Category Archives: South Africa Challenge

The passion of South Africa

So almost 2 months ago now, my two weeks staying at the world changers academy in Durban came to an end. It was an experience I will never forget and I can’t thank all the people that made it possible enough. I just wanted to provide a reflection of my experience.

South Africa is a beautiful country from its beaches through to its rolling hills.

The community that we spent most time with was the Zulu community. A community that is still affected by the fall out from apartheid as well as a HIV epidemic. The unemployment rate is predicted to be around 40%+ in this community but truthfully they are still unsure as to the exact numbers of people living there never mind the unemployment rates. During our visit we were fortunate enough to live with a family in a township for one evening, admittedly the house was nice probably nicer than world changers in some respects (sorry Craig). The family shared with us what it was like to live within the community: the high crime rates, lack of work and risk of sexual abuse. Along with other things we saw in Durban it was very difficult to listen to and take in…

But this is not my memory of South Africa and it is an unfair representation of the community as a whole. The fact is that every country has significant issues, whether it be unemployment, poverty or terrorism but one thing that stood out more than anything was their love of life. Everyone we met within the communities was so passionate about South Africa and although they may have been financially poor were so willing to give and so friendly.


It has forever changed my own personal definition of the word rich. As a part of the challenge the team were all involved in a personal leadership programme that tried to break down our preconceptions and leadership issues, this process reinforced to me the importance of not pre judging people. After all the truth is everyone has things in their lives that cause them to act the way they do, the process of being willing to understand and work with that gives you real enlightment.

As I move forward I want to make a real pledge to myself and to everyone else that I can’t forget the lessons that I have learnt not only in my short time in Durban but also in my prior experiences. After all, this process of learning and development is what sets us apart as mankind.

Tackling the facts from the valley of 1000 hills…

So as I catch my breath sitting in Vancouver Airport after a fantastic month of travelling, I can’t help but begin to further reflect on some of my South Africa experiences. A big theme of the experience and something that I will continue to take in the rest of my life is the difference between fact and assumption. Something I will tackle in a later blog but for now here are some facts about the area we stayed in with some comments on some of them. Over the next couple of weeks I will begin to tackle each one in turn.

The facts:

  • The communities are still affected by the apartheid.
  • Within the valley of 1000 hills there is a HIV issue
  • The unemployment rate within the Valley of 1000 hills is high.
  • Rape and sexual abuse are significant concerns within the areas we visited
  • Waste of all types is a huge problem
  • There are a number of support organisations running within the area.
  • Although there are schools within the communities the teaching within many areas is sub optimal with many young adults still struggling with basic maths and literacy.
  • The South Africans we met were some of the most passionate people I have ever met breaking out in song and dance at seemingly random points!
  • Bribes within police and services
  • The affect of aid & handouts is still having an impact on the communities.


The apartheid although happening a number of years ago is still affecting the country. Many people we spoke to said that there are still areas that are known for particular colours of skin and that in our case certain areas were unsafe for white people to go into. The difference in schooling between communities is still significant with majority white schools or majority black schools but there is a feeling that this is now not based on skin colour but rather on available income. Black people are referred to as coloureds both by the government and within communities.

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The area of the valley of 1000 hills is known as the epicentre for HIV/ AIDs within South Africa. You can clearly see the affect of it throughout the communities with a generation the majority of which between the ages of 20-30 missing leading to families often being led by grandparents. The awareness or acceptance within some of the communities is still not there, with children not being school and some families not educating them. Often even within the schools children are told but still often don’t accept it exists or if they do they don’t see the scale.

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Ben speaking to some of the children in Makaputu. A fantastic orphanage in the valley of 1000 hills.


The area we stayed in had significant levels of unemployment but the truth is that the scale of the problem is still very much an unknown. Within the townships it is often one of two members of a household that are earning as in England but within some of the households we visited there could be in some cases more than 8 children. This problem in my opinion seemed on one hand because of the lack of jobs or industry within the close vicinity, another on the skill levels within the community but finally and most importantly in my opinion the aid culture or mentality. The mentality seemed so rife within so many of the people we visited simply that if they prayed or were willing to wait long enough they would receive more food or whatever else it was they needed. It was heart wrenching to listen to some of the people talking at the food handout we did of how they had no ambition to work or look for work because they knew they could get stuff off other people for without doing anything.

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An interview with a local man who has now got employment in the valley of 1000 hills with another local organisation.

