For the Love of Tech

For the Love of Tech

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-49-46-pmKholofelo Moyaba has always been fascinated by the idea of “giving things life”. This fascination is behind his two loves: visual art and technology. As a technology teacher and visual artist, his father modelled both these passions to Kholofelo from a young age. “I learnt a lot from him as we used to build and fix a lot of things ourselves,” says Kholofelo. When he remembered that he used to make greeting cards and sell them for 50c, it gave him the “motivation to use his talents in an entrepreneurial way.” Soon after that realisation Kholofelo formalised his business, Palota, offering graphic design as one of its services. Those were the first steps he took towards marrying his love for visual art and technology.

While at the University of Cape Town he studied a BSc in Engineering, specialising in Electrical and Computer Engineering. During this time he also made it a priority to keep abreast of advances in technology by perusing research literature in his spare time. This voracious appetite for new tech knowledge has stayed with him ever since and is responsible for the venture he will soon be adding to Palota’s stable: Intelligent Mirror.

Teaching computers to see

Intelligent Mirror is a web service that aims to allow online buyers of clothes and other fashion accessories to see how the items would look on them (in real time) before making the purchase. With online shopping becoming increasingly popular, Intelligent Mirror addresses the need for increased interaction with the virtual catalogue. It would, for example, allow you to see how a pair of sunglasses would look on your face – not the model’s ­– before purchasing it.

The technology that could make our shopping experience that much more satisfying is called machine learning, which in layman’s terms is the training of a computer to discern a pattern by feeding it specific data. In other words, instead of programming a computer to do a certain task with a step by step approach, the computer itself discovers or learns how to achieve the task based on the data given. In Intelligent Mirror’s case Kholofelo taught the computer to “see” by feeding it about 100 000 pictures of different human faces. In time (and presumably after lots of intricate technological instructions from Kholofelo) the computer started recognising the eyes of any person whose image it could detect through its web cam. This type of machine learning is called computer vision.

Intelligent Mirror is still in its prototype phase and Kholefelo is working towards a stable release of the system and cementing a working relationship with an online retailer. Besides marrying his love of the visual dimension with technology, Kholofelo has also made headway in other technological spheres. In 2014 he was involved with the development of the GoMetro App (GoMetro is a tech start-up founded by Justin Coetzee) (read more about that and his growth as a Fellow here). He has also co-founded the technology startup, RadioVybe, which offers you the best of both worlds: social media and radio streaming. Of 723 technology startups from across Africa, RadioVybe was chosen as a finalist for the DEMO Africa 2016 conference that had tech buyers and venture capitalists, among others, in attendance.

Strategic career shifts

With such an impressive list of technological feats (a mere three years after graduating) it’s worth asking: How does he do it? Kholofelo, it turns out, has been very strategic in making career shifts. Each one has been geared towards learning a skill or obtaining knowledge he considered key in developing as an entrepreneur. At the South African Reserve Bank he gained a holistic perspective of the economy and its value chain. He contributed by introducing a mobile development division that developed in-house apps for some of the bank’s business units. He then moved to a much smaller company of not more than 20 employeesThere he learned how people are managed and kept motivated in a small company, especially when the temptation to move to bigger corporate pastures is ever present. In his current job at Britehouse he’s learning the nitty gritty of how a software company is run, especially how to source and sell to clients.

Possibilities for the non-techie

One would be right to assume that given Kholofelo’s passion for technology and the ease with which he stays abreast of this ever-changing field (he does online tech courses by universities like Stanford and reads research outputs of companies like Google for fun) he will be a big player in the industry one day. However, what is surprising is his opinion regarding the every-day entrepreneur’s ability to make it in this industry without an ounce of background in technology. He believes that a non-techie could potentially create a better app for their purpose than an experienced techie. “The thing about tech: no one can really say that they’re an expert and that’s cause things change all the time … You know what your business idea is and you learn the skills to build that small part.” That’s why, Kholofelo explains, “it’s possible for anyone to enter the field.”

Here’s some practical tips for all you aspiring technology entrepreneurs out there.

  • Prove your concept. As an entrepreneur your first step would be to check whether your idea holds water by doing market research through surveys. Once there’s a willingness from potential clients to part with their money to obtain your product, you know you’ve got a keeper.
  • Teach yourself. The web is full of tutorials and step-by-step guides to create an app for the purpose you want. You’ll have instant access to all the latest advances and it’s often not even so difficult – you can learn to code in a week!
  • Develop a prototype. Once you have a prototype you can take it through its paces and discover any glitches. These difficulties can then be ironed out by an experienced developer.

