Opportunity for young SA entrepreneurs to experience the Start-Up Nation itself.

Opportunity for young SA entrepreneurs to experience the Start-Up Nation itself.

There is little that compares to experiencing things first hand, particularly when that exposure offers a window into a whole new level of possibility. Such opportunities often expand our horizons and shatter the limitations of our previously moderate expectations. In the world of entrepreneurship there is a small country with a big reputation and few who experience it first-hand are left unchanged.

The entrepreneurial magic of the nation of Israel was brought to the forefront a few years ago with the publication of the book, Start-Up Nation. It essentially tried to answer the question how such a young country of only 7.1 million people, surrounded by enemies and with no natural resources has been able to produce more start-up companies than countries like China and the UK.

Well now these is an opportunity for young South African entrepreneurs to find out for themselves by applying for a funded opportunity to participate in the first 2015 Young Entrepreneurs Trip to Israel & Palestine. Applications close on 30 January. The link to the online application can be found here. (There will also be other trips later in the year)

One of our Allan Gray Fellows, Douglas Hoernle, was fortunate to participate in the pilot trip late last year.  He had the following reflection on the opportunity:

“After personally experiencing the level of innovation and economic activity in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I am in a position to dream bigger than I previously thought possible. The experience has helped me grow my personal and business dreams and I have no doubt it will help take my business to a much higher level.”

For more detail on the nature and activities of the trip, (including a final dinner with the Start-Up Nation author) host Dan Brotman provides an overview:

An extract from the 2014 “Young Trep” trip by Dan Brotman | Oct 22, 2014

Recognising the need to foster a stronger culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa, Investec and the South Africa-Israel Forum (SAIF) partnered to take a first-ever delegation of 20 young entrepreneurs to Israel late last year.

The purpose of the pilot trip was to expose South African job creators under the age of 35 to best practices in business and entrepreneurship in arguably the world’s most entrepreneurial country, Israel.

Those selected were diverse both in terms of backgrounds and industries, and are directly responsible for the creation of over 300 jobs through their businesses. One such participant is Modjadji Ramphadi, 32, from Johannesburg, who grew up in rural Limpopo and was unable to finish her studies due to lack of funds. She eventually resigned from her job as a receptionist and became an entrepreneur, starting her own cleaning company and beauty care line, which together employ 132 rural women today.

Doug Hoernle, 24, from Cape Town, is the founder of Rethink Education, which has developed chat-style online platforms to aid in the teaching of core maths and science. To date, Rethink Education has distributed maths and science content to over 400 000 South African high school learners, and Hoernle’s company recently received the 2014 African Content Award for the Best Mobile Education Content in Africa.

Other participants included South Africa’s first black female chocolatier, a young female farmer from the Free State and the owner of a chain of youth travel hostels.

One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to engage with two of Israel’s highest-profile former South African businesspeople, Morris Kahn and Maxine Fassberg.

Kahn, 84, met Aliyah from Benoni in 1956 without a university degree or formal business training. He went on to found the Aurec Group, which produced the Yellow Pages directory that eventually paved the way for Israeli software giant Amdocs, which now has more than 20 000 employees worldwide and customers in over 50 countries.

The media-shy philanthropist volunteered to share his life story publically for the first time, as he believed that young “born-free” South African entrepreneurs would benefit most from hearing about what he has learned about entrepreneurship during his lifetime.

Kahn became visibly emotional when he explained how moving it was to see South African entrepreneurs of all colours sitting around the dinner table and collaborating on new business ideas.

“A gathering like this would have been illegal when I last lived in South Africa,” he said.

South African-born Intel Israel Vice-President Maxine Fassberg is arguably one of Israel’s highest ranking businesswomen, and was selected as one of 14 women to light torches at this year’s Israel Independence Day ceremony.

Fassberg engaged with the group on issues ranging from women in business to affirmative action. When asked whether businesswomen needed to choose between having a family or career, she pulled out a photograph of her grandson and beamed: “Look at me, I have both! You should never have to choose between the two.”

Participant Phakiso Tsotetsi is the founder of The Hook Up Dinner, a growing initiative that gives start-ups from across South Africa a platform from which to connect, engage and contribute to each others’ success, while also providing entrepreneurs with a valuable interface to corporate South Africa.

The group also visited Ramallah, where they met Bashar Masri, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur and founder of Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank. They also met with young Palestinian entrepreneurs and discussed the challenges of doing business in the West Bank.

The group shared the South African experience of reconciliation with their Palestinian counterparts and explained that, although their country underwent a peaceful transition in 1994, there was still much work to be done until South Africa had truly become the “Rainbow Nation”.