Rape and Sexual Abuse

Within many communities rape and sexual abuse is rife in significant numbers. One of our team Matt Pradhan is in the process of producing a documentary about it from talking to rape survivors (the terminology they use- not victims). From some of the stories I heard, there was the potential that girls as young as two years old had been sexually abused. Many people within the communities consider the problem to be in mindset. It is horrible to think of the circumstances that some of these people have been in and it is further concerning to think that when Matt mentioned about rape of men the response was always almost of surprise at the suggestion.

matt interview

Matt interviewing Jenni a previous member of the police force and current supporter of rape survivors.

More to come…

Handout Economy

We all think we are doing fantastic things when people are asking us for money on the high street but during the trip I was able to visualise the legacy of badly managed aid.

During the second week, we were fortunate enough to go to a fantastically managed orphanage called Makaputu, providing a home to 49 young people. We were introduced to the centre last year but this year partnered with an American team that was working with some of the young people to look at their entrepreneurial attitude. Our team went in and delivered a session on creative thinking and basic business model canvasing. Both techniques to assist in them taking their business to the next level.

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After delivering the session, we were kindly asked by the centre if we would like to join them on a food handout into the local townships, an opportunity I jumped on. It was a real insight into the aid culture in the townships, Graham the outreach manager from Makaputu, showed us into the most at risk households.

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We were shocked to find about 10 children sleeping on 2 single beds, in a room no bigger than what would be considered a box room in England. This was a challenging concept further challenged by the fact that in this tiny house they had two TVs, DVD player, video player and some sort of music player. It was a really difficult concept to deal with as they don’t have enough money for food but will spend on luxury items.

This finding was then compounded when we arrived at the community centre. This centre, Graham informed us, might deal with around 40 families, that could be up to 10 people per family (although it is difficult to know for sure). The people that were there when we were talking to them had no ambition to earn money or get a job but were instead complacent to rely on the handouts. It was a highly frustrating concept for me.

The truth is there are many organisations doing fantastic things with the donations that are given but please think before you give to organisations who are simply providing a product to a foreign country. Often their is a deeper problem than the most visible one which relies on organisations like World Changers and Makaputu who change mindsets to see real change within the economy.

Snapshot of some of the journey so far

A Snapshot of some of our Journey.

World Changers Academy

So here we are, I am currently sitting in the World Changers academy above writing this. It is Sunday morning, 4 days into the challenge. I am astonished by the opportunities, level of discussion and deep thought we have tackled during the challenge. Just to get you up to date if you haven’t managed to keep up we have just updated the website to include our calendar.

It has been a baptism of fire in South Africa, with the whole team bonding and embracing the South African culture, people and food! The programme at times has been extremely taxing with a few tears along the way.

World Changers Workshop

The picture above is from one of our team meetings. This one in particular with Craig the CEO of world changers as he runs through more information about the centre and it’s activities. But we have also been running a series of other sessions tackling our own development areas with Gori.

James playing football with a local

James playing football with one of the local lads as we visited VUK Africa to have an experience of the valley of 1000 hills and the Zulu culture.

View of the valley of 1000 hills

The incredible view we woke up to in the township. It is such a beautiful country.  TWalking through the valley of 1000 hills with VUK Africa

James and Jamie walking through the township with our guide from VUK Africa.

I have found myself fighting more often than not just to tackle my own personal pre conceptions of people and this beautiful country. Sure there are problems here as there are in most countries, but every person I have met so far from business leaders, families in the township to the leadership students have been so welcoming. 

I feel I am really starting to grasp some aspects of the culture here and also starting to understand more of the problems from crime and drugs to health and mindsets. One of the biggest realisations for me has been my constant assumptions and pre conceptions that are really limiting my growth. One example of this is my conception of the words rich and poor. There are so many factors to that build in to develop the understanding of whether someone is rich or poor and money is such a small factor in it.

There have been so many insights but I just wanted to share a few:

– Give generously and good things will come to you

– Assumptions led to so many problems

– You really can’t understand how to support communities without living in them and talking to the people face to face.

– If you focus on your weaknesses in character rather than skills you will see more success in the future

– Having the same values as colleagues or partners is the key to really high functioning teams


6 lessons so far from the South Africa Challenge 2013

The South Africa Challenge is not only an opportunity to go out to South Africa for a two week learning experience, but further than this an opportunity to learn constantly in the build up and after the 2 weeks are over.

