Thursday, October 29, 2015

Day 11 - Day before leaving...

I had the pleasure of meeting with the SAP team which works closely with and supports Siyafunda in many ways. I met with Sunil Geness, Rashid and Eli (an intern from Dubai). The meeting was so enjoyable. Sunil is an energetic person who is immediately apparent as a strong leader and you can tell he is the type of executive who gets things done. It was great to hear his perspective on South Africa, the challenges in the country and the plans that Smiley and I have been working on. I hope to keep in touch with him as he is clearly active in social causes and animal conservation.

Given that today is my last full day in South Africa, Smiley and Kharummisha (Smiley's wife) took the Palm Ridge team and I out for dinner at a Thai restaurant at Mall of the South. It was a lovely meal and included a side trip for some bubble tea, first time eating by several of the team of sushi, a contest as to who could use chopsticks best and my introduction to WhatsApp.

And when I was dropped off, Smiley and Kharummisha left me with gifts and food for my trip home. Their generosity knows no bounds and I have been often awestruck by their kindness and how they treat everyone they come across.

Day 10 - Ubuntu

It is hard to believe that my time in South Africa is nearly over. I feel very lucky right now. Smiley has facilitated an experience for me which allows me to obtain a robust picture of the Siyafunda mission, drivers, operations and relationships. And yet, there are more people I would like to meet and more communities which I would like to visit and speak with. While the schedule has been jam-packed, I would love the opportunity to continue for another 2 weeks.

Today Smiley and I travelled to Pretoria, the administrative center for the federal government. We met with Brian, Mohamed and Duma of the Ministry responsible for economic development. Duma Nkosi is the prior mayor of Ekurleheni who is now a senior member of the Economic Development Department. I was slightly trepidatious about participating in a meeting with the government given that I am unfamiliar with the appropriate protocol to be employed particularly given the importance of this Ministry to Siyafunda. My hesitancy was quickly dispelled in the meeting as the department participants clearly share the goals of Siyafunda in addressing the issues of unemployment and education and were very direct and transparent in the meeting. I could see quickly how the EDD is truly a valued partner. It was also interesting to hear about the priorities of the EDD and the plans to address the issues. They are hoping that Siyafunda can help them realize these goals and we left with three potential areas of collaboration with the Ministry.

Brian, Mohamed and Smiley

Before we left Pretoria, Smiley took me to see the Union Buildings which are at the highest point in Pretoria and is the official seat of the South African government. There is a beautiful view of Pretoria from the site. There is also the most amazing sculpture of Nelson Mandela. It was a treat to be able to see it.

On the way back to Palm Ridge, we stopped in Alexandra (Alex) which is one of the poorest townships in South Africa and one in which many people still live in temporary housing. It was the site of an uprising in the 80's which was prompted by an attack on a funeral by security forces. 40 people were killed. We went to the Alexandra CKC to meet up with Thabani, Ruala and Ferruh from Intel. Ferruh is in Corporate Affairs at Intel based in Istanbul and wanted to visit a center in-person to speak to community members training on the Intel skills programs. The first woman he spoke to told him that she took the training and has already found herself a job as an assistant. Another clear indication that Siyafunda, the CKC's and the corporate partners are making a material difference in people's lives. Let's see if you can tell which young woman got a job.

Later in the day, Smiley had arranged for a meeting with Mark Lamberti who is very well known in South Africa and who graciously invited us to his home. Mark is currently the CEO of Imperial Holdings and was a founding partner of MassMart which was eventually acquired by Walmart. He has been the recipient of many awards in South Africa for excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship. Mr. Lamberti is a legacy supporter of Siyafunda and established the relationship between MassMart and Siyafunda which continues today.

My impression is that he is a no-nonsense person. And while I certainly respect him for his accomplishments and his very impressive business skills, that is not what impressed me most. Mark is dedicated to South Africa, its people and to improving this country and addressing its challenges. I find out later that he was a supporter of the ANC prior to the end of apartheid and for clarity he is a man of European descent. He spoke about the initiatives his current company are engaged in to help the community including establishing libraries in schools (including employing librarians to work there) and setting up medical clinics in communities.

