Evaluatorpreneurship – applying entrepreneurial principles to Monitoring & Evaluation. By Asgar Bhikoo

Evaluatorpreneurship – applying entrepreneurial principles to Monitoring & Evaluation. By Asgar Bhikoo

blog image_asgarFoundation Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist, Asgar Bhikoo brings us into the world of Monitoring & Evaluation (“M&E”) through sharing his experience of attending the European Evaluation Society Conference in September 2014. He took an unusual approach to this learning and came to some surprising conclusions. He shares these insights as part of the Foundation’s continuing quest to answer the fundamental question: does the programme make a difference?

The conference focused on Evaluation for an Equitable Society: independence, partnership and participation. At this conference I decided to challenge myself to see things from an entrepreneurial perspective, similarly to how we challenge our Candidate Fellows. Doing this stimulated my thinking, and I felt like the only individual wearing 3D glasses in a 3D movie!

How, you may ask? I approached this conference by thinking about the Foundation’s values: Pursuing a Spirit of Significance, Pursuing Excellence, Practicing Stewardship, Living an Entrepreneurial Mindset and Taking a Long-Term approach. Using these filters challenged my own thinking, and allowed me to challenge experts in the field.

Doing this allowed me to redefine Evaluation as a profession for myself, and to also ask the question: what are people not seeing? The things I spotted were as follows:

Evaluation is a skill that everyone has. It forms part of a continuum that starts from creating something to assessing whether or not the thing you have created has any value. This is highly applicable to an entrepreneurship context.  Entrepreneurs need to evaluate their ideas in order to be successful. My conclusion: there is an opportunity to be creative and not prescriptive in evaluation.

Some Evaluation methods have links to Market Research, Management Consulting, Organisational Development, Human Resources, Project Management, Psychology, Economics, Actuarial Science, Accounting along with communication skills. All these disciplines have connections to being an Entrepreneur. My conclusion: subjects in the Commercial and Social Sciences are interlinked, and therefore, thinking of social programmes as if it were a business will aid evaluators in framing questions differently for themselves, the sponsors of evaluation and those who the evaluation is intended to benefit.

blog image asgar_1Technology, communication and the world of research is changing. Faster reporting methods that get to the point and give a better understanding of how you relate to the rest of the world are needed to aid decision making. Who might naturally have these skills you may ask? An Entrepreneur of course!  My conclusion: an entrepreneurial approach to collect, analyse and report data for the purpose of sound and rapid decision making is needed. Think just in time, every time, all the time. Out with lengthy reports, in with the one page A3 and dashboardBetter yet, combine your graphs, pictures and audio. Your audience is smart and intuitive, so they will know what to do with the information with which you provide them. This is especially applicable, for example,  in conflict or disaster zones, where reporting could be the difference between life and death as humanitarian aid agencies need to  deploy aid accurately, effectively and efficiently.

The conference also focused on creating an equitable society. This was familiar to me, as it relates to the concept of taking action that will benefit society which is at the core of the Foundation’s vision to foster entrepreneurship for the common good.  2015 has been declared the International Year of Evaluation, with the aim of creating an Equitable Society. M&E professionals globally are asking themselves, “Did I play my part in ensuring equality for all in the work I did?”  This is a difficult question, which cuts down to your values as an individual. Michael Scriven (a leader in the field of Evaluation) challenged evaluators to think about this, and encouraged them to serve society with their unique expertise. My conclusion: Don’t step back from the challenge, get involved.

In conclusion, the conference allowed me to experience my profession in a similar manner to a Candidate Fellow experiencing the Fellowship Programme and thereby shifted my perspective. I have now redefined what I see and do in my profession. For me, Evaluation is the creation of social value through inclusive, collaborative and applied research.

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation mourns death of Candidate Allan Gray Fellow Nnete Malebo.

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation mourns death of Candidate Allan Gray Fellow Nnete Malebo.

Nnete MaleboOn the 23rd of October 2014 the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation received news of the death of Nnete Malebo, one of its Candidate Allan Gray Fellows. Details regarding her passing, particularly the cause of death is not as yet clear. She was 21 years old.

It is with great sadness that the Foundation bids farewell to Nnete. She showed great promise as an academic achiever and ethical leader and was in the process of completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Science at the University of Cape Town. She was sub-warden of her residence, Clarinus, at UCT and endeavoured to establish an alumni society there. Nnete also served as vice-president to the Invest Soc society at UCT and was known for taking a servant leadership approach.