1) Network


It is incredible how many opportunities come up when you focus and start talking about what you are trying to achieve. During the time in the run up to the South Africa Challenge I have had the opportunity to speak to and work with: South Africa Airways, Absa Bank, Hackthehackathon, Loughborough University, NACUE, Enactus, Simventure, The Durban Business club (linkedin), Accenture to name a few. However, as the saying goes it’s not “what you know, it’s who you know…” But as a good friend of mine, Mark Corbett, taught me “it’s not what you know, or who you know, it’s what you do with who you know?”. I guess this has been an area that I have not achieved as much as I might have hoped. I really have had some fantastic contacts and I don’t think I have focused enough on developing these links.

2) Just do it

As a part of the process I decided to read Tim Ferriss’s book the 5 hour work week. It has been fascinating, one of the key concepts I took from it was that often in life you need to just get on and do stuff. If you ask for permission so many people tell you the millions of reasons why something can’t be done. I often found that actually I committed to do something it happened. This was interestingly then followed on in another way from Gori in the phrase be unreasonable… It is another intruging concept that I very much look forward to learning more about from Gori.

3) Focus & passion


During the time  I have been involved I have also been holding down a full time job and working on, at any one time, between 1 and 3 other startup ideas as welll as trying to keep fit and have a social life. It’s been a challenge there is no doubt about it. However, what I have found from all of them is that if I am really committed, that doesn’t mean a million hours or lots of money, and have my head really focused they tend to really push forward. Commitment is key.

4) Leadership

Being a leader is hard. Even if everything in your life is crazy busy you still must have the time allocated to listen to your team and understand their problems. At the same time there are some key ways to minimise this:

-be proactive- take the time to prepare minutes and your thoughts before meetings as it reduces the time of the meeting so much

-Don’t be led by emails- only have the emails open twice a day max at two set times. That way you have the things you need to get done out the way before everyone else tells you what they want you to do. Often emails are much less urgent that they make out. (There are of course exceptions)

-Accessibility is a perception- it doesn’t mean you are available 24/7 to help and answer questions but that you will respond and complete your tasks in a reasonable time period.

-mission- it is almost impossible to follow someone elses mission if they don’t clearly define what it is they are trying to achieve. There needs to be clear boundaries in who is doing what so that everything gets done and you have to trust the team to complete their area and don’t cover for them if they don’t. (otherwise the problem gets worse and worse over time)

5) Be transparent


It doesn’t matter if you get stuff wrong, failure is the way we all learn and operate as human beings.  The problem is that there are so many people that are willing to coast there way through life on the occasional white lie now and then. The truth is that when someone lies to you you normally know and actually would appreciate the honesty and criticism much more to your face. It is often actually miscommunication that causes breakdown from the white lies.

6) Cultures

Culture is an incredible thing. There is something to be said for the incredible power that is the internet. We have been able to share files, phone calls and multiple emails with many parties in South Africa but the truth is to truly understand the culture you have to be there. In all of the correspondence over online methods your mind auto pilots to so many assumptions that are only actually challenged in person. The depth of understanding is the way in which i hope we will be able to make a real change in these projects.

7) Goals then Reflection

Something I have never really grasped until this project is the understanding of why you need goals. It seems so simple to me now… Without the goals no one else knows what they are working towards and the truth is you forget as well over time from all the influencers around you. Because of my lack of understanding of why I needed to set goals I had also never had the opportunity to really reflect in detail. Reflection has been such a big part of my year with so many new things and also learning to make new mistakes from the team last year rather than making the same ones again. It has also given me an opportunity to start to set new goals that I would never have thought relevant like making sure I come home on time 3 days a week so I can have more social life because then I work better at work.

And all this is before I even leave, I am sure there will be many lessons to come…

Sharing my thoughts on the collaborative economy

As a part of the South Africa Challenge development process we have all agreed to research a particular trend that we see as important over the next 10 years.

After flirting around with ideas of: big data, virtual currency and 3d printing I decided to focus on a combination of the sharing/ collaborative economy. I find all the topics fascinating but after the LeWeb conference on the sharing economy it is an area I would really like to find more about.

So what is the sharing (collaborative) economy?

The sharing economy is about utilising technology in order to achieve efficiency gains by creating access to under-used goods, services, data and talent. The industry has been pioneered by the likes of AirBnb, Etsy, Task Rabbit and Zipcar. All of these companies work in completely different industries and are all equally disruptive to competitor companies within the industry.

Some examples of the Sharing economy.

Crowdfunding: Off the back of this movement a number of different crowdfunding platforms have been built. A crowdfunding platform allows the audience to support a cause either because they believe in or because of a physical reward they receive. Some of the biggest platforms include Kickstarter and indiegogo which raise millions for the ideas. These platforms have made funding more accessible both in terms of the beneficiary and in terms of the investors.

