April, 2015 | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Mindset lessons from The Karate Kid

Mindset lessons from The Karate Kid

Karate_kidIn the same way that “Daniel-Son” didn’t fully appreciate the method (and pain) in Mr Miyagi’s training madness, in the movie the Karate Kid, so budding entrepreneurs may not always be mindful of the importance of a growth mindset to their endeavours.

Daniel’s training took the form of menial household chores which, predictably, frustrated him. Miyagi explained that these actions would help Daniel to learn essential, defensive Karate blocks through muscle memory. Mr Miyagi cultivated and appealed to Daniel’s growth mindset by demonstrating that his abilities could be developed through application and instruction.

More academically, Prof. Carol Dweck’s ongoing and renowned research on mindset reveals that when students believe that their intelligence can increase, they orient towards doing just that. Students with a growth mindset display an emphasis on learning, effort, and persistence in the face of obstacles. Dweck found the following main characteristics about these students:

  • They are significantly more orientated towards learning goals
  • Show a far stronger belief in the power of effort; They believe that effort promotes ability and that effort is effective regardless of current level of ability
  • Demonstrate mastery-orientated reactions to setbacks

Ricardo Johnson, our Scholarship Regional Manager, has seen these traits in various scholars over the years. He shared stories about two such growth-minded scholars.

The first story is of a boy who became only one of two scholars at his school to be given full access to the school’s music studio – a right reserved strictly for staff in the Music Department. The scholar chose to make the rules his own rather than play by the rules. He earned the trust of the Music Staff by waiting patiently outside the music studio each day to introduce himself to staff as they came in and out as well as asking (repeatedly but politely) to sit-in with staff under supervision. His passion for music was undeniable but it was his determination in growing his presence within the school’s music department that eventually guaranteed trust. Today the scholar is a student at Berklee College of Music, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world.

The second is of a scholar whose persistence and effort in his extra Maths tutorial has not only resulted in a substantial improvement in his Maths marks, but has left the Maths tutor begging him to go home after their weekly sessions! Passion and persistence in the face of obstacles is one indicator of a growth mindset. Research shows that the brain forms new neural connections every time we face challenges and learn. Successful entrepreneurs engage in this process more frequently and with greater effort than others. To date, the scholar has received accolades from ENKE, InnovateSA and the Junior City Council.

Like the Karate Kid, the growth mindset that is inculcated in Scholars takes time, considerable effort and the realisation that success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.

Can Entrepreneurship be learned?

Can Entrepreneurship be learned?


The question is as old as entrepreneurship itself but the World Bank took on the challenge of answering it last year by reviewing a staggering 230 programmes across the globe before coming to their conclusion. The good news is that the answer is a qualified yes.  Along their research journey they also confirmed some useful categorisations as well as discovering a number of useful considerations for those involved in the challenge of unlocking the full potential of entrepreneurship for changing the future. The following five observations were particularly helpful:

1. Definition

A definition of an entrepreneur that captures both the essence and the diversity of the practice: “An individual who recognises opportunities with the purposes of creating value and wealth, whether through formal or informal economic activity”

2. Outcomes

A clear understanding of the four different potential outcomes of entrepreneurship programmes:

2.1. Mindsets – thinking like an entrepreneur

2.2. Capabilities – having entrepreneurial skills

2.3. Status – actually starting a business

2.4. Performance – running a growing business

3. Programme Classification

There is a difference between Entrepreneurship Education (focussing on mindsets and capabilities) targeted at secondary and higher education students as opposed to Entrepreneurship Training (focussing on status and performance) targeted at potential and practising entrepreneurs. This is very much aligned to the Foundation’s thinking where the focus at the Scholarship and Fellowship stages is Entrepreneurship Education, while at the Association stage it is Entrepreneurship Training.

4. Timing

The early bird catches the worm.  Outcomes related to mindsets and capabilities are far more commonly attained than those related to status or performance.  This reminds us that entrepreneurship skills are useful even if you don’t become an entrepreneur.  As they say “creativity is an asset.”