Next on Kholofelo’s horizon would be pursuing his Master’s and then Doctoral degrees in machine learning. In the next five to ten years he also sees himself “running a technology initiative or company that empowers people in an indirect way.” We have every confidence that Kholofelo is well on his way to achieving just that.

 

Disenfranchised but not without hope By Jonathan Dickson

Disenfranchised but not without hope By Jonathan Dickson

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-9-23-54-amSouth Africa is a nation in rehabilitation. It got very sick from power abuse at one stage and thankfully had timeous intervention to prevent a messy downward spiral. Since 1994, however, there have been relapses into its chronic condition of corruption and abuse of authority. The previous ruling racial minority were deluded, thought they were humanly superior and entrenched laws to enforce this, whereas now a certain cohort of the current minority seems devoid of moral substance, imagining they deserve ill-gotten riches because of the bad treatment of the past. Neither style of leadership is any kind of leadership at all, although to be fair, the latter is far less blatantly cruel.

One good thing about the adversity of political oppression is that it provides fertile grounds for heroes to rise up, break through the imposed barriers and take hold of their destiny.

One such triumph-in-progress over adversity is Joyce Malebye who rose from depressing depths of oppression to new
heights. Hers is not the tale of a high-flying, politically connected, mega-wealthy entrepreneur, but one of a girl born to humble beginnings who worked hard and believed in herself and the plan God has for her.

Joyce was born in a small village called Moretele in Northwest Province, just under one month before all South Africans queued for the country’s first ever democratic election. Her teenage mother worked as a house cleaner; the kind of job many of those sought who were restricted from higher career aspirations by Apartheid’s insane iron ceiling. Joyce spent the first four years of her life with her grandparents before moving to where her mother and great-grandparents lived, in Soshanguve township just outside Pretoria. Her father was not in the picture, although they met when she was fourteen years old.

Like many housemaids Joyce’s mother only made it home on weekends, having spent all week at her employers’ residence. Their home’s three rooms were occupied by six people (seven when Joyce came home from the University of Cape Town), but Joyce remembers gratefully that their house was “fortunate enough to be in an area that has running water.”

This type of cramped accommodation was and still is the reality for millions of South Africans, corralled to the meagre environs allocated to them by the racial lottery into which they were born at that time in history. Yet for myself and those born on the lucky side of the racial lottery, this is an incomprehensible scenario. I am so sorry, I must express, to those people so strongly disenfranchised, by a rigged system, from opportunities and the chance to be trained to work a skilled job for good reward. Please forgive us for Apartheid.

Apparently unperturbed by her humble beginnings, Joyce set about working very hard at her school, her goal from a young age being to succeed academically and lift her family out of the poverty trap. In a moment of reflection, she told me her life’s mission was, “… that God brought me to this earth so I can build a legacy for the Malebye’s and deliver them from poverty.” She rose through the academic ranks with excellence, always working as if for her Creator and not limited by the unequal esteem a skewed society tried to force upon her. She is now near the end of an accounting degree, steadfastly writing her own story, changing the script which an inhumane regime handed to her for her perceived role in the theatre of life.

Putting one’s head down and slogging away in order that you can help your family and community lift their eyes to a future unthought-of is among the noblest of intentions and a solid gold reason to make your life count.

Joyce was lucky to be chosen as part of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, an organisation she believes helped “unleash the greatness in [her] and believed in [her] when [she] had doubts.” She is now part of a community of Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellows poised to positively shift the trajectory of South Africa through their uplifting entrepreneurial spirit and application.

I speak as a man who has suffered serious adversity, albeit of a different nature to that which Joyce encountered and still wages against. But I take inspiration from this young heroine and many other protagonists determined to overcome the harsh hand life dealt them by working hard, having faith and always believing. There are many reports to give about South Africa and out of all of them, I choose as my headline that which tells of a land where miracles happen.

 

Are we successful? Beneficiaries’ challenges in self-identifying as successful by Teri Richter

Are we successful? Beneficiaries’ challenges in self-identifying as successful by Teri Richter

Defining programme success in order to measure and evaluate progress towards one’s outcomes and ultimate impact is vital for any intervention programme. However, in any intervention working with people, one must consider how the definition and recognition of such success could influence beneficiaries, both positively and negatively.

An academic perspective

Drawing on the concept of labelling theory, originating in the field of criminology and deviance, the act of labelling deviant (undesired) behaviour as criminal (bad) leads to stigmatisation, which in itself can perpetuate the continuation of such deviant behaviour. Howard Becker (1963) postulated that the process of labelling behaviour as social deviance is a consequence of the creation of social rules and subsequent failure to meet those rules. Although labelling theory has been historically researched in the field of criminology and deviance, there is merit for considering its influence in educational and developmental fields.

