The poet is the muse on the entrepreneurial journey

The poet is the muse on the entrepreneurial journey

“so you keep looking back
if you did not listen when the past was breathing…

so you keep looking back
even when the darkness is so thick it could touch your eyeballs…

feel the wall while you walk and hold,

hold

glue your eye into the distance and keep walking

move, child,

move

if we don’t get there nobody must . . .”

From the poem Heat and Sweat by Dr. Mongane Wally Serote

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Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.25.26 AMA common Zulu adage: “kukude emuva, kukude phambili” comes to mind when I read these words by Dr. Mongane Wally Serote. It literally means: “behind is far; ahead is far” and is relevant when one finds oneself traversing, literally or metaphorically, unforgiving terrain and unsure of which way to turn. It’s at times like these that turning back seems easier to do than carrying on.

However when you’re equidistant from the starting point and the finish line, or, at least, if continuing either way requires the same amount of exertion then changing course could be wiser than either turning back or carrying on.

The entrepreneurship journey is no different and who better that Dr. Serote, who as a struggle stalwart, can personally attest to having experienced the heat and sweat during apartheid to inspire us about redirecting? Serote consciously redirected the course of his life by choosing not to focus on the injustices that steered him off-course in the first place. His story has inspired many to do the same. The key signs on today’s blog journey are: Spirit of Significance, Adapting and Redirecting.

The Spirit of Significance pillar is defined as the weight of personality that comes from living a life that is personified by passion and integrity; a recognition that ultimate personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order that one may serve others.

Adapting is a mindset and it’s all about being able to make changes and adjusting behaviour (or way of doing things) to meet new or changing circumstances.

The attitude activator Redirecting is a process that appears to be going the wrong way but turning it around in a more positive direction.

Dr. Serote became involved in the Black Consciousness Movement during apartheid. He was arrested in 1969 by the apartheid government under the Terrorism Act, released after nine months in solitary confinement and exiled to America. He was barred from re-entering South Africa in the late 1970s after earning a Masters in Fine Arts from Columbia University in New York while on a Fulbright scholarship. Thereafter he worked for the ANC’s Arts and Culture Department in Gaborone, Botswana thereafter.

Serote has published poetry about social activism and resistance in numerous journals. In 1973, he won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize and the Noma Award for Publishing in 1003. In 2004, he received the Pablo Neruda Award from the Chilean Government. He was the Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Arts and Culture. He is currently the CEO and Executive Chair of Freedom Park, a national heritage site in Pretoria.

Serote’s poetry and writing during apartheid was a powerful outlet for the injustices of the era. His work gave a voice to the oppressed. It helped them to liberate and redirect themselves in a new and positive directions. From him we learn that pulling it together and getting back on track when things go haywire is about answering the following questions honestly:

  • What low points have you experienced on your business journey that, with some redirecting, you can turn around?
  • How interested are you in developing your capacity for redirecting?

The answer could come from a simple u-turn because as Barry Kayton, the CEO of Cognician Inc., once said: “Most new businesses fail because they fail at redirecting – pivoting away from a weak strategy toward one that is unambiguously successful.”

Rugby and the myth of success | Peter Manser

Rugby and the myth of success | Peter Manser

Inside imageSouth Africa’s Saturday loss against Japan in our first Rugby World Cup match was disappointing to say the least. In today’s piece Dr. Peter Manser, proud principal at our Circle of Excellence member school, Alexander Road High School, in Port Elizabeth, explores why prioritising significance over success is so critical in our schools in light of the dominance of the sporting culture within them.

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It seems peculiar that the power, strength, size and speed of rugby players sometimes tend to symbolise the core of success at many South African schools. For some there is a bizarre belief that victory on the sports field means that our children are being educated successfully.

There appears to be a mythical assumption that the success of a school is directly proportionate to the success of its 1st XV rugby team. As a result the purchase of children from primary schools or the poaching of any learner from a neighbouring school who demonstrates a semblance of rugby talent appears to have reached educationally inexplicable proportions. Other sporting codes such as hockey, netball or squash tend to be sidelined and of course soccer, arguably the most popular sport in the world, doesn’t feature at all!

The “godliness” of rugby at school level is surely an insult to girls and a slight to all well-balanced, academically astute not-so-rugby inclined young people; not to mention those who practice their music or dance for hours in order to achieve a level of excellence required by the arts. Dropping a note is simply not as important as dropping a ball!

