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Allan Gray Orbis Foundation: Reflection for acceleration

The mission of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation is to cultivate the entrepreneurial potential of young South Africans, which can also lead to success in many other spheres of life. Yogavelli Nambiar reflects on the Foundation’s achievements over the past year towards this goal.

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation offers scholarships to high school learners who are in financial need, have a curious, entrepreneurial mindset and are high academic achievers. The Scholarship programme focuses on nurturing their entrepreneurial mindset, personal mastery and academic excellence.

The principals of our participating placement schools have been positive throughout the year in their feedback on the Scholarship programme, with some labelling it the pre-eminent scholarship in the country. The rigorous selection process as well as the comprehensive support offered to Scholars contribute to the positive perception of the programme. While the support we provide addresses the academic, psychological and personal development needs of our Scholars, they are ultimately responsible for producing outstanding results. The academic average of our Scholars in Grades 8 to 12 stands at 72%, and across all grades an average of above 70% was achieved.

2019 will be about taking the insights we have gleaned, applying innovation based on our learnings and being intentional about the choices we make to create the impact we desire

Academics is not the only area our Scholars are encouraged to excel in. In the last quarter of each year, senior Scholars in Grades 10 and 11 are invited to development camps, where their entrepreneurial mindsets are further nurtured. Additionally, they are encouraged to explore concepts and techniques to help them achieve academic excellence and personal mastery. The Foundation has observed personal mastery as a critical factor in empowering Scholars to monitor their own progress. These camps inspired both the Foundation and the Scholars with the level of innovation, tenacity and leadership demonstrated in the various activities.

Another valuable resource available to Scholars is the newly established Custodian Forum. This forum is intended as a platform where Scholars and custodians (parents or legal guardians) can engage on issues of mutual concern relating to the developmental focus and activities of the programme, grade-specific developmental themes as well as the overall well-being of the Scholars. The Custodian Forum allowed parents and legal guardians an opportunity to understand the transformative journey the Scholars have embarked on, especially in terms of the glaring difference in social and economic circumstances between their home and schooling environments and the challenges this presents. As such, the forum is an opportunity for both the Foundation and the custodians to collaborate and co-create measures to support Scholars in order to ensure that the shift from the home to the school environment is as seamless as possible.

Our 2019 cohort has already begun their high school journey at placement schools such as Bishops Diocesan College, King Edward VII School and Maritzburg College. We have already started preparing for the 2020 Scholarship programme by launching an online platform for application and placement in schools. Our awareness campaigns have been expanded to taxi ranks and township malls in a bid to ensure that as many as possible qualifying candidates are given the opportunity to apply.

Fellowship programme

Fellowship recipients, known as Allan Gray Candidate Fellows, receive funding for their university studies in addition to support and development to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. As with the Scholarship programme, personal leadership and academic excellence are central to the Fellowship programme.

It was heartening to see an increased number of applicants for the 2018 Fellowship programme. A total of 358 Grade 12 applicants, compared to 325 in 2017, were interviewed,  and 211 of them went on to attend our Selection Camp, the largest in the history of the Foundation.

The annual National Jamboree for Candidate Fellows, held from 19 to 22 July 2018, also delivered impressive and inspiring results. This flagship event culminates in a competition where business ideas are pitched to a panel  of judges made up of seasoned entrepreneurs. Two of the three finalists in the competition were Dual-Track Candidate Fellows, who are simultaneously operating a business and pursuing their tertiary studies. They have unwittingly inspired us to adapt the 2019 event so that all Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Fellows are exposed to entrepreneurship in action.

In business, four of our Candidate Fellows have experienced great success. Two were awarded R2 million each in grant funding and business support in the AlphaCode Incubate initiative for African fintech entrepreneurs for their respective businesses: Nisa Finance, an invoice financing platform in aid of SMEs, and iSpani, an online vehicle for businesses to reach the informal market. They were both named among the initiative’s top eight overall business start-ups. The other two Candidate Fellows are business partners who won the MTN Business App of the Year Award for Khula, an app that allows farmers to list and manage their produce.

we are constantly exploring better ways to understand how impact occurs in our programmes

While the majority of our Candidate Fellows have made great progress this last quarter, some of our cohort faced either academic or psychosocial challenges. We have adopted a two-pronged approach to this at-risk group: We host tutoring workshops, and will be launching a Beneficiary Wellness Programme in 2019. Furthermore, we are recruiting more mentors to assist Candidate Fellows. This is important due to the high pressure during this time in their academic career. Our support needs to be comprehensive to assist them to overcome any potential hurdles.