Our thoughts are with Nnete’s father and mother, who hail from Bloemfontein and with whom she was very close. She also leaves behind two older brothers, both of whom she considered to be her role models. Her brother Uhuru paved the way for her by becoming the first Allan Gray Fellow in the family.

Nnete Malebo will be remembered for her passion. She was passionate about being a black African woman who wanted to make a continent-wide impact. Her faith was the other thing she was passionate about. She described herself as being rooted in her faith and named God the driving force in all she does. Everyone who met Nnete knew that she would embrace them for who and what they were. To her friends she was a confidant and go-to person who always had a listening ear and wise counsel.

Memorial and Funeral Service

A memorial service to honour Nnete’s life was held in Cape Town on Saturday, 25 October. The funeral is scheduled in Bloemfontein for 1 November.

Shape the Future Series: Persisting – Robert Kearns

Shape the Future Series: Persisting – Robert Kearns

Unknown-7In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of initiating and profiled George Washington Carver.  This week we look at the attitude of persisting which forms part of the persuading mindset under the pillar of Personal Initiative.

The persuading mindset is all about trying a range of approaches to get somebody to agree with you or to do something encouraging, advising, urging or convincing.   We define the attitude of persisting as pursuing a desired goal relentlessly and tirelessly even in the face of opposition or against great odds

How far would you go to protect your idea?  Would you sacrifice your career, marriage, family and every cent that you owned?  One such person who did was Robert Kearns, an amateur inventor who developed the intermittent wiper blade system in the early 1960’s.  He was an engineer and, according to Wikipedia, a member of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II which was the organisation from which the CIA would eventually emerge.

Up until his invention, windscreen wipers had only one speed – a rapid, continuous movement – which was problematic when used during light rain and mist.

Kearns pitched his invention to the three big motor corporations of his time – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – but they all rejected his idea.  However, five years later, all three companies started using intermittent wipers on their cars.

Like any inventor worth his salt, Kearns first sued the Ford Motor Company, then Chrysler, for patent infringement claiming that they had stolen his circuit design.  Undaunted about being David to the motor industries Goliaths, Kearns doggedly pursued his case, determined to see justice served.

Putting everything on the line – his career, his marriage, his family and all the money he had – Kearns took up the fight.  After a 12 year battle, losing more than $10million in legal costs, and his marriage, the case finally went to trial.  Despite all the odds, Kearns won and Ford agreed to pay him $10million in settlement.  Two years later he also won his case against Chrysler, winning a further $30million.

Whilst Kearns made great personal sacrifices, as depicted in the movie Flash of Genius, his dogged persistence and extreme belief in his cause saw Kearns through to a victorious end (in terms of his case), proving that the “little guy” can triumph over giants when justice was on his side.

Next time you turn on your wiper blades, remember Robert Kearns and the challenges he persisted through.  How often do you give into temptations that distract you from the goals you are pursuing?  How can we take the positive aspects of his story and learn in terms of those areas of our own lives where we face resistance and challenges?

Scholarship Selection – Deadline Extension

3914_AGOF_Social-Media_Wallpost1The deadline to apply for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Scholarship has been extended. Applications will close on the 30th of October 2014. This opportunity is open to current Grade 6’s who will start Grade 8 in 2016.

The Scholarship offers access to a tailored entrepreneurial and personal development programme for learners who demonstrate the potential to excel academically, display entrepreneurial talents and leadership traits. In order to fulfil the Foundation’s purpose of developing a community of young, responsible future entrepreneurs, the Scholarship is awarded to learners who have the desire to engage fully in opportunities provided to them. This opportunity includes a comprehensive financial support system.

To apply: Download an application form here, or SMS “SCHOLAR + your fax no. /email address” to 36777 (SMS is free) to have an application form faxed or emailed to you.

If you have applied and have not yet received an application confirmation SMS from the Foundation, please contact the Foundation on 021 481 5400 to ensure that your application form has been received.

Scholarship application forms can be dropped off at our temporary drop-off centres until the 30th of October 2014: 

Soweto: Maragret Magwele Primary School

Pietermaritzburg: PMB High School for Girls

Port Elizabeth: Collegiate Girls High School

East London: Selborne College

Johannesburg & Cape Town: The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Offices

Startup Communities | Entrepreneurship – the next (r)evolution in South Africa! By Melody Arendse

Startup Communities | Entrepreneurship – the next (r)evolution in South Africa! By Melody Arendse

SiMODiSA_Logo_Final1Friday, 10 October 2014 marked the date of the inaugural Start Up South Africa Conference. By chance I was lucky enough to hear about it via a colleague and signed up to attend.