The process of defining intervention or programme success can create rules within a beneficiary community. These rules, although not always explicitly defined or framed in the negative, can by deduction infer that non-conformity or non-achievement of the defined success implies deviance or failure. Moreover, as Tannenbaum (1938) suggests, the more emphasis is placed on the label, the more the individual is likely to identify with it. This can relate positively to labelling beneficiaries as success stories and celebrating their success – but on the inverse, can cause those not having achieved similarly to self-label as failures.

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A beneficiary perspective

The Fellows who form part of the Association of Allan Gray Fellows have assessed the adverse influence that the definition of success can have on them (as a community of beneficiaries) according to three overarching themes:

  • Fear of failure
  • Disengagement within the community
  • Feelings of non-achievement

Fear of failure

“(I am) not in a place where (I) can really experiment.” (2013 Fellow)

Within the field of entrepreneurship, the concept of failure is well-known as central to the process of ultimate business success. The mantra of ‘fail fast, fail often’, although contended by some due to its negative framing, aims to take the fear out of experimentation for developing entrepreneurs. The Fellowship programme of four years aims to provide an ideal playground for our future entrepreneurs to practise both success and failure. Within the Association it is also understood that entrepreneurship can be an arduous journey that takes time. However, even within an environment that is set up to ‘play with failure’, beneficiaries mention a fear of experimentation and failure.

Simply encouraging experimentation and understanding or perhaps even expecting failure does not disarm the risk associated with experiencing it. It shows that organisations must ensure an optimal environment, where speaking about failure is centered on learning, re-framing and re-starting.

Feelings of non-achievement

“Sometimes I feel embarrassed saying I’m a Fellow, knowing that I just go to work.  Yes, I do my best at work and I excel, but that’s all I ever do, whereas I need to be doing something else.” (2013 Fellow)

“(Success) for some is equipping other people in your family…for the first few years it might be small in terms of ensuring everyone in my family is fed.  Or, some of the business ideas I think of are things I want to start with my family, so that they can be financially stable as well, and I can soar and go wherever I want to.  So those little things, how do you share them, because you feel, ‘I haven’t done anything, I haven’t really started this measure of business.” (2012 Fellow)

These views of Fellows show the importance for organisations to define, dialogue and profile multiple types of success, which all form milestones on the journey towards the final destination. Some alternative successes that have been seen at the Foundation include Fellows who have been the first in their families to go to university and graduate and Fellows who are supporting their families financially and paying for their siblings’ education. Highlighting and profiling such examples of success can contribute to beneficiaries not feeling inadequate or like failures just because they have not yet reached their destination.

Disengagement within a community

Within a community that has a defined goal it can be challenging to be repeatedly exposed to individuals who are labelled as successful without comparing one’s own achievements. Beneficiaries mention that comparing themselves to the image of success brings up feelings of inadequacy. For some this in turn results in disengagement or self-exclusion from the community and becomes a great challenge in a community whose aim is to encourage and develop its members through engagement and interaction.

“Sometimes we stay away because we think [we] don’t have anything great to share. I’m not doing any business, I’m not pursuing any business idea. I don’t want to be in that space.” (2012 Fellow)

A key lesson for beneficiary communities is the importance of creating an inclusive society in which all beneficiaries feel welcomed and recognised for their own personal strengths and successes. This can be achieved through redefining and celebrating diverse forms of success, broadening the typecast of success, increasing the ability of beneficiaries to identify with success stories and encourage and enhance engagement as well as further sharing of success stories within the community.

Overall, the way in which organisations speak about and write about success has the ability to alienate or embrace its beneficiaries. It directly effects how beneficiaries engage with the organisation as well as with each other. It can also influence their own sense of accomplishment and self-worth and their ability to make progress towards the organisation’s ultimate impact.

References

  • Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, 2015 Association Year End Report.
  • Becker, H. (1973) [1963]. Outsiders. New York: Free Press.
  • Tannenbaum, F. (1938). Crime and Community. London and New York: Columbia University Press
Entrepreneurial mindset and education

Entrepreneurial mindset and education

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-51-26-am2016 Circle of Excellence conference

The Foundation recently hosted its annual Circle of Excellence (COE) conference. The COE principal’s conference is a school leader’s platform to recognise a diverse group of schools that share a commitment to develop future entrepreneurial leaders. The COE is an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation initiative that was launched in 2008 to partner with secondary schools that are consistent in their delivery of candidates to the Allan Gray Fellowship. The COE conference enhances the significance of entrepreneurial leadership and the application of entrepreneurial mindsets in schools.