Association of Allan Gray Fellows

The Association is made up of Fellows who have completed the Fellowship programme and have either pursued further studies, entered the world of work or started a business. The purpose of the Association is to provide support for each Fellow’s lifelong entrepreneurial journey.

The Association celebrated several wins in 2018: 

A key focus of the last quarter has been the completion of the validation process by Fellows and Dual-Track Candidate Fellows. This process constitutes the second phase of the Ideation, Validation and Creation (IVC) programme, which requires that the participants go out into the market and test whether there is appetite for their ideas. We also hosted two ideation sessions and Table 15 events, where Fellows engage in conversation with some of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs in an intimate gathering over dinner. This allows for close-up engagement with the realities faced by these entrepreneurs on their journeys to success. The ideation sessions, which enable fresh thinking, gave rise to 20 new business ideas, which will be pitched for inclusion  in the next IVC programme.

Our partner, E Squared, gives end-to-end business and financial support to Allan Gray Fellows. Last year, four new Fellows were accepted into the 2018 E Squared Elevator Accelerator, an intensive full-time programme to help Fellows grow their existing businesses, while 65 Fellows attended E Squared’s annual seminar and participated in the inaugural Business Opportunity Circle aimed at encouraging entrepreneurial collaboration between Fellows.

Impact assurance

More than simply helping to launch our own entrepreneurs, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation is committed to forging an entrepreneurial culture throughout Africa. With this in mind, we commissioned the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, in partnership with entrepreneurial consultancy MindCette, to research the characteristics of the entrepreneurial mindset.

After surveying 3 661 South Africans, a report titled “Dimension Comparisons in the South African Entrepreneurial Mindset” was launched during our inaugural Entrepreneurship Forum hosted in August in Cape Town. Participants were asked questions about the commonly recurring characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, which included a resistance to conformity, persistence, personal goals, passion, resourcefulness, the ability to accept risk, leadership ability, innovativeness, curiosity, emotional intelligence, financial goals, self-reliance, and self-confidence. The survey’s results take the Foundation a step closer to identifying the traits shared by entrepreneurs. In future it may help us create a single instrument to identify and measure the presence of these traits across groups, regions or countries.

The most interesting finding from the survey is the gender differences in the characteristics we tested for: There were 11 characteristics that commonly describe female entrepreneurs, while there were 10 for male entrepreneurs. Only two of these characteristics – entrepreneurial desire and focus – were present in both male and female participants. These gender differences could inform modifications to the structure of entrepreneurship programmes to make them more closely suited to individual strengths.

we have tweaked our interview process to fit the Foundation’s pillars of achievement excellence, intellectual imagination, personal initiative, courageous commitment and the spirit of significance

Revising our selection process

When our selection criteria were first brainstormed at the Foundation’s inception, there was little research available on the subject of entrepreneurialism. Since then, many studies on this have been conducted and we are now in the position to adjust our selection process to better fit the entrepreneurial profile. We launched a second study in November aimed at ensuring that the tools used as selection criteria for our programmes are both reliable and valid.

With assistance from a specialist consultancy, we have revised our entrepreneur success profile, our applications, our interview process and our Selection Camp activities. Our application forms were revised to ensure that no individual is disadvantaged because of language or culture, and we have tweaked our interview process to fit the Foundation’s pillars of achievement excellence, intellectual imagination, personal initiative, courageous commitment and the spirit of significance. Both these changes addressed biases that inadvertently favoured articulate and confident applicants over their less well-spoken peers.

The Selection Camp, too, has been reimagined to afford all applicants an equal opportunity to shine, with the most notable revision being the inclusion of activities that allow each candidate to share their entrepreneurial ideas, instead of only relying on outcomes of group presentations. This allows for each candidate to be assessed on the quality of their entrepreneurial ideas and not necessarily on how well articulated they are.

We are constantly exploring better ways to understand how impact occurs in our programmes. This allows us to be more dynamic and responsive to a changing environment. In line with our vision of creating an entrepreneurial, equitable South Africa flourishing with meaningful employment, 2019 will be about taking the insights we have gleaned, applying innovation based on our learnings and being intentional about the choices we make to create the impact we desire.

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