Start Up South Africa is the brainchild of SiMODISA, an organisation which aims to catalyse and amplify entrepreneurship in the South African Startup Space.

According to American author Brad Feld, who wrote Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, you need a number of key role players to build a robust and vibrant entrepreneurial eco-system and they were all present in the line up that day.

There were of course the entrepreneurs. Ranging from those who were pitching their business ideas such as Sweepsouth.com, a technology-based solution for finding a cleaning service and Allan Gray Fellow, Doug Hoernle who pitched Rethink Education. Through to the seasoned players such as Vinny Lingham, Justin Stanford and Pieter de Villiers.

In addition to entrepreneurs, other role players represented were as follows:

  • Universities (UCT’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Stellenbosch’s Innovus company were there)
  • Investors (Knifecapital, heavyweights from the Dragon’s Den team amongst others)
  • Service Providers (some of the banks were present – including FNB which can assist with business registration at the CIPC , entrepreneurship incubators such as 88mph and Telkom)
  • Mentors – largely in the form of experienced captains of industry such as Michael Jordaan.
  • Large Companies – in my opinion needed more representation but hopefully there will be more at next year’s event.
  • Government – sadly, another participant group that could have done with more presence at the event.

On the whole it was very encouraging to see that the event had the right participant mix in order to create a truly amazing ecosystem. And by truly amazing, I mean job creating ecosystems. According to Feld, during the past three decades start-ups in the USA have created nearly 40 million American jobs. Imagine what we could do in Africa!

Although there is lots of work to be done the spirit of resilience and optimism amongst the attendees is more than enough to build a solid base for a startup community of significance. However, we all need to believe it! It was interesting to note the number of times the word mindset came up as a challenge for those pursuing the entrepreneurial journey. It’s that old adage of taking a horse to water but not being able to make it drink. Similarly, you can teach as many entrepreneurial skills and go on as many incubating programmes, however, if you don’t believe you will succeed, chances are, you will be proven right!

So now that we know that we have willing (and enthusiastic) participants from all the necessary segments, what else do we need? The answer, from Feld, is the Boulder Thesis which is very elegant in its simplicity. It has four key components:

1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

And I would like to add to that a 5th component which is, all participants should care about the community. Paul Graham of Y-Combinator sums up the spirit of an entrepreneurial community best, “Having people around you care about what you’re doing is an extraordinarily powerful force.” From what I saw at the #StartupSA event on Friday, we are well on the road towards this. Now, let’s harness that force and get the Revolution going! Well done to SiMODiSA for kick-starting this!
For more information on the event visit www.simodisa.com

Startership Reflection

Startership Reflection

Startership_2Every year the Association of Allan Gray Fellows hosts a Startership Seminar where Fellows have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to each other and select the best ones. The top three ideas may then be pitched at the E2 Seminar where the winning idea is awarded financing by E2,the captive source of venture capital available to Fellows.

As a precursor to this year’s Startership Seminar Fellows were invited to events held in Cape Town and Johannesburg about two weeks before the time. The purpose of these preliminary events was to impart the important skill of evaluating the customer/problem fit of Fellows’ business ideas. Put another way, Fellows had to establish what problem a potential customer would be solving with their product or service. The remaining time leading up to the Startership Seminar could then be used to conduct interviews with their potential customers to see if they could refine their ideas towards a great product/market fit, which is the ideal situation of having both a good market and a product that satisfies that market.

In addition to hosting regional preliminary events, this year’s Startership Seminar was also unique in that it was set up to simulate a Startup Weekend – an event that starts with the pitching of ideas on the Friday night and culminates in the presentation of a prototype by the Sunday. The Association’s goal with the special format and theme of this edition of the seminar was to provide Fellows with an opportunity to share their ideas more openly and learn a repeatable process for establishing a viable basis for a business by taking them from concept right through to product/market fit.

1A fundamental component of a Startership Seminar is the opportunity Fellows have to engage with industry-specialist mentors. In their midst this year were venture capitalist Justin Stanford and Quirk Agency co-founder Craig Raw, who also gave the keynote address. Following the opening address, Fellows had the challenging task of compacting their business ideas into one-minute long pitches. From the 20 ideas that were pitched only 11 were selected to be worked on further. The originators of these ideas used the rest of the weekend to consider and incorporate feedback from their mentors and fellow Fellows in the hope of developing bankable models for their ideas.