Why Celebrate Success

It is not the fact that schools celebrate their successes per se that I question. Rather it is how, for what and for whom we measure success at schools that becomes a contentious issue. In order to secure a reserved seat on the Ferris wheel of success, some schools for example turn rugby into a compulsory event. Either you must play or you must watch and cheer!  In short, the achievement of success for the greater good becomes superfluous when one assumes that success is measured by a somewhat egotistical, insular act of self-righteousness.

It seems that it is customary and an indelible part of our South African schools’ educational psyche to celebrate all that is considered popular for the wrong reasons. Those school leaders who publically strut their victories are those who shine their trophies, swell their egos and rate their achievements by celebrating their measure of success through their defeat of others. These are the select who celebrate because it makes them look good rather than because their success is morally, ethically and educationally justifiable.

Other, more holistically balanced school leaders, celebrate with learners, families and educators and give thanks to the fruits of what hard work and dedication harvest across a wide spectrum of activities. They celebrate excellence in diversity and all that it encompasses as they choose to celebrate achievements in the broadest terms possible. An effective school leader should instill a belief that the role of a school is to extend the horizons of children rather than curtail them.

Success and Significance

I have become increasingly aware that success at schools needs to be expanded to embrace significance – and there is a fundamental difference between the two. Success-based motives ask what children can do to enhance the image of the school. It is centered on self and is contained within the borders of the school. The effect of this success has limited influence as it encourages convergent behaviour and a heliocentric belief that the educational universe revolves around the school. Instead of the school being an integral part of society’s educational needs, it is seen as a self-ingratiated entity around which all else becomes relatively insignificant. Here success is selfishly guarded and is perceived as a ‘win at all costs’ target often governed by rigid expectations and narrowly defined behavioural rigidity.

Significance, however, requires us to ask what the school can do to help children become more universally relevant. In Blake’s words, it ‘turns and turns in a widening gyre’ and the school could in all likelihood become an immeasurable place of infinite impact. Significance has unlimited influence as it is about others. Significance is about educating children to be future leaders as it encourages them to embrace the needs of the country not simply the needs of the school. Significance teaches the art of social entrepreneurship and affords young people many opportunities to determine for themselves where they believe their interests and talents lie and how these can be used for the greater good.

Significance and Citizenry

Success determines how we add value to our insular world. Significance determines how we add value to the greater world outside. Extrinsic reward, like a short term moment of satisfaction, becomes the result of our success in victory; significant reward is the ongoing celebration of others’ successes and their multifarious efforts. There is a fundamental shift in values away from the self -gratification of success based thinking. While we need to strive for excellence in all that we do, we need to turn excellence into significance beyond the realms of our school walls. The cheerleaders who are brainwashed to idolise the muscle and brawn of a few should be educated to cheer and celebrate all that is good.

cheerleader

Above all they should be educated to appreciate that our human capital needs to be evenly distributed across the entire realm of our schools’ activities so that all children can benefit in areas that may not bring immediate satisfaction.

If schools do not move from being selfishly success-based to unselfishly significant then I fear that education in our country will not prosper. We need to focus on the real needs of our country and educate with a focus on significance.  We need to guide our children to become well-versed in the art of citizenry and educate them to believe that their success can only be measured by their significant contribution to the world at large. It is about time that all schools create a climate of understanding that there are multiple ways of measuring success and multiple means of celebrating significance.

The Measure of a School’s Significant Success

I believe that rather than measure the success of a school by celebrating the uniformity of our sponsored rugby jerseys, we need to measure our significance in society by shifting our traditional thinking and customary beliefs. We need to take brave decisions and not be fearful of change.

I believe that the significance of a school’s success is not necessarily measured in tangible ways, but often significant success is evident in a more spiritual sense. It is found in attitude, it is heard in laughter, it is felt in love and caring, it shines in eyes and it moves in silent empathy. It is the core of support and the centre of hope. Success is personified in goodness and sincerity, it thrives on friendship and it is nurtured in the love one has for one’s fellow man. It is the product of understanding the melodic notes of the musical intonations of peace.

Success is not about scarcity mentalities that thrive on the belief that in order to be significant one needs to be selfishly powerful. Rather success is the soul mate of abundance mentalities where all of us are as important as one of us, where our energy and sense of achievement are rewarded by watching others thrive and grow.

So as we celebrate success together, let us begin to match our success with our potential to achieve significance. In this way our well-guarded shrines can be for the benefit of all future South Africans.

Three cheers!

Earth to Elon – will you read this?

Earth to Elon – will you read this?

elon musk photo1It was nothing but sheer determination and luck that helped me get my hands on Elon Musk’s (oft-sold out) biography by Ashlee Vance recently. Having watched TV interviews and documentaries about Musk over the years, I have always been impressed by his “can do” attitude and work ethic.