5. Measurement

The potential of entrepreneurship will not be realised without proper measurement of interventions and the World Bank called for improving the measurement of entrepreneurship initiatives as only 60 out of the 230 programmes (26%) had proper impact evaluations.

The full, nearly 300 page, World Bank Report can be found here. Alternatively, Alicia Robb, a co-author of the report and fellow Global Entrepreneurship Research Network participant was kind enough to share with us the summary infographic below at the recent Global Entrepreneurship Congress. We maintain that entrepreneurship can be taught. Do you agree?


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Seeds of Synergy – GROWingUP to green the world

Seeds of Synergy – GROWingUP to green the world

Matjie MaboyaWere it not for the Foundation’s July 2014 Jamboree, business partners Lillian Maboya and Bianca Vernes would not have met. Lillian (a Candidate Fellow doing her Honours in Environmental and Geographical Science) and Bianca (a Candidate Fellow in her final year of a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics) both study at the University of Cape Town and probably passed each other at Foundation events and on the UCT campus several times before. Yet it took a gathering of like-minded individuals with an interest in green technology for them to get in touch.

At that point both young women had their own plans for taking action in the arenas of sustainable development, vertical and permaculture gardening. It took a few meetings to compare notes to get the ball rolling. It’s been less than seven months since they met but they already have a registered company – Grow Up – with four employees. Equally impressive is a prototype that’s being refined with a launch date a mere two months away. Synergistic magic!


A meshing of ideas

Before commencing her studies at UCT as a Candidate Fellow, Lillian was enrolled at the African Leadership Academy (ALA) where she came into contact with EarthBox – a company that developed a gardening system by the same name. Lillian was excited by the unique system’s compact nature, conservative use of resources and resistance to weeds and micro-organisms. During high school she worked on gardening and environmental projects that earned ALA recognition and prize money. After completing high school, however, Lillian neglected her passion for greening the environment and it was only last year that she was ready to get her hands dirty again. Her attempts to reconnect with EarthBox revealed that the company had ceased operating, which is when the idea of buying and reviving the company was born.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.02.28 AMOn the other side of campus, Bianca was also thinking about ways to express her passion for environmental activism and community upliftment. Before coming into contact with the Foundation, she thought that her empathy and passion for human progress would only ever find a place within the non-governmental and non-profit sectors. Since then, however, she has realised the potential that businesses have to effect change and has become well-acquainted with social enterprises. She developed a knack for spotting such ventures everywhere – particularly in New York where she was struck by the scale and popularity of urban agriculture and vertical gardens. She started thinking of how these concepts could be replicated in South Africa without reinventing the wheel, bearing in mind the space, infrastructure and resource limitations that were unique to home.

When the two finally got together it was a relatively simple task to fuse the best parts of each other’s ideas and address a problem they were both exhausted by: non-profits with great ideas waiting on for-profits to fund those ideas.

They were going to design their own product that combined the best of EarthBox with the upward-planting characterised by vertical gardens. And that was the birth of Grow Up.

Capitalising on competitions

The next phase of their business progress was influenced by the Foundation’s ongoing support. Through Jamboree, the annual gathering of Candidate Fellows from across South Africa, Lillian and Bianca heard Ludwick Marishane’s advice on obtaining startup funding. As the inventor of DryBath, Ludwick advised them to seek seed funding through entrepreneurship competitions. He motivated that it required relatively little effort to put together a pitch and that this kind of funding usually had no strings attached.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.03.10 AMThe other type of support they enjoyed was the direct feedback of mentors like their Entrepreneurial Leadership Development Officers. In Lillian’s case, Jonathan Dickson was invaluable in providing feedback on her pitches, telling her what to include and exclude.

They jumped right in and submitted their first entry to the Western Cape Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards mere weeks after their initial meeting. Though they didn’t win first place or the prize money in this competition, they made the most of the networking opportunity and were invited by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism to pitch their idea. Their pitch was successful and they received R25 000 to create their prototype.

