A burning desire to make an impact

A burning desire to make an impact

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.19.03 AMLethabo Motswaledi always had a burning desire to live a life that made an impact. She might not have been able to name an exact career, but she knew it would involve doing her own thing and she knew it would have to big. She recalls: “As a child who was fortunate enough to be from a family of accomplished individuals, I felt that I had big shoes to fill and that I had to make something of myself.”

With a business on the go in the cutting-edge industry of 3D printing, she’s well on her way to filling those shoes. 3DPower, which she started with classmate Matthew Westaway, has been running for two years and already they are celebrating the launch of two products. Hello Baby 3D Prints allows expectant parents to see their baby before its birth! Theirs is the first company in Africa to successfully convert 3D ultrasounds into 3D prints. Their second product, The Hourglass Project, forms part of a nation building project that enjoys support from both the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the World Design Organisation. A 3D sculpture of Nelson Mandela over an hourglass gets activated on July 18th to trigger 67 minutes of activism. Very soon they will also be launching an accredited skills programme aimed at training people in modern craft production using 3D technology.

Lethabo and Matthew’s paths crossed at UCT where they both studied Geomatics Engineering, which, in a nutshell, is all about spatial design. Having studied a degree that “allowed for the visualisation of the real world in 3D software,” Lethabo explains that 3D printing was a natural avenue to explore. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into products that could be commercialised. The technology underpinning 3D Power’s services allows clients to travel from idea to tangible product in a straight line. In other words, there are no pit stops or detours involving moulds and testing numerous iterations of that mould until it’s just right. Theirs is a business that not only saves you hours but rands and material as well.

Even though Lethabo couldn’t articulate an intended career when she was young, this state of not knowing only lasted until she turned 16. That’s when she decided to become an entrepreneur. She recalls eagerly filling in the application for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellowship, feeling like she was born to answer some of the questions and taking it far more seriously than her university application. “I felt that regardless of what I studied, I would always ultimately pursue a life in entrepreneurship, which is something that isn’t easily taught.” This mindset and the hands-on experience the Foundation afforded her explains why she turned down every job offer she received and chose instead to dive right into the world of startups.

Of her experience in the Fellowship Lethabo says: “I would encourage anyone with a burning desire to make an impact to apply for the Fellowship. This is because the Fellowship not only provides immense opportunities, but because it surrounds one with like-minded individuals who are just as passionate about making an impact.” This burning desire of Lethabo’s led her to apply not only for the Fellowship but for the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship as well. “All my life I remember feeling like I needed to do something special enough to meet Mr Mandela.” She couldn’t quite manage to extend Tata Madiba’s years on this earth, but by being awarded the scholarship she finds comfort in knowing that she is part of the legacy he created. “This is extremely significant to me.”

The other significant achievement of hers is making the brave decision to pursue a life of entrepreneurship right after her degree studies. “I eat, live and breathe my startup.” Such expressions of job satisfaction are rare but always a sign that someone is doing what they were born to do.

On Lethabo’s five-to-ten-year to-do list is growing the 3D Power team (so that her and Matthew’s have-to-do-today lists can be spread out a little more), taking part in constructive dialogue as often as possible (so she can continue learning how to make an impact) and ensuring that her brand (both her company’s and her own) becomes well known locally and abroad.

Selecting for Entrepreneurial Potential | By Carl Herman

Selecting for Entrepreneurial Potential | By Carl Herman

Background

Could these applicants become our region’s next high-impact entrepreneurs? Do they have the potential for developing the Foundation’s Five Pillars: a Spirit of Significance, Courageous Commitment, Achievement Excellence, Intellectual Imagination and Personal Initiative? These are the questions that drive the Foundation’s Scholarship and Fellowship Selection processes. We’re not just trying to identify those applicants who perform excellently, but those with a high degree of developability. The princinple of potential is what undergirds our search.

Traditionally, organisations focus on competencies, experience and technical skills when selecting for specific roles. The more inconspicuous aspects: values, interests, personality and emotional maturity are not considered. In order to gain a holistic perspective on possible candidates – the best means of predicting future performance – the Foundation reengineered its selection process in 2012. The Success Profile Methodology, developed by Development Dimensions International, was customised for the Foundation by Deloitte’s management consulting team. It deliberately considers psychological factors, skills sets and understanding to asses both entrepreneurial potential and performance. The Foundation’s Success Profiles encompass five key areas: (1) Knowledge, (2) Experience, (3) Competencies, (4) Personal Attributes and (5) Potential.

These key areas are tested in a multidisciplinary way that includes written assessments, psychometric tests, simulation activities, targeted selection interviews and careful observations of the beneficiaries. Applying the Success Profiles during the selection process enables the Foundation to gauge beneficiaries’ potential. As of 2016 the measurement framework for the Success Profile has been expanded to allow for measuring performance. In other words, it is now possible to map beneficiaries’ performance at the end of their programme (be it the Scholarship or Fellowship Programme) against their initial scores for potential as an applicant. Graduating Candidate Fellows, for example, are now being tested against the Success Profiles before gaining entrance into the Association as well as every five years after joining the Association.

Figure 1: Foundation’s Potential to Performance Model

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Table 1: Assessment points at the Foundation

Point in time Scholars Candidate fellows Fellows
Selection Y1 Y1 n/a
Graduation Gr12 Y4 n/a
Ongoing n/a n/a Every 5 years

Selecting applicants with a high degree of developability

Formula for Foundation Selection: Degree of Developability = Inherent Potential + Performance

In order to determine an applicant’s degree of developability the balance between the following are considered:

  1. their ability to demonstrate mastery in the Foundation’s Five Pillars (see Table 2), with relative ease, at increasing levels of complexity as they transition through the various stages of the programme (Grade 8 to Grade 12 for Scholarship or first year at university to graduation for Fellowship); and
  2. their current level of performance in relation to the Foundation’s Five Pillars.

Table 2: The Foundation’s Five Pillars

Achievement Excellence The ongoing pursuit of excellence with tangible and specific focus on setting goals; a motivation to make a difference and leave a mark.
Intellectual Imagination Demonstrated by an established record of intellectual achievement; an ability to see the unseen, challenge the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently.
Courageous Commitment The courage and dedication to continue, realising that applying consistent commitment has a way of overcoming.
Spirit of Significance A weight of personality that comes from living a life personified by passion and integrity.
Personal Initiative A person who makes things happen, celebrates the satisfaction of bringing new things into being and is independent, proactive and self-starting.

Figure 2: Foundation’s Model for Selecting for a High Degree of Developability

Presentation1

As can be seen from Figure 2, performance  in relation to the Foundation’s Five Pillars is only one aspect of what is considered when determining the degree of developability (see objective 3 and 4 below). To get a fuller picture of the applicant’s performance, their academic and extra-curricular achievements are also taken into account (see objective 1 below). The other half, the applicant’s potential, is determined by looking at the applicant’s enablers and de-railers (also known as their personal attributes), their motivational fit, cognitive potential and potential for strategising (see objective 2 below).

Selection Objective 1: Predict the applicant’s ability to achieve and maintain academic performance

Depending on the programme, the applicant’s most recent academic results are studied as well as their Foundation Exam results (in the case of Scholarship applicants).

Measurement Construct Scholarship Fellowship
Academics Grade 6 and 7 Academic Results Grade 11 and 12 Academic Results
Extra Academic Assessments Foundation Exam (Standardised Maths and English Tests for Grade 6)

Selection Objective 2: Establish the applicant’s inherent potential

This objective is achieved during various phases of the selection process: on paper, when applying; in person, as part of an interview; and through observation, during the Selection Camp. The applicant’s cognitive potential (or short-term academic performance) is measured through one of two standardised tests (depending on the programme), while the potential for strategising is only measured in the case of Fellowship applicants. According to Stratified Systems Theory, the demands placed on Fellowship applicants fall within the theme of Strategic Weaving and are measured using the Learning Orientation Index.

Measurement Construct Scholarship Fellowship
Personal Attributes Emotional Intelligence – EQi – Youth Version GIOTTO – Integrity Test
Motivational Fit Assessed during Application form, Interviews and Selection Camp Assessed during Application form, Interviews and Selection Camp
Cognitive Potential for Academic Performance Differential Aptitude Test (DAT-S) National Benchmark Test (NBT)
Potential for Complexity at Strategic Weaving Learning Orientation Index (LOI)

Selection Objective 3: Establish the applicant’s current level of performance

In the case of Scholarship applicants, performance in relation to the Foundation’s Five Pillars is measured through gaming simulations, interviews and group simulation activities as part of a 3-day Selection Camp. For Fellowship applicants this is measured through competency based questions on an application form, a structured interview process and a series of simulation exercises as part of a 3-day Selection Camp. The Foundation’s Five Pillars, as mentioned previously, undergirds the entire selection processes because they are what ultimately leads to high-impact entrepreneurship.

Selection Objective 4: Establish the applicant’s overall degree of developability

In determining the applicant’s degree of developability, the balance between the individual’s inherent potential is considered in relation to their current demonstrated competence in each of the Foundation’s Five Pillars.

Figure 3: Candidate Decision Matrix

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 10.02.15 AM

The final selection decision is thereafter considered as follows:

Talent pool A = High Potential + High Performance

Talent pool B = High Potential + Medium Performance

According to Figure 3, the Foundation selects from two groups within the Candidate Decision Matrix, namely Talent Pool A (High Potential + High Performance) and Talent Pool B (High Potential + Medium Performance). Both groups have high levels of potential but accommodation is made for Pool B individuals who perform moderately or at an average level. Their potential level suggests that with the proper support, development and structure, they too can perform at a high level in future.

The current Success Profile Methodology which incorporates the Foundation’s Five Pillars underpins our robust selection process. This approach gives practical expression to our goal of selecting for entrepreneurial potential. Not only is it evidence based and grounded in scientific rigour; it also has a track record of being an effective tool when selecting for future potential.

Putting Africa on The Map – Wandile Mabanga’s Map Blitz

Putting Africa on The Map – Wandile Mabanga’s Map Blitz

Wandile MabangaHow many countries are in Africa? If you have to consult Google for the answer, you’re who Wandile Mabanga had in mind when he created Map Blitz. His passion for promoting diversity and allowing people to access each other’s diversity formed the foundation for Map Blitz’s mission to gamify learning. The first game produced by Map Blitz is a jigsaw puzzle of Africa, consisting of 50 wooden laser-cut pieces. He believes such a physical interaction with knowledge is far more accessible and enjoyable than its associated Google search might be.

This belief perhaps stems from his own upbringing – a childhood spent in Kwa-Thema, playing with kites, tops and marbles in the streets and returning home with dusty and sometimes mud-smeared clothes. The spanking that ensued (because of the extra laundry burden) did little to deter him. In fact, despite doling out those spankings, Wandile’s mother and grandparents never discouraged him from venturing outside and satisfying his curiosity. Through the many games he played, Wandile learned to engage with people and with his environment. Did his family know that such a simple experience would lead to his pursuit of three degrees in the field of physics and an entrepreneurial venture based on games?

They didn’t and neither did Wandile. All he knew was that he enjoyed Science at school and wanted to continue studying it at university. Explaining, he adds: “I’ve always looked around and found inspiration from the environment … I could connect with nature through the equations.” The first two bursaries he received required Wandile to study something more practical like Chemical Engineering, but he couldn’t bring himself to commit to that course. That’s around the time when he learned about the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship. He could hardly believe that they supported his pursuit of Physics, echoing what his mother and grandparents encouraged him to do: to just be. “The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation allowed me to learn more about myself and do what I love … All they asked for at the time was that we excel in what we do. It is rare for one to learn and be encouraged to be, especially by a scholarship!”

After graduating from Wits with an M,Sc. in Physics, Wandile spent the next 18 months lecturing at Vaal University of Technology for six months and then teaching at the African Leadership Academy for a year. He then decided to take some time off in order to decide which direction his career should take: a specialised academic one or an entrepreneurial one. In the end he realised that it would be easier to make a contribution to society via entrepreneurship; physics is such a specialised field and the impact of his contribution might take years before being felt. It was also during this time of decision making that he stumbled upon or rather played his way to his business idea.

Sunday family gatherings at Wandile’s house have always been accentuated by board games and laughter. Seeing how much fun his family got from engaging with each other by means of games got him thinking. His cousins were the guinea pigs for the first game he came up with. They definitely had fun playing it, but he soon realised that it would not be as accessible to strangers. Towards the end of 2015 he fine-tuned his game to something that would bring people together, no matter their background. Wandile was able to secure funding and a spot in an accelerator. As a result Map Blitz has been operational for six months. His next step is to secure retail contracts so that the game is more readily available to the public.

Wandile hopes that Map Blitz will eventually morph into what he calls “Cultural Diversity Tours”, kind of like the world cup of culture and diversity, where people would be able to experience the richness of a continent under one roof – think Kenyan art, Moroccan food, Gambian literature and Sudanese dance for example. Before this step though, he hopes to expand his range of products to include the other six continents and offer an additional augmented reality function – accessing information and experiences by scanning a puzzle piece.

He hopes that his contribution to society would be somewhat like the invention of the chair – simple but ubiquitous. One could say that his life’s mission is “for people to access each other, understand and appreciate each other.” His journey thus far and his future ambitions are a true reflection of the Foundation’s Pillar Spirit of Significance: A weight of personality that comes from living a life personified by passion and integrity. Recognition that ultimate personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order that one might be able to serve others.

Learning to Walk on Water

Learning to Walk on Water

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-9-35-28-amMany Allan Gray Fellows view the Foundation as an individuality shaper, a paradigm shifter and a training ground for walking on water. They often speak of being trained to see solutions and are unlikely to ever make peace with problems or inefficiencies. A quintessential example of how this kind of thinking has lead to the start of a business and its pursuit in the face of wide open seas is Maurice Madiba and his venture, Cloud Atlas Investments.

Maurice hails from Randburg and joined the Foundation as a Candidate Allan Gray Fellow in 2005. He graduated in 2009 with an accounting degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and later on completed his Honours through UNISA. “I chose accounting because it was listed as one of the careers needed to be a stock broker and also be a board member,” explains Maurice. This long-cherished vision to deal with financial markets led him to trade on his own account and experience the thrill of stock trading.

When he realised that his ability to access the stock market and the products offered was not something that was available to everyone he started developing and executing trading models for the JSE. After some time, he started looking at the African markets, which offered a seemingly distant and sharply criticised investment opportunity. Maurice saw these criticisms as stemming from uninformed bias and dared to pursue the opportunity. There were still barriers to invest, without having large capital sums, but he seized his chance to allow Africans’ participation in Africa’s growth and so began the African Market Index series.

Cloud Atlas Investments creates and structures Index and Exchange-Traded Funds; products that they list on stock exchanges to provide investors with exposure to African markets. The ETFs allow an investor to get the performance of the emerging African market, while the diversification of the indices across 15 countries means one can invest in Africa’s combined investment potential, while reducing a lot of the country-specific risks. The business is still in its pre-product launch phase, but, explains Maurice, “We are driving the main objective of the business through the proper channels so that the investment product is not complicated but rather easier to understand.” Once there is solid distribution in the market place, he’ll know that the business is running well.

At the time of starting this venture Maurice was reminded of a scripture in the Bible where Jesus calls Peter to him and he, being in the middle of the ocean, chooses to step out of the boat and walk on water. “It was this verse that made me take such a bold move to leave corporate and start my business.” He was able to do this in six months but then needed to draw on that same courage or blind faith again to sustain him through what he calls “the dark days.” During those dark days, which ended in 2015, he experienced funding disappointments, made hard decisions, wondered how the business would survive and watched his dream team fall apart, leaving him to start as if from the beginning. On the 11th of July 2016 Maurice became the first Allan Gray Fellow business invested in by E2. E2 is a B-BBEE partner of Allan Gray (Pty) Ltd. Through provision of capital and non-financial support, E2 empower Allan Gray Fellows to become responsible and impactful entrepreneurs.

In the face of all these hardships, however, he remains hopeful: “the sky is blue and that is worth celebrating.” With hopes for his business “to be the biggest Pan Africa ex-SA investment product anywhere on God’s green earth,” it makes sense that this young man draws hope from blue, limitless skies.

A similar belief in the limitlessness of his potential and what the world has to offer fueled him from a young age. He describes himself as an adventurous boy who made the best of his surroundings. “We didn’t grow up with much … my friends and I used to build makeshift carts to race down the sloped road; we did music, took big walks and always went out to meet people.” He was also known for being a book worm. “Once my friend said my head would pop with all the books I read.” Fortunately, that jibe did not stop Maurice. He was a bursary recipient at school and at the time of learning about the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Opportunity, he was already the recipient of an Ernst & Young bursary. “At first I was reluctant to apply, but upon reading the pillars of the Foundation, I said to myself this describes me very well … It’s one decision I have never regretted.”

When asked if he would ever recommend the Fellowship Opportunity to others, Maurice describes how the Foundation zooms in on personal development. If one joins the Foundation, whatever talent one has is sure to be developed. “The Foundation gives you the tools to master your talent and use it to the best of your ability.” Beyond that, it helps you to explore your depths ­– you get to know yourself and how deep your courage runs. But be warned, an experience in the Fellowship might render you more likely to get out of the boat and walk on water.

 

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.

 

Is Nigeria’s YouWiN! Entrepreneurship competition the most effective development programme in history? By Leila Davids

Is Nigeria’s YouWiN! Entrepreneurship competition the most effective development programme in history? By Leila Davids

nigeria-at-53If you owned a small business in Nigeria and earned about $143 per month, what would you do with $50,000 cash?

In a fascinating podcast, NPR’s Planet Money looks at a business plan competition in Nigeria with big results and potential consequences for how to encourage entrepreneurial growth.

In developing countries most businesses are very small, consisting of one worker and one owner, often the same person. In Nigeria, 99.6% of businesses have fewer than 10 workers.

While Nigeria enjoys a flourishing informal entrepreneurial environment, small business growth is capped by lack of access to cash. Small business loans from banks are notoriously difficult to get, and even for those few who are successful in getting the loan, it comes with very high interest rates.

How, as government, do you unlock capital for small business owners? How do you identify entrepreneurs with potential for growth from their subsistence entrepreneur peers? How do you encourage transformational entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create more jobs?  The Government of Nigeria in partnership with the World Bank decided to address these questions by creating a national business plan competition called YouWin! in which 1,200 business owners who submitted winning business plans each received $50,000 towards scaling up their businesses.

Chris Blattman, the development economist and blogger believes that YouWiN! could be the most effective development intervention in history.

In 2011, in its inaugural year, the competition received just under 24,000 applications. When compared with the control group (of randomly chosen runners up) after three years, those who received the $50,000 were more likely to still be in business and more likely to have grown their businesses. In addition, these businesses enjoyed a 25% increase in profit.

From a cost effectiveness perspective, the results are remarkable. The 1,200 winners generated more than 7,000 jobs. While this may seem like a drop in the bucket for the Nigerian economy (Nigeria has about 10,6million unemployed people) consider the cost per job per year figure of $3,606 for the YouWiN! competition compared with the average cost of $92,136 – $145,351 per job per year in the United States.

YouWiN’s results have not yet been replicated, but it opens up the question: what would South African entrepreneurs do with $50,000 cash injection?

 

 

Entrepreneurship Beyond Commercial Success

Entrepreneurship Beyond Commercial Success

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-9-39-11-amWhat do successful entrepreneurs look like before their business is a commercial success? Wait, how can one even be considered successful when one’s business is in a pre-revenue state? The answer to the first question contains the answer to the second: a successful pre-revenue entrepreneur looks a lot like Benjamin Shaw, Allan Gray Fellow and founder of HouseME. The popular one-dimensional image of entrepreneurs as wealthy, powerful people who got lucky and were at the right place at the right time is not quite Ben’s idea of an entrepreneur. His is broader and multi-dimensional: “We forget that the car guard, the window washer, the street-side salesman are entrepreneurs as well.”

His understanding of entrepreneurship started with the simple possibility that one could create value with what is available and what you’re surrounded with. This truth inspired Ben to start myriad businesses ­– a few while still at high school. This truth also drew him to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Opportunity. He recalls that the application form contained “all the questions that I’d been waiting for people to ask like, ‘Have you started a business?’” To that he could unequivocally answer “Yes.” Through his time at the Fellowship his definition of entrepreneurship has gained a few more dimensions or phases, as he puts it. Not only is coming up with an idea and then selling it entrepreneurial, you would also call building and operating a company entrepreneurial. They might be phases of entrepreneurship, but certainly not prerequisites for calling yourself an entrepreneur. Ben explains, “I think before I was on the Fellowship I always placed myself outside of those phases saying ‘I’m not there yet, I wish I was, I wish I was.’” With the imminent launch of HouseME Ben is certainly “there” now.

Fighting injustice

HouseME is the result of thinking about which industries were ripe for disruption. There may be nothing new about HouseME’s aim of connecting prospective tenants to landlords in residential accommodation. But its use of an auction methodology is set to disrupt the industry: allowing tenants to access a vetted market place and bid on the rent they’re able to pay while landlords are guaranteed to receive income from reputable and reliable tenants.

Through HouseME Ben is also trying to give a demographic access to housing it is otherwise unable to access. He explains, “Friends of mine who are not white can’t get a particular house in Observatory or in Camps Bay or wherever the case might be not because they’re not good tenants, not because they can’t afford it, but because of the subjectivity of a landlord … We actually need to go and find these social injustices, build businesses around them and sort them out; fix them.”

Failing forward

Another feature that sets Ben apart from the one-dimensional view of an entrepreneur is his willingness to fail or rather fail forward. Instead of looking at decisions made or actions taken and terming them failures, he chooses to learn from them and take those learnings forward.

The examples of failing forward he cites are rather non-traditional, but insightful nonetheless. He recalls how he failed to play competitive sport while at university and how he failed to travel as extensively as he’d hoped. These failings would remain so if he did nothing to rectify them in Ben 2.0 – what he terms ‘the next iteration of himself’. He’s learned to ask: “Are you currently building Ben 2.0?” Conversely he’s learned that failures are those situations where he’d have to say: “I’ve failed to move forward with this. I didn’t learn the lesson.” In the case of both travelling more and engaging in sports, he has made great progress – joining football and eSports clubs and travelling to India (with Startup Safari) and to Silicon Valley (with Investec Enovate).

Ben is also unique in assessing his commercial success rate. He confesses to having had only one successful business ever – Oracle Investments in which he was one of a few partners. “Every single other business I had was a commercial failure,” adding quickly that HouseME is still pre-revenue. “Nothing has worked and those are all traditional failures … And I think it keeps you really humble to know that no matter how big your plan is, there are some things you can do nothing about and it’s about how best you move forward that matters.” Such is the honesty of an entrepreneur who’s learned humility and persistence.

Finding a business partner

Kyle Bradley came on board as Ben’s business partner at an early stage of HouseME because he knew that if it was going to work, it would be bigger than a one-man project. Kyle, having worked in the Cape Town-based startup “Where’s My Transport”, complemented Ben’s corporate experience. He also brought his coding and programming expertise to his role as Chief Technology Officer. Ben shares some pointers below with entrepreneurs on the lookout for partners.

Four things to remember when choosing a business partner:

  1. be incredibly humble and true to yourself about your shortcomings and failings;
  2. get someone on board that you can trust to do things you don’t need to do anymore;
  3. consider a reference; and
  4. do your due diligence.

You have to be able to admit that you are not good at X, Y and Z. For a founder this would be a really difficult period of introspection. It could be difficult to let go, but you need to identify gaps and find people who can fill those gaps.

Point number two is also difficult to embrace when you’ve built a business up from scratch. You might have given everything to it before a partner comes on board, but you have to be willing to give up part of your company, to give up part of your idea, to give up part of the responsibility for running it to people you can trust and are competent in what they do.

Regarding points three and four Ben recalls: “One of the lessons that I’ve taken throughout my short career is that references are king. I was referred to Kyle by a friend that I trusted implicitly and it turned out to be a very good meeting. I would never have taken a meeting if my friend hadn’t referred him directly.” He nonetheless warns that a reference is not a golden standard. You should do your due diligence to ensure that prospective partners are competent and trustworthy.

Shrewd business calls for thinking like a woman

Shrewd business calls for thinking like a woman

AHP_0484Siphesihle Kala’s years of experience as a business consultant coupled with her experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Blaqgold Holdings has provided her with a treasure trove of wisdoms concerning business, particularly being a woman in business.

Making the discovery

Were it not for a high school teacher who encouraged her to apply for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme, Siphesihle would have never even realised that she was an entrepreneur. At the age of 14 she was already drawing up a business model for her mother’s sewing business – a costing strategy that helped the business become more profitable. Yet she never thought of this as something an entrepreneur would do. In fact, she found nothing peculiar about the way she thought: “I have always looked for solutions but I have never known what to call that. I’d just always thought that everybody else is doing the same thing.”

She found the contrary to be true only much, much later and credits the Foundation with being instrumental in helping her recognise and eventually realise her unique entrepreneurial potential. “I’ve realised that we all think very differently and maybe there’s another 100 000 people all sitting there who also think that someone else has already done it.”

From “(f)unemployment” to founder

Her decision to go it alone and give up the security and benefits of a McKinsey and Company salary was made during a six-month break (doing freelance consulting) after working at McKinsey for two years. She did a lot of self-reflection in that time, a habit she picked up while in the Fellowship Programme and one that she finds strategic and fruitful to this day. The apparent lack of quality education to those who need it most was a topic that was foremost in her mind at that time. She then returned to McKinsey but knew it would be temporary. In June 2015 she finally called it quits to begin what she terms her “(f)unemployment”. After about six weeks of that, she ditched the unemployment-part of her routine and started working on her education app as her own boss.

Blaqgold Holdings has a consulting leg and a strategic solutions leg, focusing on technology enabled solutions. The one part of her business allows her to put on her very familiar and comfortable strategic hat to help small and medium businesses scale up and plan for the future. “That’s what I’m passionate about in SMEs: turning businesses into assets because a lot of small businesses aren’t really assets,” because its existence relies so heavily on the presence of its owner she explains.

A witness who makes a difference

Her business’ strategic solutions leg is currently engaged in developing an app that will provide high quality education to learners in the poorest areas. Why work in education and technology? Her reasoning is simple: “to make a difference faster than the government.” Having managed a number of tech projects in the past, she also wants to disprove naysayers who believe one has to be a techie to manage a tech project. With her education app she hopes to bring Maths, English and Science tuition to students who are spending at least R300 on extra classes – ironically from the same teachers who teach them during the day (the reason they need extra classes in the first place). She knows that her product will be of superior quality and hopes to make it available at a cheaper price.

Another reason for doing something in the education sector is the realisation that she might be the only “witness to this mugging.” She explains that apparently a person is more likely to die without anyone calling 911 if there are ten people witnessing a mugging, than when there is only one witness. This is because everyone is assuming that the other person will do something. “It opened my eyes to the fact that I might be the only witness here and therefore I should jump in and intervene.”

Challenges facing businesswomen in South Africa

“Being a woman in South Africa right now is frustrating, at least for me.” There’s the burden of constantly having to prove that you are as capable as your male counterparts; the pressure of living up to a commonly held (but oft ill-fitting) perception of what a woman is – nurturing, friendly, polite, demure; the double standards that male and female managers are held to (no brows are raised when male managers scream at employees, but when female managers transgress, they are called hormonal and sent to conflict management workshops); and the fact that most women happily accept the status quo. Siphesihle believes that the greatest challenge for women is to stand together and expose inequality because if only one bravely speaks up, that one woman is labelled an anarchist.

Think like a woman

What would a shrewd businesswoman behave like? Siphesihle’s basic response to that question is: not like a man! She offers the following words of advice to women in business:

  • Do not get intimidated. As a woman you are fully capable of working with men; you do not need to work like them, you need to work with them.
  • Don’t play the game the same way that the guys do. There are so many things that are ours and ours alone. Women are naturally better at perceiving and reading a room. In situations where feelings influence decisions, for example when negotiating, women can use their nature to their advantage.
  • Know how to manage yourself. While there is great freedom and great strength in being yourself, you must know how you are perceived. In other words, ask yourself: “What are my perceived strengths and weaknesses?” then play to that. To illustrate, if I were my(unmanaged)self, people’s first impression of me would be that I’m an out-of-place 18-year-old. To counter that I wear glasses to first meetings and make sure that everything I say is serious. After I’ve proved myself to be a capable human being, I then let out my jovial, comical self.
  • Friendliness and politeness don’t void transactions. We’ve been taught that a good girl is polite and a good girl doesn’t shout, but when you’re running your own business, politeness will only take you so far. Do not undervalue your service or product otherwise you will resent doing it or selling it. Also resist the urge to think of yourself as a typical woman who nags when it comes to collecting payment. Femininity doesn’t mean a lack of firmness or resolve.
  • Avoid mixing business with illicit pleasure. There is nothing that undermines a woman’s drive and ambition more.
Bravery is spelled W-O-M-A-N

Bravery is spelled W-O-M-A-N

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 10.26.47 AMStepping up to run a household and nurture a younger brother might seem like a lot to take on for a 13-year-old girl, but for Zama Zuma it was simply a case of doing what needed to be done. Since then she has lived by this motto: “Whatever situation you find yourself in, you just have to stand up, own it and do something.” Another widely held belief she holds to and one to which her recent business success attests is that “success happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

In Zama’s case the preparation for her success started when she was 13. After their parents’ divorce Zama and her brother chose to live with their father and she took on the responsibility of checking on her brother, helping with his homework and prepping for his next day at school. Then she would tidy the house, prepare dinner and eventually get round to doing her homework.

Different but how?

Having gotten used to this role of co-carer with her divorced father, she was quite accustomed to leadership and was jokingly referred to as Mama Zuma by her friends because she was always checking if everyone was okay. So by the time Zama started studying microbiology, biotechnology and genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand she had firmly established that she was “different but not quite sure how.” Cue the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme that she discovered in her first year at Wits. Through this programme she not only learned about what being an entrepreneur is all about, she also learned about herself. The Foundation in effect recognised her differentness as those of an entrepreneur.

She so took to heart what she was learning about entrepreneurship and herself as an entrepreneur that she registered a business in her second year even though there was no clear plan yet. She had to come up with a name for her business while queuing for registration and decided on a combination of her and her brother’s names: Gugulethu and Lindoguhle. She would soon find out that her choice of name, Lindolethu Trading, which means “our awaiting” was prophetic of what was to come.

A time of waiting

After finishing her degree at Wits, she took up her place in McKinsey and Company’s Leadership Programme. Working in consulting allowed for many luxuries like living alone and buying a car, but after two years Zama acknowledged that the job wasn’t quite the right fit for her. She resigned without having a clear plan in mind but trusted that her savings and moving back home with her family would suffice until her business was up and running. That was at the end of 2012.

For the next two years she would work together with various companies to apply for government tenders. “I wasn’t quite confident that I could do it by myself.” She would fulfil the tender’s BEE requirement with the understanding that should their tender be successful, the companies would join together to fulfil the tender. The tactic proved unsuccessful – people probably saw right through the front. So in 2014 she decided to go it alone and spent the next year applying for tender after tender on her own.

People warned her that it would be impossible to win a tender without greasing someone’s palms, but she persisted. She was able to use what she had learnt from working on tenders with those big companies. When she happened upon a tender for supplying and delivering work wear. By that time, she had been without a salary for about two years. Things were desperate and she made sure that God appreciated the direness of her situation. The tedious process of tendering was exhausting and to get through the three months of putting the tender she promised herself that if unsuccessful, it would be her last.

Nothing could have prepared her for the measure of success she finally enjoyed in February of 2016, especially since mere weeks before her last vestige of independence and memory of luxury slipped away as the bank repossessed her car. That sadness and the long wait (she started working on the tender in 2014) have since been engulfed by Lindolethu’s current post-revenue status thanks to a five-year contract to supply certain Eskom plants with protective gear. Zama hopes that this is just the beginning of a business that will become the legacy she will leave for her family one day.

The answer to intimidation

Ever since Zama started working on her business full time, there have been numerous opportunities to feel intimidated and back down. From the intimidating glare of a bank account on a minus to being sized up by fellow business people – for the tender she had to endure a tender site inspection by five individuals – all of whom were older and more experienced. The truth she kept coming back to every time she felt intimidated: just do what needs to be done. In trying to remember where this bravery comes from Zama explains: “I’ve had a number of experiences in my life that taught me to be brave,” the most significant of which has been stepping up to help care for her family. Essentially being a woman and doing what comes naturally to her as a woman lie at the heart of her bravery in business.