He also gave me a different perspective as a South African who (in his words) chooses to stay in face of the challenges. He gave a word to a phenomenon I had been observing in the last week: Ubuntu. Ubuntu is essentially the concept that a person is a person through other people. In other words, the phenomenon I have been observing of the great kindness and generosity displayed by South Africans towards their communities and other people is based on the fact that people define themselves by how they are with other people. It's a beautiful philosophy and one that is pervasive here.

Today, protests continued at Wits University. Although most students are interested in resuming classes and exams, there are some students who feel that the protests should continue until all issues are resolved. One of the main issues which remains a matter of contention is the university's outsourcing of certain services. Unfortunately, these protests also had an element of violence.

Day 9 - Wits University

Smiley and I were meant to go to Wits University to meet with Dr. Susan Steinman and Chimene Chetty who are each affiliated with Wits Business School. Wits University remains closed today given ongoing negotiations and so we travel to Chimene's house for our meeting. Both Chimene and Susan are also affiliated with Ashoka and Dr. Steinman is the individual that recommended Smiley to Ashoka as a fellow. It was clear that they both are well versed in the areas of social entrepreneurship and are social activists. They were excited to hear about Smiley's plans to "franchise" Siyafunda and offered valuable insight and their assistance in the issuance of my report.

Susan Steinman, Chimene Chetty and Smiley

It was also apparent that each of them are pioneers in bringing to fruition the idea that organizations whose primary mission is to contribute to the community and advance social causes should also have meaningful ways to generate profits so that such organizations can sustain themselves in the long term as opposed to solely relying on donations and third party funding. This is an idea which I first became familiar with at the Leadership Conference in Bucharest and it is certainly the best way to allow organizations to help more people and not fall over after a few years if charitable donations and funding dries up. This idea of "social entrepreneurship" is one which is unfamiliar to many people and is perhaps not completely understood. Some people mistakenly think that social purpose organizations should be charitable altogether while not considering that sustainability is crucial to the people who run and operate such organizations and also to the community so that it may receive ongoing services for the long term.

Chimene Chetty introduced me to a new phrase which I will be sure to adopt going forward: conscious capitalist. I think this term sums up the stance of many people who support societal improvement but realize that making money to advance causes AND to make a living for themselves are not mutually exclusive.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Chimene's three rescue dogs and I couldn't resist the temptation to get some dog time with them. She told me that the two dogs which look like hounds are actually a cross between a Yorkie and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I'm not sure if she was pulling my leg.

It was also reinforced for me how much of a network Smiley has built for the purpose of enhancing what Siyafunda can do to help communities. In addition to corporates, government, other organizations, and the community, Smiley has also engaged with local thoughts leaders and academics to generate momentum for change making. It is a valuable lesson to learn as to what can be done when all stakeholders are engaged and together work for a common goal.

Smiley and I also had lunch with Limbani Phiri of the Ashoka Foundation office in Johannesburg. Limbani gave me a rundown of all of the amazing programs Ashoka runs in addition to the EIR program which I am currently participating in. One of the key programs is the Changemaker School Network which includes schools in any environment which teach children about the concept of changemaking, which are innovative and which demonstrate the ability to influence others to follow their lead. For example, one school which Limbani spoke about was one which does not have many funds to operate in their rural community. The children of the school have come together and on the weekends give lessons to the community so that they can generate funds to run their own school.

Limbani also explained the process which Smiley went through to be accepted as an Ashoka fellow. It became clear to me as to how Ashoka has garnered the reputation it has and how it has succeeded in progressing its impressive goals. The criteria to be met is exacting and to be a fellow one literally has had to have made a demonstrated impact in the area of changemaking, innovation and influence. Having gotten to know Smiley over the last week and a half, it is not a surprise to me that he was accepted as a fellow. (Smiley will not like my comments here as he is also one of the most modest individuals I have met).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Day 8 - Visitor from Canada and Agility

You know those days which unfold in a way which you could not have contemplated? Today was one of those days.

Following the Kruger expedition, I was ready for my second (and last) week of on-site work at Siyafunda. The schedule for Monday was to have an internal meeting with Smiley and then external meetings in the afternoon. I was surprised to see Themba pick me up but apparently a last minute meeting was called with the Minister of Infrastructure Development for the Province of Guateng. When Themba and I arrived at Palm Ridge, we were asked to meet Smiley at the meeting which was taking place at the Palm Ridge Community Center. That was the first surprise.