However, TV interviews can only tell so much of a story so, given that Musk is a voracious reader, I couldn’t think of a better way to learn more about one of the world’s rock star entrepreneurs (who was born in Pretoria no less) than through an entertaining, authorised, written account of his life? Or is that an authorised, written account of his entertaining life?

And I don’t use the words “rock star entrepreneur” lightly either.

You know your entrepreneur celebrity status is stratospheric when you’re the inspiration for the movie Iron Man – to the extent that you make a cameo appearance in a scene in the movie alongside (wait for it…) the lead actor Robert Downey Jr. (who vis-à-vis Musk, we may legitimately call Iron-Man-Wannabe)

Tongue-in-cheek aside, I was gobsmacked when I learned about all the choices and sacrifices that Musk made to get to where he is today but I’ll leave it to you to read his inspiring biography if only to avoid a subjective review of the book.

The purpose of today’s piece is to help you knuckle down and adopt an indestructible, Iron Manesque work ethic by exploring one of the Foundation’s pillars, Personal Initiative through having an Actioning mindset and activating an attitude of Working Hard.

A person who demonstrates Personal Initiative makes things happen and celebrates the satisfaction of bringing new things into being. S/he is an independent, proactive self-starter and is able to make her/his own decisions.

Actioning is getting a process underway and keeping it going to achieve a desired outcome.

Working hard is about having the self-discipline and motivation to devote the time and energy that is required by a project, task or new venture.

Musk knows that it takes more than a good idea to achieve success: good ideas have to be supported by hard work if they ever hope to make the transition from concept to tangible. The tech-savvy entrepreneur knows this well and he said as much in an address to undergraduates at the University of Southern California. Musk’s successful ventures below show what’s possible when you’re the first at your office and the last to leave.

1. Zip2

Musk co-founded his first company, Zip2, in 1995. It was an internet software company which was sold to Compaq in 1999 for over $300 million in an all cash transaction when he was just 28 years old.

2. Online payments

Musk helped to pioneer online financial transactions by co-founding PayPal with four other visionaries in 1998. The company was eventually sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5bn. The sale of Musk’s 11.7% share of PayPal netted him $165m but even this was not enough to stop him from working. He had too many ideas which he wanted to pursue so in the same year he pursued his third entrepreneurial endeavour, and boyhood ambition, space travel.

3. To infinity and beyond

Musk’s BHAG is to make Mars habitable for humans – ostensibly to ensure the survival of the human race. In order to bring this dream to life, SpaceX manufactures rockets then sells inexpensive rides on them. SpaceX and Boeing were the first private companies contracted by NASA to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

4. Electric cars

Manufacturing electric cars and selling them directly to consumers sans dealers is challenging at the best of times. One of the challenges the Tesla team had in the early days was with the material composition from which the carbon fibre of their Roadster was made. It was challenging getting maximum efficiency for how the carbon fibre handled at high speeds but Musk was, literally, hands-on in remedying this through self-directed action.

5. A place in the sun

Musk is the Chairman of America’s largest solar power provider, SolarCity, which is transforming the new energy economy by making clean energy available to the private and public sectors at a lower cost than energy generated by burning conventional fossil fuels.

Success, which is the sum of small efforts repeated daily, invariably ensues when you resolve to work hard. Devote each day to recognising and eliminating the distractions that keep you from doing so.

Entrepreneurial principles for principals | Tom Hamilton

Entrepreneurial principles for principals | Tom Hamilton

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 9.15.35 AMLast weekend, we proudly hosted the 6th annual Circle of Excellence (COE) Conference which brought together 55 of our 100 member schools. The COE  celebrates and promotes the development of holistic educational excellence in Southern Africa. It was launched in 2008 to identify and celebrate the region’s top secondary schools for their excellence in education and their consistent delivery of successful candidates to the Fellowship. 

The COE is a diverse group of schools that is committed to producing the region’s next generation of high impact entrepreneurs. The COE also provides the pool from which the placement schools for our Scholarship are chosen.

Tom Hamilton, Headmaster at St. Alban’s College (a Foundation placement school and COE member school), graciously consented to our posting his reflections on the 2015 COE conference.

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 “We live in the world our questions create.” David Cooperider

It surely wasn’t a coincidence that the first boy I met as I walked the grounds on this closing afternoon of the long August holiday was one of our Allan Gray Scholars, Mongameli. He made his bus bookings a little too enthusiastically and has arrived back from his home in KZN a whole day early.