Refine, get set, launch!

Bianca then called on an architect friend to help with the structural design of Grow Up. Clem, as he is endearingly known  by the girls, was pivotal in helping them refine both the design and brand identity of Grow Up.

They are now on their second prototype and they have a horticulturist on their payroll to test it, determine harvest yields and help with the writing of the Grow Up instruction manual. It’s all very exciting and both Lillian and Bianca are counting down the days to their proposed launch, set for May – in time for winter planting and harvesting in Spring!

When excitement looms it’s often a challenge to think beyond the thrill of the moment but not so with Team Grow Up. They have already discussed plans for their national and international roll out as well as the differentiation of subsequent products and the potential of customers to customise their gardening systems.

1 + 1 = more

‘One plus one equals more’ makes no sense in pure mathematical terms, but in the case of Grow Up ,and its mission, it’s perfectly logical. Grow Up is certainly more than the sum of its founders and will go far beyond the sum of its parts. It has considerable potential: saving businesses money, being a basis for income generation in communities and serving as a tool in entrepreneurial development.

As Bianca puts it, the possibilities are endless. She explains, “That’s really what we wanted it to be … a tool that we could get out there that would not just meet needs but also enable and empower people. I’m excited to see what some people end up using these gardens for; I’m sure we’re going to get some amazing stories.”

Both Lillian and Bianca have acknowledged the role that the Foundation has played in the establishment of their business. It’s fair to say that Grow Up is a result of the support and networking opportunities provided to Candidate Fellows. It is also the result of being trained to see problems as mere inefficiencies that can be solved without reinventing the wheel.

Inspiring Champions

Inspiring Champions

Bulukani NdlovuWe recently caught up with Fellow Bulukani Ndlovu. When he’s not tending to numbers as a CA or out in the wee hours of the morning, training for the Two Oceans Marathon, Bulukani can be found visiting high schools and chatting to learners about their future prospects.

He co-founded the Beyond Matric Foundation with a colleague while based in Durban. The two of them had noticed a tendency among Grade 9 through 12 learners to make attaining Matric their be all and end all. And more often than not these Matriculants would be either ill-equipped for the career they wished to pursue or they had no clue what their options were.

Through the Beyond Matric Foundation they are able to provide high school youth for career guidance. They work primarily in underprivileged schools and invite volunteers from various professions, whom they call Beyond Matric Champions, to speak to the learners. “We encourage learners to think beyond just attaining the Matric qualification. They should be aware of career opportunities as early as Grade 9 so that they can make informed decisions when choosing their subjects in Grade 10,” says Bulukani.

They try to visit at least one school per month with volunteers. Bulukani is spearheading the project in a Gauteng township and is appealing to all you professionals out there: “We need more Champions to join us and make a difference in our communities.” If this is an opportunity that interests you, please contact Bulukani at bulukani83@gmail.com.

We wish Bulukani well with his work at the Beyond Matric Foundation as well as his endeavours to become a champion of another kind this year. He’s aiming to finish the Two Oceans 56km in under 5 hours and 30 minutes. Good luck, Bulukani!


Farewell and thank you to one of the real servants of the Foundation

Farewell and thank you to one of the real servants of the Foundation

XY3A1253On Tuesday, March 24th 2015 the Foundation held its Ninth Annual General Meeting (“AGM”). The event was tinged with some sadness as it brought to an end Mahesh Cooper’s nine years of service as a Trustee.  Mahesh has thus been a Trustee of the Foundation since its inception and it is difficult to imagine the organisation moving forward without the comfort of his wise guidance and thoughtful input.

From the earliest days Mahesh was always more than willing to get fully involved, well beyond his Trustee responsibilities, not least being an assessor at the first few Fellowship selection camps in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Mahesh’s contribution has certainly not been limited to only the South African Foundation.  He initially served as a Trustee of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundations in Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland.  In addition he continues to serve as a Trustee of E2, with which he has been involved since its inception.   It is very evident that any impact the overall mission may have yet effected has been built on the solid foundation provided by Mahesh’s contribution.