I have learned to be agile while I'm here. Although my job requires a great deal of agility and last minute fire fighting, the flexibility required here is of a different sort when you combine it with the fact that I am meeting (on some days 100's of) new people every day, in an environment which is unfamiliar and I do not always speak the same language. It is not unusual here to think you are doing one thing and then end up doing something completely unexpected with no prep time. Agility is one of the key qualities that Smiley possesses and it seems that no matter what happens or how much is going on, he never seems to break a sweat and takes it all in stride.

The purpose of the meeting was for the Minister and her staff to meet with the youth in the community to unveil a new program called Tshepo 500,000. This program is an expansion of the prior program which was aimed at linking up 10,000 youth with sustainable employment opportunities. Given that 10,000 was deemed insufficient, the aim of Tshepo 500,000 is to reach more youth by recruitment means and by ensuring that there are avenues in the communities for youth to obtain the skills they require to obtain employment. Given the linkage between sustainable employment and skill development, organizations like Siyafunda which have been successful at providing skill development services were invited to the meeting.

Upon arrival, the community hall was already filled with at least a hundred people, likely more. I took my seat at the back as an observer until i was approached by a woman who explained that she founded an organization called SICE (Shared Identity Common Esteem). SICE targets (by word of mouth) youth in the community who are subject to hardships such as domestic abuse, substance abuse, poverty etc. and runs classes to build personal skills. The aim is to build the self-esteem of the youth so that they feel more empowered to change their circumstances and improve their lives. Before I knew it, I was taken by the arm to speak to the youth of SICE. They were an impressive group and you could tell that in addition to self respect, they had found a community and support with each other.

Agility moment #2 came when Smiley came to fetch me to attend the pre-meeting briefing between the Minister and the community leaders. I was feeling a bit trepidatious given I had no clue at that point what the meeting was about, the local protocols to be used with the Minister and the myriad of leaders in attendance and felt that perhaps I was intruding as the "visitor from Canada". But I can be agile too so off we went to the meeting. In the room with the Minister and her staff was about 6 to 8 religious leaders (pastors and traditional religious leaders), the organizer of SICE and several city councillors. The briefing was for the Minister to advise on the objective of the meeting and agenda and to agree on who would speak when.

The Minister was very gracious in welcoming the Canadian intruder and the meeting was fascinating. Bearing in mind that there are approximately 9 languages (excluding English and Afrikaan) spoken in South AFrica, people switch back and forth between languages constantly. This sometimes makes things hard to follow in group meetings. Sometimes I don't know based on people's tone and gesticulation whether they are angry or whether they are just passionate. There was an interesting moment in the meeting when the Minister asked why there was no food or tea being served. It seems that the caterer has received in past emails purporting to be from the government which were scam emails. When she received the last minute request to cater the Youth Engagement meeting, she assumed this too was a scam and thus there was no food available. Going back to agility however, Smiley had learned of this fiasco only a few hours earlier and he had arranged to fill the void on short notice by procuring last minute food for all of the people in attendance at the meeting. Siyafunda ended up providing lunch to all of the attendees because they believe that if you want to engage the youth at meetings, you should make sure they have something to eat.

It was time for the meeting to start and the officiator was one of the city councillors who also happens to be a key pastor in the community. It was truly an inspiring meeting and people in the West could learn a few things about livening up meetings. There was singing. There was dancing. There were prayers by each of the religious leaders so that no religion was seen to be considered more important than the others. There were speeches, mostly to motivate the youth by the councillors and pastors. The Minister welcomed the crowd and gave her thanks to the youth and the community leaders and....the visitor from Canada who was there to teach and to learn. At one point, the Minister asked all unemployed youth to stand up and I would say that almost the entire room stood.

After the QandA, the biggest surprise of all would come when the officiator asked the Visitor from Canada to say a few words at the meeting amongst the rest of the community leaders. Let's say i was largely unprepared for this honour but I do recognize that it was quite an honour and I did my best to give a few words of wisdom about education and making change in the community. Like I said, I did not expect my day to culminate in speaking at the Minister's meeting.

