saved up, made many connections (a lot of them international ) and had learnt a tremendous amount about people, networks, services and the luxury market.

But he ultimately wanted to run his own thing.

…I was not getting any younger.

4. You’ll never raise enough capital by selling your time.

As a human there is only so much you can do, and still be a good, happy person at the end of every day. A professional job demands a lot of you if you want to do well and save money on the side. A business idea demands a lot more — emotionally and financially — if you want to make it happen. Now how much of you is left if you try to juggle both? You will be saving up, and juggling, for a long time.

Try to raise capital by starting small: build up a smaller business, get that running, and sell it. Then build up a bigger business and sell that, and carry on until you’ve raised enough capital to build your big thing. That way, may you also make mistakes early on, and your big idea stands a better chance of succeeding.

For Lucas, his first business after leaving the hotel industry was a printing business in partnership with his brother, which he left in the hands of his brother and moved onto his current clothing business. This, he told me, is merely his next stepping stone to the big business idea he’s been cultivating for a long time.

When I enquired about this big, mysterious plan, his eyes lit up but his lips pursed. And then he gave me my next lesson.

5. Keep your ideas to yourself.

…mainly whilst they’re in their infancy, and especially when they’ve got lucrative potential. Instead of telling everyone about it — tell yourself about it. Put the ideas in a journal, pray, flesh them out in your quiet hours, wrestle with them until you’ve answered every question about them that you would ask of someone else’s idea presented to you. Ask God for the courage, and then — execute — with the vision only you have crafted.

It occurred to me at this point that Lucas is a deeply religious man. He attributes much of his success to his relationship with God. Now I don’t subscribe to any single religion (sorry Gran) and there was certainly no theology in my business degree (other than the doctrine of Profits Optimusand Cost Minimus). But what I could relate to in Lucas’ mention of God’s guiding hand was the deeply personal significance of seeking a sense of higher purpose in one’s work. Something even Viktor Frankl (author of Man’s Search For Meaning) would appreciate.

But still, I pressed him on this idea of keeping ideas under lock-and-key, only to be reminded that…

6. Business is still competition.

In the African culture, when you succeed, you are The Man. Everyone respects you, everyone wants to follow you. But if you fail — oh boy. If you fail you’re worthless, silly, not a man.

Although I’ve had no experience as an African man, this cultural constraint struck a chord. As he explained further, and the cultural parallels grew stronger.

People can be cheerleaders, telling you to “follow your heart”, to “dream it and do it”. Or they can be very scared for you. They might try to talk you out of your idea, or push you into taking a more stable job. Either way, you build up a lot of pressure for yourself by involving others too soon. Their uncertainly can make it difficult to remain motivated, or their overwhelming support can make you too scared to fail. You will paralyse yourself for what — pride?

So rather don’t tell anyone your plans. Try-and-fail as many times as you need to until you can publicise your success.

I’m still a proponent of early-stage feedback (before too much time and energy is invested in an idea) but I strongly appreciate the call for modesty in one’s words and might in one’s actions.

“But can you do it totally on your own?” I asked.

Well yes…and no.

Most of the time, the wife is scared. She does not want me taking risks — at least not big risks. She wants to know that I will always be able to care for the family, because the family is her primary concern, and what I do as the provider can either put that in jeopardy or prosperity. I think she would prefer, most of the time, to have stability. She would probably be happier if I was still an engineer.(He cracks himself up at this thought.)

But luckily, I am the man. So if I want to do it, I can. And she must trust that I am doing it not just for my own success, but for my name — and everyone connected to that name.

Snoozing my feminist alarm bells, I was impressed with the conviction with which Lucas expressed his patriarchal power. I do not know of many male entrepreneurs who would readily discuss how their wives take the back seat, so it was quite refreshing to receive this matter-of-fact explanation of African family authority.

Lastly,

The 7th Habit: Don’t forget to say Thank You.

Your knowledge is the most important asset you have, but understand that you were not born with it. You must learn to share your success, to give thanks, to bow before the people who made it possible for you. Your parents raised you and educated you, I assume? Then they should be the first people to share your success.

With a new swarm of tourists hovering around his cotton shirts, I thanked him and took my leave. I promptly turned back and asked if I may visit him again — if he’d be willing to share more of his story. He gave me his contact details, and then a hug (much to my surprise).

Thank you for the education, Lucas. I look forward to your next lecture.