Mahesh’s outstanding service to the Foundation was marked with a special ceremony at the end of the AGM where a representative Allan Gray Scholar and Fellow expressed their appreciation for the work that Mahesh has carried out so diligently for the Foundation.  He was presented with a Bonsai tree, symbolic of how we hope the seeds he has planted at the Foundation grow into a mighty oak across the nation, as well as a plaque commemorating his  ‘achievement excellence’ over all these years.

Mahesh will be replaced on the Board of Trustees, by Allan Gray Executive, Seema Dala.


Scholars accepted into Fellowship

Scholars accepted into Fellowship


At the end of last year, from the third Allan Gray Scholarship Matric Cohort in 2014, eight Allan Gray Scholars were selected as Candidate Allan Gray Fellows at university. This is the latest chapter in a story that began in 2007.


Back in 2007, the Foundation was concerned at the depth of the pool of applicants to the Allan Gray Fellowship.  It was therefore decided to initiate the Allan Gray Scholarship, identifying deserving candidates with great potential at the end of primary school, who would be placed in leading high schools across South Africa as a mechanism to give these learners a powerful platform from which to succeed in their ultimate application for the Allan Gray Fellowship at the end of matric.


The purpose of the Allan Gray Scholarships is thus very clear – it is to increase the pipeline of talented young South Africans that can be accepted as Candidate Allan Gray Fellows. It is for this reason that we celebrate the eight Allan Gray Scholars that have now realised this vision and continue their journey with the Foundation into tertiary education.


We congratulate these eight Scholars on joining the ranks of the Fellowship. We look forward to them continuing their journey with the Foundation and four years ahead, having excelled at university both academically and entrepreneurially, to enter into the next phase of the overall vision through being admitted as Allan Gray Fellows into the Association of Allan Gray Fellows. At that point, including selection there will be a 10 year journey with the Foundation for these eight individuals – an indication of our belief in taking a long term approach. Yet we remain convinced that even an initial 10 year investment will look insignificant relative to the ultimate impact that these individuals will have in shaping the future of South Africa.


Reflections on Accenture Innovation Conference  By Ludwick Marishane

Reflections on Accenture Innovation Conference By Ludwick Marishane


I was greatly honoured when Accenture approached me to give a talk on reverse innovation at their recent Innovation Conference, held on 26 February. I was the only African speaker among the internationally renowned Sebastian Thrun (the inventor of Google Glass, and founder of Udacity), Lisa Bodell (the author of Kill the Company), and Prof. Clayton Christensen (Harvard-based author of The Innovator’s Dilemma/DNA). So, the task was quite daunting, especially because at that stage I had no idea what reverse innovation was. To add to the pressure I was feeling, I was sent pictures of my face on pole-boards all over Sandton! (I’m grateful to the friends who sent those pictures.)

At first I thought of reverse innovation as reverse engineering, but I thought it wise to do a Google search. Reverse innovation seemed to describe innovations that were primarily developed in, exported to and used in developing economies. Yes, I was also confused when I first read that! Was this simply nomenclature so we don’t always have to say “it was an innovation from/by a developing economy”? Or was it a signal that innovations from developing economies are not deserving of simply being called ‘an innovation’?

I suspected that the answer was a combination of both, but instead of arguing this point I decided to focus my talk on how we should define innovation and what I think it should mean in an African socio-economic development context.

Innovation by my definition is research and development (seeking the best solution through a scientific method of reflective trial and error) in order to understand a problem and ensure the effective implementation of its solution. It’s not always about doing something new but realising when simply doing something different would be more effective. It’s the combination of humanity’s best attributes: our ability to imagine the unseen and to leverage our abilities to manipulate nature so that the dream manifests into a reality. The challenges that society faces will be solved by people who think logically, live empathically and are committed to doing their desired work to the best of their abilities.

