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Corporate citizenship

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation update 2017

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation model, that develops a long-term pipeline of entrepreneurial talent starting at high school with Allan Gray Scholars, then Candidate Allan Gray Fellows at university before reaching Allan Gray Fellows pursuing their careers and enterprises, is not one that is found elsewhere. For this reason the Foundation looks to other analogies for the work it does – and some are rather unexpected. Anthony Farr explains why the Foundation aspires for Allan Gray Fellows to do for entrepreneurship in South Africa what Jamaica has done for sprinting.

It may be useful to reflect for a moment how unlikely it is that a small island of less than three million people can so completely dominate sprinting, the most competitive sporting event on the planet. The 100m male and female world champions are currently both Jamaican. Twenty-three of the fastest 28 times in the event have been achieved by Jamaica. To put this into perspective, if one were to suggest that Cape Town, alone, was going to consistently produce the best sprinters in the world, year after year, no one would believe that it could be possible, yet this is exactly what Jamaica has achieved with a smaller population.

We were very interested to understand how this has been accomplished and what we can learn from the Jamaican sprinters in our pursuit of cultivating responsible entrepreneurs for the common good.

Our three initial lessons:

1. Start early

2. Develop a powerful sense of community

3. Be motivated by a bigger vision

Each of these will be unpacked and then illustrated though the example of an Allan Gray Fellow.

1. Start early

Talent explodes into success when identified early and intentionally developed. From as early as eight years old, Jamaican children are competing and dreaming of being world-class athletes. We try to replicate this early activation in our Allan Gray Scholarship at high school and see it clearly in the story of Bradley Wattrus. With his love of maths and science at school, Bradley Wattrus had the makings of a successful actuary. Yet, the promise of corporate success paled in comparison to the potential impact he could have as an entrepreneur. This is why he applied to the Allan Gray Fellowship: “I remember feeling that this was a vision for the future of South Africa in which I wanted to be a part.”

Bradley Wattrus: Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

It has been a mere four years since Bradley co-founded Yoco Technologies, and a few more since he started his journey as an Allan Gray Fellow, yet he is already impacting the financial technology industry. The firm is focused on helping SMEs grow by providing integrated payments, point-of-sale software and access to financial services. They now have 5 000 merchants using Yoco, with 300 000 traditional card terminals in the market and 70% of their merchants accepting card payments for the first time.

Bradley has been flexing his business muscles since primary school. Bradley’s father made a point of teaching his children to think in terms of capital and not pocket money, and he and his brother “were regularly exploring different side projects.” Bradley’s first foray into entrepreneurship was as his school’s Coca-Cola vendor and he won an award for entrepreneurship.

At the end of his school career, Bradley applied to the Allan Gray Fellowship. The combination of his BSc (Hons) in Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme were enlivening. As Bradley puts it: “If you are interested in going beyond a profession and making a significant impact on the region I would encourage you to apply [to the Fellowship]. The value is really in the opportunity to expand your mindset and leave university with a much broader perspective than you may otherwise have had.”

2. Develop a powerful sense of community

Achievement is often seen as an individual pursuit but it is accelerated by community. In Jamaica, the whole island gets behind their runners and the annual athletics event, known as Champs, is held in a vast stadium which is filled to capacity. The sense of community pushes everyone on to even greater heights. In the reflections of Naeem Ganey, the importance of Allan Gray Fellows creating a community is evident.

Naeem Ganey: Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

In 2015 Naeem started EduTree with a friend while finishing his Honours degree in Computer Science. EduTree is a mobile-friendly platform that focuses on revision aid in high school. Students can login to EduTree and practice math and science. The system then analyses the student’s answering patterns, identifying strengths and providing teachers with deep analytics about a student’s learning. Being an educational business, the company’s business model and choice of tech is completely guided by the principle of providing access as widely as possible – no sign-up fee is required, basic smart phones can navigate the platform easily and, best of all, it’s data-efficient.

This kind of thinking – about what people need and what they have to work with – lies at the heart of Naeem’s business initiatives. In fact, he has a vision of “a digital Africa that is inclusive and revolutionary.” A year after co-founding EduTree, he founded Media Measure, a media monitoring business that uses technology to ensure that clients get the correct amount of advertising by automating the comparison of the paid schedule against what was then actually broadcast. This pioneering venture operates in Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi. Being based in Johannesburg meant that Naeem had to provide these services remotely, which in turn meant setting up data centres in each of these countries – one more thing that hadn’t been done before, except by banks or other huge companies. “We’re the first small startup to actually do what we’ve been doing in some of these countries.”

There is something about pursuing a goal that is bigger than oneself that inspires performance

His understanding of the importance of the human element stems from both his upbringing and his participation in the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme. Thanks to his parents, he has received business training throughout his youth. From counting stock and tending to customers at Bingo Cash & Carry in the small town of Vryburg, to managing the start of a new fish and chips take-away restaurant in Mahikeng, and coming up with ways to attract more customers – Naeem has seen it all. He attributes the meticulousness with which he approaches writing code to having had to carefully count viennas and pieces of fish as a youngster.

This sense of connecting with people was echoed at the Foundation. Referring to the blend of unique characters in the Fellowship programme, he used to call it a “fruit salad”. “The Foundation appreciates the unique abilities in each person … and they taught us how to appreciate the unique abilities in each person.”

3. Be motivated by a bigger vision

There is something about pursuing a goal that is bigger than oneself that inspires performance. If Jamaica’s athletics was just about the success of one or two individuals it would be difficult to sustain, yet because it is driven by a bigger vision, a sense of showing the world the brilliance of their country, the momentum builds from generation to generation. At the Foundation, we call this a “spirit of significance” and it is a consistent theme in the journey of Lethabo Motswaledi.

Lethabo Motswaledi: Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

Lethabo 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 be 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, is 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. They will also be launching an accredited skills programme aimed at training people in modern craft production using 3D technology.

Lethabo recalls eagerly filling in the application for the Allan Gray Fellowship, feeling like she was born to answer some of the questions. “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.”

Making an impact

Following the Jamaican principles of starting early, building a strong community and being driven by a bigger vision, the Foundation’s pipeline (as shown in Graph 1) has grown from a small group of passionate but inexperienced high school learners to an Association of Allan Gray Fellows, which already has created a portfolio of businesses with a conservative valuation of R850 million. Given the right conditions and support, small groups of individuals can achieve the remarkable.

Foundation beneficiaries

Interested learners can find more information about the Scholarship and Fellowship opportunities at: 

The deadline for applications for Fellowship opportunities is 18 August 2017 for first and second year university students. Grade 6 learners must apply for a Scholarship opportunity, for their high school education, by 29 September 2017.

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