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Allan Gray Orbis Foundation: Fostering resilience

There are many things 2020 will be remembered for – most of them less than pleasant. But for Yogavelli Nambiar, from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, the past year will forever stand out as the year of resilience. She explains why in this Foundation update.

Resilience is a quality I continuously espouse as the chief trait we need as a society, not only to survive a rapidly and significantly changing global landscape, but also to be able to learn, build and innovate within it. 

We place so much emphasis on resilience as an organisation that it is listed as one of the 14 core competencies the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation considers central to entrepreneurial success. This is frequently borne out by research conducted by us and others. We define this critical quality as “the ability to work through challenges”. In practice, it’s even more than that. It is the refusal to let those challenges keep you down, even when you feel certain that there is simply no way to rise again.

In 2020, I saw many instances where our entire Foundation – from staff members to programme participants (Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Fellows) – did just that. Our staff members have endured, working, like many others, under circumstances we could never have imagined. Our programme participants, too, have achieved, despite a myriad hardships and difficulties, and in many cases, have proven the values for which they were selected by the Foundation – demonstrating a spirit of significance, courageous commitment, achievement excellence, an intellectual imagination and personal initiative.

Fellows make waves

We haven’t merely survived. We have thrived. And proudly, we can point to several Fellows who have sought to contribute to the country in these challenging times – surely one of the highest honours one can achieve.

As Anthony Farr reported in the Quarterly Commentary 2, 2020, CapeBio Technologies, founded by Allan Gray Fellows Daniel Ndima and Dineo Lioma, developed a rapid COVID-19 testing kit that has made it possible to deliver results in just over an hour – a significant improvement on the first tests available. They have truly lived up to our credo that entrepreneurship is a vehicle through which to help others.

They are not the only ones who have shown their mettle and kept the Foundation’s flag flying. Denislav Marinov has been appointed as a consultant to the Senegal Smart Cities Board. This smart city, a US$6bn sustainable 2 000-acre futuristic metropolis, will include a luxury resort, condos, offices, a hospital, a stadium, and an artificial intelligence data centre.

Batandwa Bula and Ndabenhle Ntshangase made it through to the national round of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education’s Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition. The Entrepreneurship Intervarsity is aimed at identifying, recognising, supporting and celebrating student entrepreneurs who have been able to establish their own businesses, along with those who have innovative ideas they would like to pursue while studying. Ndabenhle’s AirStudent was also awarded a contract for travel from Canoeing South Africa.

Over in the United States, Thandolwethu Dlamini and Mfundo Radebe received their degrees from Duke and Harvard universities respectively. Moreover, Thandolwethu’s Knowledge Institute has joined forces with MTN Educare in Eswatini to provide examination preparation and tutorials on the MTN zero-rated website and WhatsApp groups.

We extend congratulations to Sitholile Sithole and Moeketsi Mashibini, the brains behind Pantsula with a Purpose, which is sharing content for workshops, WhatsApp messaging and tutorials with Grade 12 learners throughout its networks.

Then there’s Oyama Makubalo, whose start-up, Niki’s Ginger Beer, is starting to flourish now that she has a delivery permit. Khensani Hlaise, who runs a business selling poultry, is also doing well, having doubled the stock of her village business, Ti Huku, from 200 to 400 chickens a month.

These achievements are especially noteworthy in light of how the pandemic has ravaged the economy. Small businesses in particular are burdened by the lockdown and the resultant impact on cash flow, and to scale operations at this time is a display of the innovation and tenacity of our young entrepreneurs. 

We also give special acknowledgement to Khethiwe Sibanyoni, who took the initiative to tackle the gender-based violence epidemic that has accompanied our COVID-19 crisis by organising “comfort bags” for victims. The comfort bags include toiletries, a notebook and a pen, and represent the first step back to dignity after going through a traumatic experience. 

Finally, Xola Mkhize has taken his family business to the next level, managing the family’s supermarket throughout lockdown and establishing a takeaway business to run alongside it; Qhawe Bula has created TAQA, an online library offering children’s audio books in all official languages, and Musa Maluleka has developed a growing digital presence, alongside the physical store for his company, which designs and makes authentic soccer boots for gravel pitches. Visit

the Foundation is able to confidently say that the investment in developing dynamic young entrepreneurial minds is well founded 

With our mission geared towards reducing unemployment, especially among our youth, and our intention of developing high-impact and responsible entrepreneurs, we were encouraged to observe a growth in the number of programme participants engaging in entrepreneurial action and venture development. Our Fellowship Programme experienced an increase in Candidate Fellows participating in the Fellowship Ideation, Validation and Creation (IVC) incubation programme, with 65 Candidate Fellow participants in 2020 (who run businesses on a full-time basis alongside their studies), in comparison to 32 participants in 2019. The Association Programme had over 160 Fellows engaged in entrepreneurial action and venture development, up from 132 who took action in 2019. 

A tribute to the team at the Foundation

Having partnered with 1 195 programme participants to date – 178 Scholars, 504 Candidate Fellows and 513 Fellows – who have all shown great resilience, hard work and care for the community in the midst of changing circumstances, the Foundation is able to confidently say that the investment in developing dynamic young entrepreneurial minds is well founded.

It is also worth mentioning that our Fellowship Programme’s retention rate (the cohort percentage of the programme participants who meet their respective schooling institutions’ pass requirements as well as the Foundation’s entrepreneurship education programme requirements) stands at 83%, while our Scholarship Programme’s retention rate is at 100% – no small feat in a year that would have tempted all but the most resolute to give up. 

This would not have been possible without a strong, competent and committed team at the Foundation. Pivoting became a priority last year and resulted in innovative events to build and inspire the entrepreneurial spirit. One such event was our DigiJam event – a virtual festival of ideas where we provided programme participants with a platform to put their entrepreneurial abilities into action – considered by many participants to be our most informative and exciting event yet. The event featured practising entrepreneurs and industry captains such as Adrian Gore, Prof Thuli Madonsela, Dion Chang, John Sanei and Bonang Mohale, who used their experiences to share insights on how participants could practise entrepreneurship for the common good. 

A tonic for uncertainty?

This has proven to me, beyond any doubt, that any individual or organisation that embraces resilience is better equipped to deal with uncertainty and, while we are all hoping for a better and brighter 2021, we have to be realistic about the vagaries the future holds. I am confident that the entrepreneurial changemakers we are identifying, nurturing and supporting are going to be at the forefront of contributing to our communities and country through any future challenges.

any individual or organisation that embraces resilience is better equipped to deal with uncertainty

It is this mindset that we hope to encourage in children across the country through the Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge, a gamified learning platform that is open to all high school learners in South Africa (and soon, primary school learners too). It takes the form of an annual five-week competition in which learners undergo transformation and entrepreneurial development through their exposure to bite-sized chunks of enriched, digitised skills-based learning content in the domain of entrepreneurship. It creates a safe, fun space for learners to develop the skills that will allow them to respond to our changing world in an appropriate and effective manner, harnessing the power of the digital world and combining it with a game that imparts entrepreneurial lessons. 

As we stand ready to take on the new year, we remain committed to our long-term approach of investing in the youth of our country with the vision of creating an entrepreneurial, equitable South Africa that flourishes in meaningful employment.

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