The country’s ability to develop excellent science and math skills among its citizens has been dismal. In addition, the society has become emotionally dysfunctional – people are still learning how to relate to each other emotionally while coping with the accelerated impact of technology. Before we can see such overall socio-economic progress our continent’s people first need sustainable jobs. In order to create these job opportunities and craft a significantly inclusive African society, we need to pursue socio-economic growth based on the strength of the innovators leading our organisations.

While I can’t speak for other African countries, I do think we all should focus on cleaning our backyards first, learning from each other’s successes and failures. In South Africa we spend less than 2% on Research and Development. The global average is 6%. My presentation argued that the problem is not a lack of money but rather a lack of willingness from all the stakeholders. With mechanisms such as BBBEE Enterprise Development funding (think EMEs, Exempt Micro Enterprises), companies could be using a significant portion of their budget to invest in industrial or new-market-creating innovations (remember my definition of it) in a manner that increases South Africa’s (and other African countries’) manufacturing self-sufficiency.

BBBEE EME is an ignored tool that can be used to effectively enable companies with the potential to list in the next 10–20years. Headboy Industries Inc. is seeking to leverage this tool through our Polymath Innovations unit and the process of validating a sustainable impact-and-profit model is the focus of my MPhil in Inclusive Innovation thesis.

I gained many insights from the conference. Among others, they were that the bureaucratic organisations (with their much needed resources) are finally seeing the importance of innovation, but they will only provide supportive resources to trusted talent that can produce measurable results (profit and impact). I realised that resources should be dedicated to creating a generation of skilled problem-solvers, not more entrepreneurs – the solution that everyone seems to be throwing at the problem. It is a fact that not all problems are best solved through businesses and I think poorly-skilled problem-solvers will only serve as ineffective entrepreneurs.


Leading through Caring

Leading through Caring

Letitia Wilson 2

She has always been the one to bring the proverbial stray cat home. This is a fact borne out by her mother and her 16-year long career in the non-profit sector. She affectionately refers to these years as her time spent in the trenches.

The ‘trenches’ is where she became acquainted with the heartache of abject poverty. She has seen the resilience of those determined to succeed; she has been moved to tears by young women who, despite their abuse, rise as survivors; and she has felt her chest swell in pride when young men graduate with honours despite numerous temptations to throw in the towel.

Letitia goes on to explain, “I find fulfilment in helping others and exhilaration when those self-same individuals rise above their circumstances to become successful, self-sustaining individuals who contribute to society.” This is perhaps why the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation struck such a cord with her. She loves what the Foundation stands for and believes that her contribution to the organisation will not only impact future generations but will create an environment that her two children can one day thrive in. “I believe that by working towards the Foundation’s vision, I am able to contribute, vicariously, to the greater good of this country.”

Before joining the Foundation as part of the Events and Logistics Team, Letitia worked with Christel House South Africa (CHSA) for more than seven years. She managed various projects during the launch phase of the organisation and later took on the responsibility of selection and recruitment. Her role within the Foundation is ensuring that her team delivers events with excellence so that the outcomes of the Fellowship and Scholarship Programmes are achieved. The events that this team manages covers the entire journey of a Candidate Fellow – from the time they are selected, throughout their programme, to the time they are admitted to the Association as fully fledged Allan Gray Fellows.

Letitia believes that she is ideally placed to play to her strengths. Her strong belief in people and her patience during challenging times allows everyone to win. “I enjoy seeing people win,” she emphasises smilingly.

When asked about her dreams for South Africa, Letitia doesn’t skip a beat. She hopes to see poverty eradicated in her lifetime. She started believing this is possible ever since the Foundation attuned her to entrepreneurship as the key to creating socio-economic transformation in this country. The other issue that is close to her heart is the support and empowerment of women. As a member of the Women in Business Society, at the UCT Graduate School of Business, she raises funds in support of individuals who pursue postgraduate studies. “I know that when we support women through education we are raising up leaders with authentic power.”

Letitia Wilson’s life is a case in point. She is the embodiment of authenticity, leading as she cares.