This year the conference aimed to achieve the following; 1) acknowledge and celebrate the schools that have produced Fellows, 2) advocate for entrepreneurial mindset education in schools, 3) share best practices in maintaining COE schools as centres of excellence and 4) create a platform to share knowledge and experience to incorporate entrepreneurial mindset development in schools.

Acknowledge and celebrate the schools that have produced Fellows

In the Courageous Commitment Award category – a school that has provided the highest number of Fellowship awards since COE inception (2009) – Settles High School were awarded 1st place. Hudson Park High School came in 2nd, Collegiate Girls High School in 3rd, St.John’s College in 4th and Bracken High School in 5th. In the Achievement Excellence Award category – the school that has provided the highest number of Allan Gray Fellows – Settlers High School again scooped up 1st place with Hudson Park High School in 2nd. In 3rd we had a tie – Collegiate Girls High School and St. John’s College. In 4th again a tie – Bracken High School, Pretoria School for Girls, St. Mary’s School, Waverley, Pinetown Girls High School, Durban Girls High School and Rondebosch Boys High School. And lastly, 5th place also had a tie – Clapham High School, Umtata High School, Benoni High School, Durban High School and Hoerskool Louis Trichardt.

Create a platform to share knowledge and experience to incorporate entrepreneurial mindset development in schools.

The conference again had an array of thought leaders speaking on a variety of topics related to education. The conference opened with an inspirational rags to riches personal story by Frank Magwegwe. In 1993, through selling fruit & vegetables in downtown Johannes- burg, Frank beat the odds and escaped homelessness. Over the last 23 years, Frank has travelled a fascinating journey “from the streets to finding purpose and passion.”

The rest of the speakers included Alison Bengston, the Chief Director of Districts Operations Management in the Gauteng Department of Education, George Harris and David du Toit from Lebone II in Phokeng, Dr Nic Spaull, a well-known education researcher in South Africa, Prof. Pedro Tabensky, the director of the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics (AGCLE) and Trevor Manuel who served in the government of South Africa as Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2009 and as Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission from 2009 to 2014. [Speaker presentations and audio will be available soon on our website]

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-54-17-amThis year the Foundation also partnered with the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI), a global thought leader dedicated to expanding human potential through entrepreneurial mindset education. “The power of entrepreneurial thinking reaches far beyond traditional enterprise creation,” Schoeniger said. “Entrepreneurship education exposes opportunity, ignites ambition and fosters the development of creativity and critical thinking, communication and teamwork, effective problem solving and other essential 21st Century skills.” Schoeniger’s keynote focused on redefining entrepreneurship; how it is more than an academic discipline, reaching far beyond the concept of traditional business creation and small business management. Entrepreneurship is a mindset; a framework for thinking and acting that can empower anyone to succeed. Bree Langemo and Gary Schoeniger also spoke on the following:

  • Entrepreneurial Mindset in the Classroom & the Workplace – The development of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills requires mental models that encourage people to take ownership of their ideas as well as their ability to learn.
  • Leading with an Entrepreneurial Mindset – An entrepreneurial mindset cultivates curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving and collaboration – skills that drive entrepreneurial and organisational success.
  • An Entrepreneurial Mindset for Student Success – how an entrepreneurial mindset has impacted student persistence. Langemo claims that their data suggest that students with an entrepreneurial mindset out perform their peers.

The conference again allowed principal’s to grapple with what it means to develop and equip learners with 21st century skills. The Foundation maintains that entrepreneurial mindset is core to this skillset. The challenge remains – how do we equip our children for jobs that have not even been created yet. This is what Ken Robinson, educational thought leader has to say about it:

 

 

 

Dr. Nic Spaull

Dr. Nic Spaull

nic-spaull

Educational Researcher

Dr Nic Spaull is a well-known education researcher in South Africa. He has recently returned from Paris where he was a Thomas J. Alexander Fellow at the OECD. Before that he was a Visiting Scholar in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University in the United States. Nic has a PhD in economics and has published numerous journal articles on education focusing on assessment, accountability, literacy and education policy in South Africa.

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Alison Bengtson

Alison Bengtson

alison-bengtson
Deputy Director General: Districts Operations Management in the Gauteng Department of Education

Alison is the Chief Director of Districts Operations Management in the Gauteng Department of Education. She is managing five Educational Districts’ offices comprising 860 schools within the Gauteng province. Her expertise includes motivating and influencing others to drive change. She is also passionate about the development of leaders in education. Her legal and human resources qualifications have assisted her in being able to navigate the complex system of education and create powerful teams for driving change.

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