The Fellows were enthusiastic throughout – from coming up with ideas and testing their assumptions to providing feedback and voting for the ideas they would be willing to invest in. The 11 voted-for ideas were:

  1. In My Zone (a web-lifestyle geo-tagging solution)
  2. Oh My Cake (custom cakes)
  3. Home HIV Testing Kit
  4. Sabenza (mobile piece job recruitment)
  5. African-pattern Formal Clothing
  6. Student Online Trading portal
  7. EcoFuel (biofuel marketing)
  8. An online financial management tool for micro-businesses
  9. A logistics spare-space bartering system
  10. An online payment system that provides virtual credit cards for online transactions
  11. Convenient mobile vegetable gardens for urban dwellings

The originators of the top three ideas will not only have the opportunity to pitch for funding at the upcoming E2 Seminar, but their progress will also be monitored quarterly to consider both the challenges they face and the support they can be given until they can operate sustainably.

The Startership Seminar is an important part of the Association’s work of creating opportunities for entrepreneurial development and equipping Fellows to start enterprises well. It also serves as a platform for Fellows to share and collaborate in the actioning of their ideas and, ultimately, in making a substantial impact on their society.

Scholars get busy with entrepreneurship

Scholars get busy with entrepreneurship

1Challenge Accepted was born one afternoon when four Allan Gray Scholars, Saadiq Brey, Tayla Anthony, Quratul-Ain Parker and Rebecca Plaatjies, sat discussing the impact the Scholarship Programme was having on their lives. In that moment the comparison between their enriched experience and that of their peers seemed worlds apart. “We were deeply troubled by the general lack of motivation, leadership skills and innovative thinking in other young South Africans,” says Saadiq. Perhaps even more troubling was the fact that these young people would be responsible for the country’s future.

They soon set to work to design a fresh, fun and youthful way of passing on the skills and knowledge they had attained as Allan Gray Scholars. The result was a for-the-youth, by-the-youth training programme set to transform South Africa through entrepreneurship and youth leadership. Challenge Accepted equips participating youths, called Challenge Acceptors, with the necessary skills and confidence to take on leadership roles. Consisting of two sessions, the day-long programme guides participants through a process of evaluating some of today’s leading global innovators before evaluating themselves and challenging them to think innovatively.

The first session in the programme zeroes in on the Challenge Acceptors’ inner worlds. They are tasked with completing a personal mind map to identify key aspects of themselves. They also learn to distinguish between their passions and interests, learn how to abandon negative mindsets and adopt positive ones as well as how to establish a good self-image. Lastly, they learn a thing or two about time management by tabulating a daily planner.

The second session is more practical and comprises two challenges. In Challenge One the participants team up in groups of five and reconstruct a disassembled solar charger. They must then work and deliver a one-minute elevator pitch about their charger. In this challenge participants learn to work in teams and communicate effectively. Challenge Two sees participants coming up with a futuristic product or programme in the fields of science, technology, medicine or education. Out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged to forge participants’ innovative thinking mindsets and their presentation skills are practised again when presenting their ideas to the group. This challenge teaches participants about being professional when delivering presentations as well as giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Challenge Accepted is aimed at learners in Grade six and seven but is open to anyone younger than 18. As Grade 10 and 11 learners themselves, Saadiq, Tayla, Quratul-Ain and Rebecca know what it’s like to be young South Africans. They drew a lot on their own experiences – the hardships and self-moulding they had gone through – when designing the programme. They also based it very loosely on Donald Trump’s TV game show, The Apprentice. However, they confess that Challenge Accepted, ultimately, aims to live up to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s vision:

In the coming years there will emerge from diverse communities, a new generation of high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs. Individuals of passion, integrity and innovation who will be at the forefront of the continuing economic and social transformation of this region. These individuals will be ambassadors of the power of initiative, determination and excellence, acting as role models so that many more will follow in their pioneering footsteps.

“Ever since the beginning of our time on the Scholarship we have had a strong yearning  to make our mark on this world and attempt to bring about significant change in South Africa,” explains Saadiq. Being Scholars had so changed their perspective on life that they could not help but accept the challenge of taking some pioneering footsteps.

The Challenge Accepted team sees the programme as only a first phase of their plan to unify, across Cape Town, youths who are equally passionate about contributing positively to the social and economic development in South Africa.