Foundation Admission’s Ceremony

Foundation Admission’s Ceremony

IMG_5593The Admissions Event of the Association of Allan Gray Fellows is a highlight of every Candidate Fellow’s journey, second only to their graduation from university. It marks a Candidate Fellow’s progression from Candidate Fellow to Fellow. On this day the successful Candidate Fellows are awarded certificates admitting them into the Association of Allan Gray Fellows. Certain achievements for excellence in entrepreneurship, academics and mentoring are also recognised at the ceremony and families and friends are invited to witness the admission of the Candidate Fellows into the Association.

This year’s Admissions Event was held on Saturday, 7 March, at Allan Gray Limited in Cape Town. The group of 2015 consisted of 53 Fellows. Sadly there was one important omission from this group in Nnete Malebo who passed away last year.

Acknowledging the success of Fellows at an event like this is significant because it signals the completion of a four-year long journey. The journey to become a Fellow is a difficult one and this event serves as a recognition of those who have put in the effort and succeeded in making it into the Association.

IMG_5581The Admissions Event also signals the next phase of a Fellow’s journey. Fellows enter the Association with the entrepreneurial mindset they developed during the Fellowship Programme. The Association provides the Fellows with tools and opportunities to enhance their personal leadership development, their networks within and beyond the Foundation Community and their entrepreneurial activity.

By virtue of being part of the Association Community, Fellows with bright ideas and big plans are given the tools to implement these. And that in itself is a cause for celebrating their admission into the Association of Allan Gray Fellows.

The Disney Imagineers who ensure that Disneyland will never be completed

The Disney Imagineers who ensure that Disneyland will never be completed

6a00d83454ab7169e201676712b2d5970b-500wiIt may seem strange to post another blog about Walt Disney considering that he is credited with having once said: I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.” However, the popularity of the last blog post in the Shape the Future series as well as the imminent 60th anniversary of @Disneyland, warrants revisiting some of the learnings from one of the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs –Walt Disney.

Through a biographical lens, the last blog unpacked the Intellectual Imagination pillar exemplified by Disney’s Creating mindset and his attitude of Innovating. This piece considers how the Courageous Commitment pillar, Risking mindset and Being undaunted attitude led to his global theme-park phenomenon.

Courageous Commitment is the courage and determination to continue, realising that applying consistent commitment has a way of overcoming. A Risking mindset is evidenced by being brave enough to try; particularly when the results of outcomes are not certain and could either land up in your favour or going against you.

Located in Anaheim, California, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world – with over 650 million guests since it opened in 1955. In 2013 the park hosted approximately 16.2 million guests, making it the third-most visited park in the world that year.

Disney’s woes in bringing The Happiest Place on Earth to life are well-documented. Prior to the park’s opening he said: “It’s no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment.”

Walt-Disney-11However, the financial difficulties were fertile ground for courageous commitment. Disney was undaunted when he capitalised on the success of his pioneering work in television animation by convincing a leading broadcaster to air a show called Disneyland – whose advertising revenue helped to fund its park namesake. He also leased various properties and saved the rental income. I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.”

Disney’s Risking mindset lives on in the people who co-create Disneyland to this day – affectionately known as Imagineers. Imagineers are individuals who have diverse skills and talents. There are approximately 140 different job titles within the Imagineering ambit, including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers and graphic designers. Imagineers have three guiding principles which stand any entrepreneur in good stead:

  • Creating new concepts and/or improving concepts to fulfil specific needs
  • Returning to ideas for attractions and shows that, for whatever reason, never came to fruition so that they are re-worked and presented in more suitable ways
  • Generating ideas with no limitations – a process called blue sky speculation

It is no surprise that all Disneyland Imagineers are held to a strict code of conduct and the highest levels of service. The world waits with bated breath at the creative genius and cutting-edge family entertainment that will be unveiled at Disneyland’s Diamond Celebrations next month. The words of its Founder echo with inspiration: “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” 

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