Shape the Future Series: Initiating – the essence of entrepreneurial action. What can we learn from the lesser known George Washington?

Shape the Future Series: Initiating – the essence of entrepreneurial action. What can we learn from the lesser known George Washington?

MEMORY 05In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of alternative spotting and profiled Archimedes.   In this post we look at the attitude of initiating which forms part of the proactive mindset under the pillar of Personal Initiative.

The proactive mindset is all about being intentionally ahead of the process, anticipating the potential results in advance and taking action to either benefit from positive outcomes or reduce the possible negative outcomes.  We define the attitude of Initiating as taking the lead in bringing some new concept or idea into being.

While we are fully familiar with George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, we will look at the work of another slightly lesser known George Washington, as in George Washington Carver.  Not as internationally famous as the president with whom he shares a name, however, within the fields of science and agriculture world he would be considered just as equally famous.

It takes more than a good idea to initiate change.  Often, it requires an accompanying shift of mentality.  But it is possible for practices to be changed, usually through the pioneering individuals who not only have a good idea, but then can also implement it.

George Washington Carver was born in the late 1800’s and died in 1943.  Born into slavery in Missouri, his exact date of birth is unknown.  An unusual man for the times and circumstances of his birth, he was a scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor.   Carver was a fan of intellectual imagination and is often quoted as saying that, “Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible.”

He was an individual who wished to help improve the standard of living for many destitute farmers in the American South.  This was realised through the implementation of a simple concept – crop rotation.  Different crops have different demands – each crop will deplete some types of nutrients from the soil, while giving back others.  Crop rotation alternates between crops with complementary nutrient demands, maintaining sustainable topsoil and producing a viable harvest.

In the South, this practice had not been adopted, and the dependence on cotton had depleted the soil of valuable nitrates.  Poor farmers, who could not afford fertilizers, were faced with smaller harvests each year and were becoming poorer.

The answer to this conundrum lay in crop rotating with legumes and peanuts.  It was the perfect crop to introduce to the South, despite the fact that there was almost no market for it at the time.  George Washing Carver solved this problem by what has become known as chemurgy which used chemistry to transform agricultural surplus into a variety of products and applications.  Furthermore, he helped create a market for these products and helped change agriculture in the South for the better.

While Carver could easily have allowed the circumstances of his birth to mould his outlook on life, he instead took great joy and comfort in taking the lead and bringing new concepts and ideas into being.  However, his primary motivation was not just the ideas and concepts into which he breathed life, but benefitting the Common Good and improving the lives of those around him.  A testament to his legacy were the words written on his tombstone: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

What are the ideas or concepts that you will initiate as the hallmarks of your legacy?

In celebration of Heritage Day

In celebration of Heritage Day

Shaka1In celebrating Heritage Day it is understandable that we look to the past, yet as explained below, heritage can’t be separated from legacy. So the important question, implied by thoughts of heritage, is how we harness our current strengths and opportunities to create a future heritage that will reflect the fullness of our aspirations for the rainbow nation?  What will be our legacy towards this future?

On the 24th September, South Africans unite in celebrating our diverse cultures when we observe Heritage Day.  Originally celebrated in honour of King Shaka Zulu, the 24th of September has been written into modern South African calendar as the day on which we celebrate the diversity of the “rainbow nation”.

So what exactly does this concept of heritage mean for us in the world of developing future entrepreneurial change agents?  More than one might initially think.  Our work at the Foundation is focused on investing in a long term legacy of greatness through Allan Gray Fellows.  Our intention is that these Fellows will be focused on contributing to the Common Good, thereby providing an improved legacy for future generations to inherit.

The words legacy and heritage are very closely connected.  Heritage is defined as something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth, an inherited lot or portion or something reserved for one.  Whereas Legacy is anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor. So one word is about that which is left for future generations to inherit and the other is about that which future generations inherit.  Different sides of the same coin!