Despite all of the excitement, the day was not over and Smiley and I left to Johannesburg to meet with Adelaide Sheik who manages the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy at the University of Johannesburg. Although the student strike is largely over, the universities remain closed since there are still ongoing negotiations over other student related issues which were not yet resolved. We therefore had to move the meeting to a restaurant. We spoke with Adelaide about the project we were working on and she was very helpful in giving her insight based on her expertise in the burgeoning area of social enterprise (more on that later in the week).

We also had a meeting at Intel later in the afternoon so that the Intel product personnel could demo the new online training program for disadvantaged women and girls. The program is multi faceted and teaches skills in computer awareness including social media (and security measures while using online tools), business skills, life skills etc. It is an amazing piece of work and the CKC managers and staff joined us at Intel so they could begin planning the implementation of the new course at the centers.

Given this was the last day i would spend with Babalwa and Moses who were travelling back to KZN the next day, Babalwa, Moses, Sarah, Mpho, Machalette and I went to dinner. Babalwa, who I have grown close with, wanted me to see where she grew up so we travelled to Thembisa (the second largest township in South Africa following Soweto) for dinner. Unfortunately, rush hour in Johannesburg is not a pretty sight and it was raining so it took us one and a half hours to get there. I didn't mind as this would be my first time out after dark!

Days 6 and 7 - And now for something completely different...

It is now the weekend and there is no work or meetings to attend. There is only choice. A trip to Kruger, a place I have also wanted to visit since I became addicted to safaris (the photography type, not the Walter Palmer type) several years ago after a trip to Zambia and Botswana. Notwithstanding that people do not usually go to Kruger for one day, I felt that one day was better than no days.

I arrived there on Saturday in time for the evening safari ride and the guide did the impossible. While it usually takes about 5 days minimum to see the big 5 (especially with the elusive leopard), we "crossed them off" on the first evening (in addition to giraffes and hippos).

As many know, while I love all animals, I have a special affinity for elephants. They are incredible animals given how smart they are, how creative they are and the way that they look after each other. I could watch them for hours. I always get a thrill when the teenage male elephants like to show off by fake charging the safari jeep and I wasn't disappointed on this trip.

It is the end of the dry season now and the rains are only starting to come. There is little water but that is no problem if you're a creative elephant and you find a human reservoir. It helps if you are a large beast and can reach over the top. You can even give the little baby elephants water by acting as a conduit.

On Sunday morning I had time for a morning ride before I had to make my way back to Johannesburg. The best part of the morning was sitting on the back deck with a coffee in the absolute peace and quiet with nature around while impalas and warthogs grazed right off the deck and two feet away.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Day 5 (Friday) - Back on the Road Soweto

The road trip gang (Moses, Themba, Babalwa and Bestos) is back together again...this time for a trip to the largest township in South Africa, i.e. Soweto. For those who are unfamiliar with Soweto, it is known for many things but most prominently:

1. it was the site of a mass uprising in 1976 due to the then-government's policy that school would be taught in Afrikaans instead of English although that was more of a tipping point given all of the other oppressive policies. The police opted to shoot at the protesters which included many high school students resulting in the deaths of 23 people; and

2. it was the home of Nelson Mandela and his family for many years.

Our first stop was the Emdeni Skills Development Center. And once again I was impressed by the creativity employed by the organizations trying to help develop community member's skills in order to address the unemployment problem. The SDC offers a myriad of programs to give people practical skills so they can find employment. In addition to the Siyafunda based IT skills and training, it has counselling by trained social workers, a drop in center so teens can be fed and get help with their homework, assistant chef classes including practical training in a small kitchen, small business skills training, and contractor/renovation training. And for some programs, there are even placements to give the students experience for example, internships at a food preparation company.

The poor students had to put up with having their classes crashed by the "visitor from Canada" but they were all quite gracious about the interruption. With all of the good things that CDC is making available to students, they are still struggling with space constraints as each class was overflowing with students.

My favorite class at the Emdeni SDC was the agricultural class. The property at the back of the building is filled with small greenhouses so that the students can learn to grow vegetables on their own. Several of the students have even started small businesses selling the produce they have independently grown. One student was kind enough to give me a tour of her greenhouse and it was the healthiest looking spinach I ever saw. She wanted me to take some with me to Canada but I had to explain that importation of vegetables from Africa may not make me popular at Customs.

Our next stop would be a small residential home for people with physical disabilities. So that we wouldn't get lost (and remember Soweto is the largest township with narrow and winding streets), one of the CKC trainers based in Soweto rode with us from Emdeni to the next stop. We piled into the car like a VW commercial. Who knew six could fit in a Corolla?

It was about this time that had my first sighting of Western Union when a mini bus taxi drove by fully branded in black and yellow. I tried to get a shot but those taxis drive pretty past and we couldn't keep up.

Isaac at the residential center gave us a quick tour of the premises. The center has six full time residents and operates a center in the home for people to use the computers and obtain skills training. I had a long chat with the two managers of the center and they gave me a fairly good picture of the challenges they face particularly in the face of little funding and a shortage for services for community members with physical challenges.

It was about this time that we heard that the government had agreed to freeze university tuition and to retract the tuition hikes. Amazing what the students were able to accomplish by banding together. There are of course still a component of students who would like the government to offer free tertiary education as was promised in the past so it is possible that protests will continue.

Given that it's now Friday afternoon and it's been a long week, we decided to call it an early day at about 3 and do some sightseeing and grab a bite. We contemplated going bungee jumping which I have never done but I didn't want to risk not being able to finish my project with Siyafunda due to an early expiry. So instead we chose a more meaningful option and we went to Mandela House where Nelson Mandela lived until 1962 when he was imprisoned. He eventually returned there when he was released from prison. You can see the bullet holes and fire bomb scorch marks on the exterior of the building. The original building had a brick wall inside in the center so that the family would not get shot when bullets came in through the window facing the tree however the wall is no longer there. The story of the Mandelas is a familiar one to most and it is hard to comprehend how much he accomplished in his lifetime at great personal cost. It is also impossible not to wonder what he would think about the current state of politics in South AFrica given the rates of unemployment and the fact that in many ways the effects of apartheid are still evident on every corner.

After our tour, we wrapped up our day with a bite to eat at a restaurant in Soweto and off we all went to start our weekends.

Day 4 - Shift in Gear

The student Fees Must Fall demonstrations continue with force in South Africa today and the universities are largely shut down. It is the primary news item 24/7 as the police have used stun grenades, water cannons and arrests to address the students protesting and marching. There are concerns that the violence will continue to ratchet up. The general population are largely supportive of the students and understand the frustrations with the government. Due to concerns about bystanders getting caught in the fray, the routes of the protests are publicized so that folks can avoid the areas if they wish to although many want to join in due to frustrations about unkept promises made by the government.

Today was a significant shift in gear from the road trip of yesterday although no less productive!

In addition to the hard work and entrepreneurship of Smiley, the CKC managers and staff and the multiple partners operating their own centers, the growth of Siyafunda is also attributable to the contributions made by Siyafunda's key corporate partners. Both Cisco and Intel provide corporate funding and the content and training for the courses ultimately offered by Siyafunda and the CKC's to the community. Today we met with both of these partners who were gracious enough to listen to the details of the project we are working on as part of the Ashoka Executive in Residence program. It was evident that both companies are committed to helping the communities and that they have chosen to work with Siyafunda due to their trust in the organization and because of the impact that Siyafunda has had. Alfie at Cisco and the team at Intel also seem invested in continuing to develop the systems used by organizations such as Siyafunda including developing online training courses for use by persons with physical challenges.

Meeting with Alfie Hamid at Cisco

What really stood out to me about Cisco and Intel is that they do not consider their contribution to be limited to funding or developing IT and other skill training courses. It was clear that they are both keen to contribute to bettering the unemployment situation in South Africa. It is also clear that they do not just contribute funds to Siyafunda but that they are intimately familiar with the details of the organization and its operations. Cisco in particular worked with Siyafunda closely on a project not dissimilar to what I am working on. In fact, along with some other organizations, they helped develop the idea of transitioning Siyafunda centers from CTC's (community technology centers) to CKC's (community knowledge center) in order to help expand the breadth of services to encompass more than just technology training.

Meeting with Thabani Khupe, Ruala and Suraj Shah at Intel

I was heartened to see large companies such as Cisco and Intel truly taking an active part in supporting the local communities.

Now that the camera is up and running again, I have also attached some of the additional photos from the road trip yesterday.