Candidate Fellows attend SAWIP

Candidate Fellows attend SAWIP

2Earlier this year three Allan Gray Candidate Fellows became part of the 2014 South Africa-Washington International Programme (SAWIP). Bongani Ndlovu, Lauren Hess and Thato Mabudusha underwent a rigorous selection process to be part of this seven-month long programme that focuses on developing servant leaders from the team of 18 South Africans selected each year.

The first two months of SAWIP is devoted to developing in each of the 18 team members an in-depth understanding of South Africa’s history. They are then exposed to servant leaders in different industries and sectors of South African society and trained in the skills of speechwriting and public speaking.

An important part of the experience is applying these newly gained skills in a professional working environment. Each of the SAWIP members receives a six-week work placement in Washington D.C. in an organisation within their area of interest. During this time they not only gain work experience but also have the opportunity to interact with leaders in the political, economic and social sectors of America. A key aspect of their time abroad is that they are tasked with being both teachers and learners. They attend and participate in numerous seminars, fora, workshops and talks by renowned global thought leaders. The entire SAWIP experience culminates in a sustainable community engagement project that is worked on by the whole team and is implemented in South Africa.

The 2014 SAWIP team left for the United States of America on the morning of 15 June and reached Washington D.C. after a total of 29 hours in transit. And before making that 29-hour long journey again on the 21st of July they would first have a few life-altering experiences.

Thato, Lauren and Bongani came back one month before the launch of their community project in September. But this bit of pressure paled in comparison to the way their ‘worlds’ had just been broadened. Their altered perspectives about the world and, more poignantly, themselves had them waxing lyrical.

DSC_0413Bongani found the experience of creating international networks significant because “it can fast track your development within any industry or any entrepreneurial venture in future.” For Thato it was invaluable to learn that “as young Africans, we are no less able, talented, intelligent, gifted or competent than our international counterpart.” And while Lauren suspects that the impact of the Washington leg of SAWIP will only truly be felt some months or even years from now, her preliminary thoughts were that it was a ‘growing up’ experience that left her with an almost tangible confidence she did not have before. Of her fellow SAWIP team members Lauren has the following to say: “Being surrounded by such inspirational young people allows me to take comfort (as every South African should) in the fact that we’re doing just fine. There are great things to come from our nation, and soon!”

Report on World University Chess Championships

Report on World University Chess Championships

IMG_2123At the recent World University Chess Championships, held in Katowice, Poland, Allan Gray Candidate Fellow Seadimo Tlale realised again that chess is more than just a sport. Engaging chess grandmasters and sampling Polish culture left her feeling socially and mentally enriched, able to pass on what she had learnt.

The South African team of four arrived in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, on the day the country commemorated its post-World War II reconstruction. This was especially significant to Seadimo, who has always been inclined to matters of social justice and politics. The team was able to spend a national holiday learning first-hand about the country’s struggles and how they overcame.

This first day of absorbing Polish history set the tone for the rest of Seadimo’s trip. In addition to discovering Katowice, the industrial capital of Poland where the tournament was being held, Seadimo and her team were also able to visit Krakow, known as the cultural capital of the country, as well as the town of Wieliczka where the Wieliczka Salt Mines have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While visiting a castle for the first time, indulging in the local cuisine and making friends with contestants from all over the world all ranked high on Seadimo’s list of favourite experiences, her interaction with the locals and their way of living was the absolute highlight of her trip.

She found a number of things fascinating, citing among them the fact that “nobody crossed the street when the pedestrian traffic light was red, even if there were absolutely no cars” and “the majority of Polish people I met couldn’t speak English.” The latter became exceedingly clear when she tried finding her way about town and ended up committing an offence. “It hit me the hardest when I decided to go to town alone, got lost and I couldn’t even ask for directions back. I was also fined 100 Polish zloty (R400) on the same day for something I didn’t really understand,” Seadimo recounts. It’s possible that she still doesn’t know what she did wrong because, she recalls, “the security guard couldn’t even explain!”

As a black girl, Seadimo was also a source of fascination to many of her new friends who had never met a black person before. The local dogs hadn’t either. “I have never had a dog run away from me, ever, and this happened twice!” Seadimo also gained a new-found understanding for what it means to live in a third-world country by hearing how her friends from first-world countries thought about poverty. “The one day, in a casual conversation one of my new friends described poor areas as ‘those houses that don’t have WiFi.’”