Still, Mongameli’s enthusiasm, ambition and excitement were palpable before we even got close to a handshake and a welcome. He has had a tough year, having to go home to recover from a serious illness for almost three months, an illness for which he will be on medication until the end of the year.

I asked him how he felt, whether he had done enough to catch up on all the missed work, whether he was ready for the challenges ahead. “Sir, my July examinations were the best I have ever achieved since I came to St Alban’s. I believe that I can do even better by the end of the year.”

“But what about all the other things you do here, will you be able to keep a balance?” I ask. “That’s the challenge of being healthy again, Sir. There are so many opportunities to learn and extend myself. And there is the exchange to Ireland!”

“I have just come back from a three-day conference of the Allan Gray Circle of Excellence Schools and we have been challenged at a high level. One of the issues we discussed was the Fellowship Programme. Mongameli, do you intend to be a strong contender for the Fellowship when you get to university in 2018?’

“Sir, whenever we meet those guys (I am sure that he using “guys” in the generic boy-girl sense) we are blown away by them. I would love to be a Fellow. They think big!” he says.

They do indeed.

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (“Foundation”) was launched in 2005. The first trustees were appointed that same year – Prof Jakes Gerwel (Chairman) and Mahesh Cooper (Director at Allan Gray and an Old Albanian from our Class of 1994).

St Alban’s College was one of the original schools on the 2008 COE list. To be a Foundation COE School means something – it brings expectations that the school will strive to improve continually too. Certain of those schools were selected as placement schools for Allan Gray Scholars, and we were delighted to enter such a partnership in 2009. Our first Allan Gray Scholars, Katlego and Aviskar joined us in 2010 and matriculated last year. Katlego was successful in being selected for the Fellowship Programme, and was joined on that programme by Buni, who had attended St Alban’s College on a Don MacRobert Bursary, courtesy of the St Alban’s College Foundation.

There are currently twelve Allan Gray Scholars (all boarders) at our school. These boys were selected from several thousand applicants for the Scholars Programme and went through an intensive multi-stage selection process. They were selected with a view to their living the Foundation vision, which we share:

‘In the coming years, there will emerge from diverse communities a new generation of high impact entrepreneurial leaders. 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.’

The investment being made by the Foundation is substantial. They pay 50% of tuition and boarding fees; books and stationary; uniform and equipment; trips, tours and transport. In addition the Scholars are given regular mentoring and extension, which is aimed at preparing them for the Fellowship programme and university study. In simple terms, the Foundation invests approximately R150,000 per annum per Scholar, and we invest approximately R90,000 per Scholar by way of a bursary.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 9.10.25 AMSchools like ours are often prisoners of our own success. Why would you, how could you, change the way you are when you are successful? The CoE Conference gave us distance and space from our successes. It helped us to see ourselves as we really are, it helped us to begin to imagine ourselves as we might be in the future. Fundamentally, it reminded us that individual success just isn’t enough, there is an overarching need for us to build a better society.

Our school, no matter the bursary programmes and the history of community service and social responsibility, is a social construct as much as anything else. In large measure, our underlying ideology is one of privilege, advantage, and entitlement. There is a real danger that we can begin to feel that catering for the ambitions and needs of the well-to-do is sufficient for our continued existence. Significance always require more than that. The Scholarship and bursary recipients who have come through the College over the years have played an extraordinarily powerful role in our society, way beyond their numbers would suggest. We can’t lose that.

Change is rarely linear but is often unpredictable, messy and it involves entering unchartered waters. Leaving politics, activism, ideologies aside, what the Foundation challenged us to seek this weekend were new ways of inculcating entrepreneurial and ethical leadership mindsets in our scholars. Young people who forget the entitlement, and privilege, who go out there to create new futures.

Cooperider encapsulated the issue in that pithy statement: “We live in the world our questions create.” There is a real danger in South African society that we don’t ask the important questions, that we settle for being champions in our own suburbs. Schools like ours have the ability (and have already demonstrated the ability) to make an impact far beyond what our numbers would suggest. Strong leadership at all levels is required if we are to reach our full purpose and potential.

So what are the questions that we should be asking ourselves if we are to create a future of which we can all be proud, in which all will be better off, in which we fix what needs to be fixed and do what needs to be done? It may involve taking risks, presenting ourselves with new challenges, seeking innovation in our ideas and our practice. It will certainly involve giving more responsibility to our youth, to ‘empowering’ them, to use a very common phrase. This will fly in the face of what many of our constituency prefer, for modern parents tend to disempower their children by over-parenting and for far too long. In this particular conference, empowerment of our youth to develop the mindsets to become change agents in society was a central theme; that is significantly different from what many of our parents seek, which is for their children to acquire the skillsets to be successful in our society.