IMG_5966From their very first interaction with the broader Foundation community, our potential Candidate Fellows are exposed to the concept of heritage at our Fellowship Selection camps hosted at the Cradle of Humankind. This site was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.  Throughout their time as Candidate Fellows they are exposed to a diverse range of entrepreneurs and businesses which have contributed to the rich heritage of the Southern African business landscape.  From our founding patron’s contribution to the South African investment industry through to individuals such as Herman Mashaba who created a product range targeting a growing market, South Africa’s rainbow nation has been the breeding ground for a number of diverse entrepreneurs and innovations.  Innovations such as the Kreepy Krauly, Pratley Putty, the CAT Scan, the Cyber Tracker, the Speed Gun and the Dolosse are all a testament to the richness of ideas and products that this country has produced and has the potential to produce in the future.

In coming back to celebrating the 24th September and what this day has come to mean in more recent times, while it is encouraging that many have found a common connection, whether firing up a Weber or going to a local Chesanyama on this day in the National Braai Day movement – we want more. Genuine nation building is about more than social interaction, it is about harnessing the full potential of South Africa. It is increasingly clear that the most effective means of harnessing the human potential that will bring this change is to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset on a national scale.

Can you imagine in years to come celebrating the remarkable new entrepreneurial exploits that have entered our growing and dynamic heritage? There will naturally be many other components to our future heritage, but the Foundation has become convinced that if this heritage is to include meaningful economic transformation, then we must work towards building and celebrating an entrepreneurial culture.

However you choose to celebrate Heritage Day on 24 September, I would like to challenge you to think about your legacy and the rich heritage you intend to leave behind.  What will you do?

Effort pays off

Effort pays off

Joseph-Kahn-165x215Up until Grade 10 Joseph Wandile Kahn was, as he puts it, “quite unremarkable.” This judgement may seem harsh, but considering that it comes from a future Harvard graduate and the 2013 World Debating Champion, it’s an intriguing observation. A brief look over his 19-year life story reveals a number of significant experiences that have coloured his intellectual imagination and understanding of what it means to become remarkable.

Joseph was born in Johannesburg to activist parents who were respectively involved in furthering the cause of the ANC and deracialising the South African education system. From a young age then he already understood the importance of working toward something bigger than oneself. After his father took up an academic post at the University of Cape Town the family moved to Scarborough and Joseph began attending Bishops Preparatory School.

At a very young age his parents divorced, but reflecting on this experience he is filled more with gratitude than regret. He got to know the absolute best of both parents and explains that in relationships partners tend to moderate certain features of themselves to be more compatible with the other. Growing up in two different households, therefore, allowed him to grasp the true essence of each parent.

After some unremarkable years at Bishops Prep his final year saw him set his first serious goal. He realised his family wouldn’t be able to afford the full tuition for Bishops College so all his effort went into performing academically and it paid off when he was awarded the Theron Scholarship. At Bishops College he was introduced to public speaking and managed to get a place in the national public speaking team bound for the world championships in Australia in his Grade 10 year. He recounts, “I actually came 11th and someone in the team pulled out so I [got] a lucky shot.”

In the individual debating category he attained 65th place. He didn’t fare too badly in the impromptu speech, persuasive speaking and interpretive reading categories and managed a position of 27th overall. However, his rankings weren’t top of mind but rather meeting people from around the world who were doing incredible things. These were boys and girls his age who had already published books, started political organisations, owned companies and had patents to their name. Despite them being “exceptional and in many cases far more intelligent than I perceive myself to be,” he realised that “they weren’t actually geniuses relative to me.” Instead the impression they made had more to do with the attitude they had and what they believed they could achieve.

They were all going off to universities like Harvard, Oxford and Yale. So by the time he returned from Australia – it was April 2011 and he was 15 – he set his sights on joining the Ivy League. Having experienced such a complete mind shift he decided it was also time to be significant in his own life and in the community around him.

For the rest of that year up until Matric he did a number of remarkable things. He launched an initiative, the Bishops Starfish Connection through which Bishops College together with 14 other Western Cape schools raised about R70 000. Joseph is quick to confess that it was not a ploy to get the CEO of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, Anthony Farr, who was also a co-founder of the Starfish Greathearts Foundation, to notice him. His spare time was also devoted to studying for and writing SATs; applying to Harvard College, the University of Cape Town and the Allan Gray Fellowship opportunity; as well as preparing for and competing in debating competitions in Turkey, Thailand and Bratislava, Slovakia.

And as though that wasn’t enough he also joined a friend in developing a low-cost and up-cycled fire extinguisher. They wanted to make a cost-effective tool for combatting shack fires in South Africa and the finished product, at a cost of about R7,50, won them a gold medal at the National Science Expo. At this time they are in the process of developing appropriate strategies for taking this up-cycled fire extinguisher to market.

In less than three years Joseph managed to turn his “quite unremarkable” life into one filled with significant achievements. His final year at school included highlights such as the title of World Individual Debating Champion 2013, admission to study at UCT, acceptance as a Candidate Allan Gray Fellow and, the cherry on top, a call on 13 December 2013 to confirm his early acceptance into Harvard College.

While applying to the Allan Gray Fellowship he was under the impression that it was limited to South Africa. He figured that should his Harvard application fail, there was still “an exceptional community that he could join in South Africa [but I’ve] ended up having the best of both worlds.” Joseph will be joining the programme as part of an international cohort of Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and while his term at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation has only just begun, he’s already exhibiting traits that make the organisation proud, including being the only first year Candidate Fellow to make the Final 10 pitches of the Jamboree.  With an established record of intellectual achievement, an ability to see the unseen, challenge the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently, there’s no guessing where Joseph Kahn’s Intellectual Imagination might still take him.

Written by Alexa Anthonie.

Shape the Future Series: Alternative spotting – Archimedes

Shape the Future Series: Alternative spotting – Archimedes

Aero_img084As we continue our journey into the mindsets required for entrepreneurial endeavour, we come to one of ancient Greece’s most famous and interesting characters.  In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Trend-spotting and profiled Marian Salzman.  In this post we look at the attitude of Alternative Spotting which forms part of the Adapting mindset under the pillar of Spirit of Significance.  The adapting mindset is all about being able and willing to make changes and to adjust your behaviour or way of doing things to meet new or changing circumstances.

We define the attitude of being Alternative Spotting as visualising or recognising a range of new possibilities for an existing process.

When Archimedes famously ran naked through the streets of ancient Greece yelling “Eureka!”, little did he know what impact his bath time antics would have on the world of science and mathematics.  While his public display no doubt raised more than a few eyebrows, the cause of his euphoria had far more enduring affects.  Archimedes had experienced a flash of inspiration and discovered an alternate and effective way to measure the volume of an object with an irregular shape.

It all began with King Hieron II of Syracuse who had commissioned a goldsmith to make him a crown.  Having given the goldsmith a certain amount of gold for its production, the suspicious King feared that the smith had substituted some of it with cheaper silver, keeping the rest for himself.  The King called on mathematician and inventor, Archimedes to find a way to prove whether or not the crown was solid gold.  Merely weighing the crown wouldn’t work as the same weight of silver could be substituted.

What Archimedes needed to do was measure the crown’s volume, which was virtually impossible to do on such an irregularly shaped object.  His eureka moment began with the realisation that the water level rose when he climbed into a bath, thereby discovering an alternative to measure an objects volume, by measuring its displacement of water.  By being aware of his needs and keeping his mind open to possibility, Archimedes was able to solve his dilemma in a creative and highly effective way, proving that there are always alternative ways to think about and solve problems.

Like Archimedes, some of our Allan Gray Fellows are already showing high levels of problem solving and alternative spotting.  Fellows like Kholofelo Moyaba  for example, found an alternative way for commuters to plan their journeys when he conceptualised the GoMetro android app.  Or a group of Fellows found an alternative way for people to help under resourced schools through a crowd funding platform, called Eduvator. Or Siyabulela Xuza, who came up with an alternative fuel source for rockets.

Similar to Leonardo Da Vinci,  Archimedes was a polymath, skilled in the disciplines of Mathematics, Physics, Engineering and Astronomy. He was also a prolific inventor.  In addition to the Archimedes Principle (briefly outlined above) Archimedes was also responsible for developing the Archimedes Screw, a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder. It was used to transfer water from a low-lying body of water into irrigation canals. This invention is still in use today.  His biggest contribution though was to the discipline of Mathematics.  His work during ancient times revolutionised studies in geometry, calculus but especially noteworthy was his discovery of the relation between the surface and volume of a sphere.

In his relentless pursuit of alternative ways to think and solve problems, Archimedes kept pushing the boundaries of the various disciplines he pursued until he could say that now famous word “Eureka!” which translates to “I have found it!”.  In fact, there is a phenomenon now called the eureka effect

What opportunities or challenges are you grappling with at the moment which an alternative spotting mindset could help you with?  I look forward to reading your comments.

Never too young to effect change

Never too young to effect change

Onke Mbuli and Mnotho Makhoba’s first interaction with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation occured around the age of 13 when they applied for the Allan Gray Scholarship opportunity. Five years later they are still in the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s fold but now as Candidate Allan Gray Fellows.

Thanks to the Scholarship both Onke and Mnotho had access to quality high school education. In addition it exposed them to a myriad of entrepreneurs and leaders and sparked in them an interest in entrepreneurship and effecting positive change within their society. Their individual stories reminds one that you are never too young to begin effecting change, especially in your own life.

IMG_0054Onke’s story begins in Farrarmere, Benoni, where she and her two older sisters were raised by a single mom who “was Mom and Dad all in one and would stop at nothing to ensure that her [children] had a good upbringing and childhood

Obtaining a Scholarship from the Foundation allowed Onke to attend high school in Stellenbosch at Rhenish Girls’ High. Here she developed a passion for accounting and helping those who could not help themselves. This passion for leadership saw her being elected as head girl in her final year at Rhenish.

She describes the experience of applying for the Fellowship opportunity as a daunting one. “I felt like I was competing with thousands of the world’s brightest … leaders, which was insanely intimidating.” It was worth it though, because now she is able to join likeminded people in effecting change and she is able to study at her dream university. Being a student in BCom Financial Accounting at the University of Cape Town, “one of the best universities in Africa,” allows Onke to dream of a future where, as a chartered accountant and together with her peers, she can one day “make a big change [in education] … because education is the foundation to everything.”

Much like Onke, Mnotho was also raised on the income of just one parent. Though his parents were married, his father had difficulty securing permanent employment and their family of six had to make do with their mom’s salary. As a result, Mnotho could never access the opportunities he wished for and felt he deserved. Living in Vulindlela Township and attending Empangeni Preparatory School meant getting up at the crack of dawn to be ready in time for the school bus. Boarding at the school would eliminate these early mornings, but it was not an option for him.

He soon realised that his dream of changing his circumstances, like attending a private school, would only happen if he became proactive. He started taking his school work seriously and in his later primary school years he regularly achieved one of the top three places for academics.

IMG_0039Mnotho’s life changed dramatically when his English teacher, Ms Denise Hills, told him about the Allan Gray Scholarship opportunity. He applied and was granted a Scholarship to attend Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town. This opportunity not only helped him escape an environment where the youth embraced alcoholism, drug abuse and violence; it also opened his eyes to even more opportunities. Before long Mnotho became deputy head boy at Bishops and was elected as the school’s representative to the Global Young Leaders’ Conference, which was held in New York City and Washington DC in 2013.

On achieving the Scholarship, Mnotho says, “I have many proud moments but [one is that] I received a scholarship which nurtured my potential at a very young age and offered me with the necessary mentorship to help me use my potential effectively.” He cites his achievement in receiving an Allan Gray Fellowship and gaining access to the University of Cape Town as a BBusSci student as two more of which he is proud. “The few months I have been part of the Fellowship have resulted in a shift in my mindset because of [the] introspective activities.” Mnotho reckons “the Fellowship is one of the few, if not only, university scholarships which go beyond academics and actually challenge you as an individual to understand and challenge the difficulties facing your society.”

Considering Mnotho and Onke’s achievements to date, it is only natural to be filled with excitement about their individual futures and their contributions to society at large.