Virtual Currency: Bitcoin or other similar online currencies is another example of the sharing economy. Bitcoin refers to both the digital unit of stored value and the peer-to-peer network of computers transmitting and validating transactions of these units. The project was publicly launched in January 2009, by a mysterious inventor using the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto,” whose identity is still a mystery. For the first couple of years, it was mostly just a novelty for computer geeks, hackers, and idealistic anarchists. (Coinlab) This technology has become more mainstream during the economy downturn with the distrust in governments and policy makers driving it’s growth. The network is supported by the “crowd” mining for coins which supports the network infrastructure.


So that’s what is happening now but where is it going?

As these industries continue to be disrupted with more and more industries being tackled it seems a matter of time until the concept becomes more mainstream if it is not already. There is an argument that with an economic upturn such industries become less desirable however, the trend towards environmental responsibility should allow it to buck the trend. Collaborative consumption is a growing market but as of yet it is certainly not globally mainstream as such the infrastructure needs to be developed to make it global. There are websites coming up such as collaborative consumption which aim to act as a directory for these services but I think this will develop further in the future.

Further to this, in the developing countries the growth of these type of industries will be vital in the management of their scarcity of resources. This will particularly come relevant in industries such as the automotive and transport industry as a whole due to the current reliance on fossible fuels and other non-renewable resources. However, I feel it will be equally desired in other products and services industries as a part of this desire to maintain/ grow standard of living whilst these resources become more stretched.

To find out more about the industry have a look at my review from LeWeb and make sure to keep up to date with Mesh, Coin Desk and the people who share. As well as researchers of the space such as Jeremiah Owyang.


In April 2012 I was attended the NACUE leaders summit in London along with a group of over 100 incoming and outgoing enterprise  society leaders from across the UK. It was at this event that I was first introduced to Hadrian via Gori Daniel, a mentor I had admired since the NSEC (national student enterprise conference) in 2011.


Hadrian spoke of a project that aimed to take a team of students from the UK to South Africa for a leadership challenge and cultural exchange with a promise of a changed life on your return. I was absolutely blown away and felt I had found an opportunity to visit a country my grandparents, who had sadly recently passed away, wanted me to visit and fall in love with as they had all those years before.

My Family

After a couple of weeks of debate over dates and money a team began to form and I was devastated to learn I had to drop out because of exam schedules.

I thought this was where my South Africa challenge story would end….

After a summer of change at home, I decided this was my time to follow my passions and interests as simply life is too short. So in around September of 2012, after seeing the programme for 2012, I decided to contact Hadrian to see what the plans were for South Africa Challenge 2013.

To cut a long story short, after a number of emails, phone calls and a coffee down in Uxbridge, Gori and Hadrian asked if I would like to lead the programme for 2013.  I of course was delighted and gladly accepted.

What is the South Africa Challenge?

The South Africa Challenge is a 2 week leadership programme and cultural exchange working in partnership with the World Changers organisation.

The programme takes a team of young, driven people from the UK to Durban, South Africa. The purpose of this programme is to challenge their thought processes, understand the culture of South Africa and begin to apply their minds to world issues. In doing this we aim to create more socially responsible business leaders.

In the summer of 2012, 6 students went out to South Africa with some incredible stories on their return.

SA Team 2012

“Absolutely delighted to have been graded a first class dissertation for my South African focused case study on, ‘the challenges of achieving the human right to water!’ That one is for you Lindo Mbathason, Vusi Khambule, and World Changers Academy, South Africa Challenge 2012, my south African inspirations!” – Hadrian Tulk

“Last year’s South Africa Challenge was amazing; it was great to experience a new culture and to be around other people exploring their goals. Once it was done, I knew I wanted to do more travelling. I’ve spent the last nine months in China, and currently exploring the possibility of being part of this year’s South Africa Challenge as a Team Facilitator.” –Nas Syed

In the summer 2013, we will take a team of 6 young people out to South Africa.


My Mission, Objectives and Trends

As a part of the South Africa Challenge all of the team have been asked to record themselves answering 3 questions in less than a minute.

So here it goes.

1) Where are you now?
Description – Do a 1 minute video blog introducing yourself.

2) What are your goals?

Description – Create a 1 minute video blog outling your short terms goals (SA Challenge), medium goals (1 year from now) and long term goal (3 years from now).


3)What global trends, relating to your goals, are you going to ride?


I found this challenge really unnatural and to be honest I am sure if I look back at this in a couple of months it will probably change a lot but I think being able to look back at this in a couple of months time will be so valuable…

Onto the next challenge!