IMG_1040Leadership is a very personal journey; it requires a person to ask deep questions of himself/herself. We are much more opaque than we think we are; and not just to one another, but we are opaque to ourselves in the first instance. We might deny it, but we are. So much goes unsaid, unchallenged and untested in our public and private discourse. We trade in myths – whether they be the panacea of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, or the myth that apartheid is long past and is no longer relevant, or the fallacy that all good schools need to do is to continue to be like they always were.

Does that mean that what we are doing now is wrong? Maybe, maybe not.

Prof Pedro Tabensky of the Allan Gray Centre for Ethical Leadership at Rhodes University put it powerfully: “You will never find someone doing something wrong, thinking that they are doing wrong.”

If we want to become more ethical leaders, then we need to be putting something very different in place, we need to accept our darkness and our complexity as individuals and as a community, and see it as part of our richness. If the adults in our community can become more effective ethical agents then there is a chance that we can create a new generation of young people who can become the change agents to transform this country and this region.

The conference was powerful. It has certainly given us the seeds of our future thought. It demanded that I ask these questions of myself, and that I help us to create the space for all of us to ask the same questions.

I am confident that we will find the right questions; that we will become what our questions require us to become.

The Cuppa Campus Win-Win

The Cuppa Campus Win-Win

dewald 3Dewald Muller is a Candidate Fellow, third-year Matie, Actuary-in-the-making and the Founder of Cuppa Campus which supplies Maties’ biggest consumable – coffee. Yet he prefers to be known for his love of creating something out of nothing and his passion for making a difference. His knack for recognising opportunities emerged in Grade 4 when he established Biltong Broers with his brother to sell biltong and droëwors to their peers at Robertson Primary.

It started with a beautiful stranger

Dewald was going to lectures one day when he noticed a beautiful stranger falling in step beside him. She was a sight for sore eyes, but even more striking than her beauty was the empty polystyrene cup in her hand! That’s when he realised that coffee had become more than just a beverage. It had been elevated to fashion accessory; a status symbol of sorts.

Assessing the market

Being a student, Dewald knows that there are times when instant coffee just doesn’t hit the spot. Especially after a big night out or during all-night study sessions. At these times all a student needs is a good cappuccino or caffe latte. After focusing on providing fellow students with 24/7 access to great-tasting, yet affordable, coffee Dewald spotted an opportunity to turn unbranded coffee cups into moving ads.

Red tape

But first he had to deal with a lot of red tape. Dewald faced numerous challenges in realising his business idea. He had to get the green light from several governing bodies across campus, comply with stringent regulations and deal with some major setbacks. One such setback was that, out of the blue, his original vending supplier stopped taking his calls.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced him to think bigger. He partnered with Nestlé and took care of important things like registering his company, getting a VAT number and finding a business partner.

More than a cup

Within three months of installing the first in-residence vending machine, Cuppa Campus had sold over 3,000 units. Dewald then got local businesses interested in a new kind of marketing opportunity. He conducted a survey on campus to determine which local businesses were most representative of student life then pitched to these potential clients. He highlighted that traditional advertising media like TV, radio and print only captured the audience’s attention for two minutes at most. Yet a simple coffee cup – mobile and ubiquitous – enabled clients to ‘speak’ to target audiences for up to eight minutes.

Dewald hopes to apply this to another equally-popular consumable at Stellenbosch University – bottled water. There is an agreement with Richeneau in Franschhoek to rebrand bottled water in the same way as the coffee cups. He also has expansion in mind and hopes to make Cuppa Campus national within the next two years.

Making a difference

Working with local businesses made Dewald see the importance of using resources to improve the lives of others and do something good. Cuppa Campus is in the process of planning a community initiative at neighbouring Cloetesville. With the help of Food Lover’s Market and Builders’ Warehouse, they envision a Community Day to inspire youth in March 2016.

Keeping his passion for making a difference alive has become a lot easier since becoming a Candidate Fellow. Prior to this, he’d often found himself feeling that he was the only one concerned with social matters. These days, however, he feels privileged to be connected to more than 200 other like-minded young people who are equally driven to alter South Africa’s socio-economic landscape. With regular access to business mentors, industry leaders and personal developers, Dewald has all the support he needs to make a sustainable difference. “Every time I leave a Foundation event, I am totally motivated to do even more,” he says.

Through Cuppa Campus, Dewald and his business partner (fellow Actuary student Willem Melville) have devised win-win situations for themselves, other Maties, local businesses and, best of all, the greater community.