The closing dinner with “Start Up Nation” author Saul Singer, gave the group time to reflect on the intense week they had experienced.

saif-hookupdinner-full

Planning to build a different future?  Start here.

Planning to build a different future? Start here.

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“Instead of pursuing many-sided mediocrity…, a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it. Instead of working tirelessly to make herself indistinguishable, she strives to be great at something substantive—to be a monopoly of one.”   Peter Thiel

Opportunity is not always what it seems. Just over a hundred years ago a small advert was placed in a London newspaper. It read as follows:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success”

It was placed by Irish explorer, Ernest Shackleton, as he sought to build a team to cross Antarctica. Incredibly, despite its grim description, the advert resulted in an avalanche of 5,000 applications for the required 27 person team. Yet should we be surprised?  The words were an invitation to something much bigger than the possibility of discomfort and danger, they represented an opportunity for significance, an opportunity to fulfil that ongoing and deep seated search for meaning.

Now the Allan Gray Fellowship might not hold the threat of physical danger, even if entrepreneurship was once described as “staring into the abyss and eating glass”, but it too offers the opportunity for significance. As with the Shackleton expedition, it does not promise an easy ride, but one that will allow you to build a different future, a future that results from being equipped and supported to both imagine and create.

In each of the last 10 years, on average around 2000 matrics and first year students have found it in themselves to accept the challenge to shape a new future and apply for the Allan Gray Fellowship. They have ignored the obstacles and been stirred by the possibility of joining a community of now some 675 like-minded individuals to pursue responsible entrepreneurship for the common good. They have been encouraged by the stories of existing Allan Gray Fellows and Candidate Fellows such as KholofeloMashokane, Dominic, Arushka and Siya.

They have been struck by our passionate dream to intentionally develop the entrepreneurial and innovative talents of young people—to nurture their initiative, curiosity, imagination, creativity, as well as their analytical abilities—alongside the essential qualities of character such as commitment, empathy and a strong moral foundation?

Will you join them?

The Foundation has this week embarked on its annual journey to find those individuals who sense a bigger purpose for their lives and who want to help shape our future.  Visit our website to find out how you can Shape Your Future with an Allan Gray Fellowship 

Learn more by watching the Foundation Experience video below

 

 

 

 

 

Can a small group of people make a big difference?

Can a small group of people make a big difference?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

fulbright_chile_at_fiftyThe quote is well used and might even lose some of its impact over time with repeated usage. But it recently came alive in a fresh way when speaking with one of South Africa’s respected business leaders as he described the dramatic impact a few individuals had made on the economic prospects of an emerging market country, saying that it only takes a few well prepared individuals to change a nation.  He was referring to a group of around 100 individuals who were specially equipped and trained at some of the top educational institutions in the world to make a contribution to their country, Chile.  They became known as the “Chicago Boys” as many of them studied at the University of Chicago.

They were very much on the fringes of influence, until after the 1973 coup in Chile. With the country in a desperate state, the leaders turned to the ideas of the Chicago Boys and over the following decades their impact on Chile was remarkable, sometimes described as the “Miracle of Chile”. Not only did significant numbers of them taken up key leadership positions in the country including four Minsters of Finance, two Governors of the Reserve Bank and many other cabinet, civil society and corporate leadership roles, but they also had a significant economic impact on Chile.  Two statistics are particularly impressive when we consider them in relation to the targets of the South African National Development Plan (NDP). Firstly from the mid 1980’s until 1997, Chile averaged an incredible 7% economic growth rate and secondly in 1988, 48% of Chileans were below the poverty line and by 2000, this number had reduced to 20%!  (The South African NDP goal is to move this poverty level from its current 39% of the population to 0% by 2030)

Although there are surely many more levels of analysis required around this story, I could not help but be motivated by such a clear and powerful confirmation for the belief that a small group of committed individuals can really shape the future. It gives one confidence that it only requires a relatively small number of people, aligned to the same common purpose, to achieve a tipping point of change. It is a belief that drives the whole philosophy of the Foundation. While our approach has a different focus, harnessing the power of entrepreneurship rather than pure economics, it is our dream that in years to come the world might reflect on the contribution of Allan Gray Fellows with a similar sense of wonder at how much can be achieved by a small group of individuals. (And how much better are our chances when not limiting ourselves to only one gender!)

As we start 2015, let’s take heart from this and many other similar examples to shape the future in a way that does justice to the potential of our country and lifts the ideals of the NDP from the pages of a document into the reality of our daily lives. We need many different “Mead groups” each showing commitment to their own causes, or in the words of the NDP vision statement:

We say to one another: I cannot be without you, without you this South African community, is an incomplete community, without one single person, without one single group, without the region or the continent, we are not the best that we can be.

No more mediocrity, let’s be the best we can be.