In terms of playing chess, Seadimo found this tournament to be the most difficult she had ever played. Despite ranking first in her age group, nationally; winning a silver medal at the 2011 Commonwealth Games for u18 girls; and maintaining a Top 10 position since, she was finding the competition a bit tough. Or as she puts it: “This tournament humbled me.” There were a total of 19 grandmasters, 15 international masters, 13 fide masters and 2 candidate masters. The team did, however, achieve performance ratings that were above their national ratings.  Seadimo takes this as a good sign to mean that more opportunities to compete internationally would significantly improve their play. “My play improved significantly and I came back with a renewed vigour to become an even better chess player.”

For Seadimo chess has always been about more than just playing a sport. It is her tool for facilitating social justice and promoting gender equality. She founded a chess club in the Tumahole township, north of Bloemfontein, a few years ago. Through their involvement in the Tumahole Chess Club’s activities children have been staying off the streets and achieving higher academic results. As the only woman in a national team of four, Seadimo also realises the great need to get more young girls involved in chess. “I use the club to challenge remnants of chauvinism and sexism in the community by allowing girls and boys to participate as equals and learn to work together,” she explains. The chess club also allows Seadimo to plough back all the experience and skills she gains from competing internationally. “I try to add value to the club and, therefore, to the community at large.”

Fellowship Connect by Jasmine Jacob

Fellowship Connect by Jasmine Jacob

2The second year of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme, Year Equip, focuses (among other things) on Candidate Allan Gray Fellows’ interaction with each other. As a way of forging a sense of community among the second year group an event called Connect is arranged every year. During a Connect weekend Candidate Allan Gray Fellows have to come up with ways to engage a specific community. This year’s Connect engaged the Villiersdorp community, particularly the children of Eilandsrivier Primary School. What follows is Candidate Allan Gray Fellow Jasmine Jacob’s personal account of the experience.

With hearts warm and spirits light we watched the children of Eilandsriver Primary School reluctantly wave their goodbyes as their bus made its way back to Villiersdorp. We stood there hoping they were leaving changed; that we had in some way managed to educate, inspire and help 25 of Villiersdorp’s finest realise their potential for greatness. Strangely though, they wouldn’t be the only ones leaving changed. For as we stood there waving goodbye we were no longer separate individuals but a community.

Through Connect we aim to give expression to a Foundation Pillar called the Spirit of Significance. The Foundation defines it as “a weight of personality that comes from living a life of passion and integrity; a recognition that personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order to serve others.” I liked the prospect of putting this ideal into practice. But on our arrival at the Back2Basics campsite on the 4th of April I couldn’t suppress the feelings of apprehension about the weekend that lay ahead. How was I going to work with 60 Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and, more importantly, how were we going to work together as a group?

Now you may wonder what could possibly cause such anxiety. Well, consider this: what is likely to happen when you put a group of strong-willed, opinionated intellectuals together? Disagreements.  And, like all things related to the Fellowship, the disagreements would not be ordinary.

The gathering of the Candidate Allan Gray Fellows (all with different personalities) on that first night of Connect was like the coming together of the different pieces of a puzzle. It was inevitable that some pieces would have trouble finding their place. But as the sun began to set, each piece found its place and together we started forming a clearer picture.

Sitting among a group of Candidate Allan Gray Fellows and hearing the ideas that emerge will often inspire feelings of admiration, even when those ideas run counter to your own. Soon enough heads were nodding agreement in the wooden confines of our campsite. The revolving arguments and conflict dissipated and my apprehension was replaced by admiration.

We all agreed that often in life we give so much attention to beating the closest competitor that we lose focus of the task at hand. There was a risk of that happening, but as we realised our individual weaknesses and strengths we were each able to identify our niche. Within a year, it seemed, we had all found our identity or, as the Foundation would put it, we had found our grounding. And so, covered with blankets with cups of steaming coffee in our hands, we focused on the task at hand:  making an impact on the children of Villiersdorp.

We decided to split into two teams and host separate events for the children. Our collective ideas resulted in a beautifully sketched tree adorned with paper cut-out leaves. Each leaf contained the vision of one of Villiersdorp’s 25 future change agents. Their smiles rewarded our hard work and motivated us to spend the following day making plans to keep our legacy going.

As hard as we worked that weekend we also made time to play. We relived Apoorv’s legendary selection camp dance and sang a capella in the moonlight. There was comfort in simply being together that wasn’t there before. Perhaps it had more to do with the cold than our individual efforts, but we had somehow become a community. Connect  allowed us to work alongside a community in need. Little did we know that working towards a common cause has a way of leaving everyone changed.

This video provides more insight into the event: