Send Me …. to develop entrepreneurs
How educational initiatives assist in developing future innovators
Written by Prof. Laura Foote
Laura Foote teaches at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College, and is a visiting lecturer at TSiBA Education, Cape Town. She has an BA from Princeton, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MA in Teaching from Simmons College in the US. She has travelled and worked in over 20 countries. and brings her experience at the World Bank and in international banking to her perspective as an educator.
The country has been on a knife-edge. When the long-disgraced Jacob Zuma finally resigned last Wednesday, I almost could hear the collective sigh of relief, reverberating all the way from local households across to international investors.
My perspective on these eventful weeks is as an “inside-outsider”. Leaving behind the winter snow in the US, I’ve joined the faculty team at TSiBA Education, where some 260 students are working towards their BBA business degrees. To gain a fresh outlook on my field of social entrepreneurship, I’m spending a few months as a volunteer lecturer and meeting people across Cape Town in a range of sectors.
At the end of his first SONA speech last Friday, we heard South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa recite the words from Thuma Mina (Send me) by the late and much beloved musician Hugh Masekela.
I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around
When they triumph over poverty
I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS
I wanna lend a hand …..Send me
To meet the towering expectations built up from years of corruption and inaction, Ramaphosa will indeed to inspire many others to join in the “Send me” call.
Education will be the key to South Africa’s future -another reason the change at the top has been so urgently needed. Zuma joined the movement as a young freedom fighter, having attended school only sporadically. In contrast, Ramaphosa has a law degree, and went on to a career in union leadership and an impressive business track record. The new First Lady, Dr. Tshepo Motsepe, combines her medical degree from KZN with a Masters from the Harvard School of Public Health, and a certificate in Social Enterprise from GIBS; she brings a highly informed perspectiveon what it takes to build a healthy population equipped to achieve economic development.
Returning to Cape Town after a ten year absence, I’ve been impressed with the depth and breadth of highly qualified talent seen in leadership roles in public service, the judiciary, business, medicine, academics and journalism. The economic opportunity gap is still pronounced, even though more than 21 years have based since Ramaphosa stood by Nelson Mandela’s side raising aloft the new constitution they had artfully shepherded through multi-party negotiations. Now that democracy has triumphed through last week’s nonviolent transition, enormous tasks confront the nation.
I’ve been looking for evidence of active solutions to bridge these economic disparities. Some of the most inspiring initiatives I’ve seen with potentially long-lasting impact are in the field of education.
The demand for more young people trained in problem-solving skills, and ready to become ethical leaders, is being addressed by TSiBA. Based at Pinelands near Old Mutual, this tertiary business school was founded 14 years ago as a nonprofit with a strong mission. Given the difficult living circumstances many of the students are coming from, the college offers both financial and psycho-social support, as well as a welcoming place between class times to do assignments and make friends. Outdoor wilderness experiences led by EDUCO form a key part of the curriculum and build self-awareness and confidence. A web of dedicated faculty, staff, tutors and mentors aim to help students equip themselves to realize their goals.
You can’t build business skills with chalk and a blackboard.
Entrepreneurship projects for TSiBA students give hands-on experience. I noticed that some products and services that we tend to take for granted in the US are not available here. But there is a strong spirit to set things right. One student team is working on a meal delivery service for senior citizens, another at water-saving devices, while others are evaluating transport and childcare needs to see if a start-up could fill in some of the all too obvious gaps. With the Metroline railroad suspended for almost six weeks to date, many students face real challenges in getting to class, sometime needing up to two hours.
Income disparities are likely aggravated by lack of connectivity. Two-thirds of the students at TSiBA don’t have internet access at home, let alone a computer to work on. Mobile phones are prevalent but not the best tool for reading assignments or manipulating spreadsheets. The college is currently grappling with how to help the students keep building higher levels of digital competency needed for the future.
Meanwhile, the students are continuously coming up with ideas. Andrew, aged 22 from Langa, has been eager to start a book club. I decided to join him, and together we’re going to launch that next week, discussing a short story by Sindiwe Magona, a South African author who grew up in Gugulethu in the Cape flats. Another student, Nkuleko, is leading the outreach by the Iphupalam Club to spark entrepreneurship skills in teenagers in the townships.
Several members of my family work on the other side of the world in Silicon Valley, California. Here in Cape Town, I’ve been excited to witness an innovation ecosystem growing organically with its own South African flavor. With over 20 accelerators up and running, Cape Town itself is a bustling hub for tech start-ups. Potential and drive are here in abundance. A major constraint to growth is access to skills.
Last month the Explore Data Science Academy opened at the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock, a gritty neighborhood with remodelled factory spaces. With strong underwriting from IT powerhouse BCX, one hundred young people age 18 to 30 now sit in a newly converted space, immersed in a year-long data analytics course. Entry was highly selective, as CiTi leaders Ian Merrington and Joshin Raghubar explained to us. The program went from concept to execution in a matter of a few months, but it still attracted 8000 applicants, 1000 of whom could have been qualified to participate.
South Africa may have one of the most unequal school systems in the world, as pointed out recently in an OECD report reviewed by the Economist. Thus the expectations of the new President are justifiably high. There are urgent challenges to tackle. However, we can’t just wait for the government to “solve” everything. The keys to the future will also come from entrepreneurial efforts to develop future leaders and innovators. I see promising signs right here in Cape Town.