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How My Business Education Will Help Me Create Social Change

Posted May 08, 2018 by Lorraine Black – Undergraduate Student – Towson University College of Business & Economics

Imagine a child, no more than seven years old, coming home from school. All she can think about is finishing the game of “house” she and her friends were playing yesterday. Or maybe it will be a game of kickball or tag, who knows? The friends drop their book bags off at home and then head outside to play. But this kid knows better. Although she could do the same, she can hear her mom’s voice in the back of her mind telling her to do her homework. So, she opens her backpack and pulls out her books, papers, and pencils.

The little girl completes her readings but decides to read a few more short stories because she enjoys seeing how they develop. She also loves how following structured steps results in the correct solution—every time. After completing the assigned long division problems, she makes up her own problems for practice. Now that this little girl feels intrinsically accomplished, she runs outside and tumbles down a giant hill with her friends. Life seems so simple, so easy.

What type of neighborhood did you imagine that scenario in? Could you imagine it set in a government-assisted apartment complex? With drug dealers on almost every corner? With homeless people sleeping on the playground, and police sirens constantly wailing nearby? Does the setting change your perception of the child?

I was that seven-year-old, and that environment describes the neighborhood in which I grew up. As a child, I was oblivious to much of the negative forces going on around me. I waved hello to the drug dealers (one of them was my father), gave homeless neighbors pieces of candy I bought at the corner store, and did not stop playing even when there was a domestic dispute going on in the parking lot. At that time, I saw my surroundings as nothing but home.

Now, as a college student ready to graduate from Towson University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in Spanish, I attribute my drive, my passion, and my need for achievement to the subconscious impact my surroundings had on me.

Throughout my childhood, I personally witnessed people experiencing the root causes of homelessness—addiction, the need to flee from abusive relationships, and the inability to access quality resources. But it was not until I started pursuing my business degree that I realized my true passion—what I believe is the reason for my existence—to eliminate homelessness within my community.

During a business writing course in my freshman year, I had to write a business plan for an organization I wanted to create. My organization was called “Fighting with Unity,” and its goal was to streamline nonprofit services for the homeless population in Baltimore, Maryland. Having to outline what would be needed to make this dream a reality allowed me to see the purpose in all that I had to learn throughout my college career.

Studying business has not just helped me discover my passion but has prepared me to pursue it. The opportunities I’ve had and the knowledge and skills I’ve gained will enable me to become the best advocate I can be for the homeless and to pursue my dream of eradicating homelessness in my community.

Nearly every concept I have learned in my business courses will be vital to making my dream a reality. Courses in statistics combined with research internships have taught me how to collect, analyze, and synthesize data. These skills are necessary for implementing evidence-based solutions as well as formulating conclusions necessary to apply for grant funding. Courses in marketing have taught me how to target specific audiences effectively, which will be critical to soliciting donors as well as support from policymakers and community members. Courses in finance and accounting have equipped me with the knowledge to responsibly and efficiently manage a nonprofit’s books to ensure longevity of the organization. Project management courses, in addition to the experience of having held many leadership positions in various organizations, have given me the confidence and knowledge to plan and execute projects and events of various sizes.

Perhaps most importantly, through coursework that requires intense group work and presentations, being a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, and networking with professors, I have learned how to communicate, to be a team leader, and to network with influential people.

The list of connections between what I have learned throughout my business education and what I will need to know to make a substantially beneficial impact on the homeless community would be too long to include here. But suffice it to say that the knowledge and skills from many of the courses I have taken can be applied directly to my goals. I am building a network of supportive and influential individuals. I am experiencing what it is like to work in the business world. When I look back at my beginnings as a child, I can see that my world was filled with disparity and hardship. Although that environment did not directly have an adverse effect on me, it has inspired me and fueled my drive to make my community a better place. My business education from Towson University’s College of Business and Economics is helping me do just that.

Remarkable Business Leaders and Da Vinci Alumni

Profiling Steven Shepard and Cory Botha – Remarkable Business Leaders and Da Vinci Alumni that selflessly gave of their expertise to our examination process 
The Da Vinci Institute had the privilege of co-creating with two remarkable leaders and Da Vinci alumni that selflessly gave of their depth, insights, and experience in our postgraduate examination process in 2018. Each of them is remarkable in their own right and whilst their individual remarkability is evidenced below, their commonality is their willingness to give of themselves and their time to contribute to the examination process and thus, the personal development of the students’ that their skills benefited. Both Dr Steven Shepard and Mr Cory Botha are certainly contributors to Nelson Mandela’s vision that “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become a head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become president of a great nation.” Steven and Cory, we salute you both for your immense contributions to the Da Vinci community and society at large.
Dr Steven Shepard is a prolific writer, with over 80 books on the market to his name, about a wide range of topics – including technology, writing, history, biography, leadership, photography, and even some children’s books. He works with companies to help them realise the power of technology at the human level, focusing on how to ensure that the technology works for them.
Steven has a rich and diverse academic history, having completed his undergraduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with degrees in Romance Languages (Romance Philology) and Biology. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in International Business. In 2009, he received his Ph.D. in the Management of Technology and Innovation from the Da Vinci Institute.
Immediately after graduating from Berkley, he began his career as a commercial diver and underwater cinematographer. He later entered the technology world and spent 11 years at Pacific Bell, followed by ten years with a consulting firm, before founding the Shepard Communication Group in 2000.
Steven is the epitome of living The Da Vinci Institute’s principles and dream – by giving back and impacting on the development of a sustainable society. Over the years, Steven has taught on Da Vinci programmes, assessed students and worked with Da Vinci staff on the development of new material. Steven explains that he sees Da Vinci as, “creating a culture of learning that transcends the school and extends deep into the lives of students.”
Engaging with Steven it is clear he is a man of rich interests, both fundamentally and professionally. He is deeply interested in the touchpoint between technology and people—how technology enables better healthcare, more effective education, more transparent government, expanded economic growth, and hope. Given his cinematographic background, coupled with his academic prowess and work experience in the management of innovation and technology, he is interested in different ways to deliver knowledge via podcasts, video, etc.
Visionary Elon Musk says that “I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.” Steven certainly is extraordinary, with his rich diversity, as he continues to author additional books, is a prolific speaker and inexplicable media producer. He also teaches about technology to various business executives and is involved with several universities such as Emory, the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, several schools in Canada, and of course, the Da Vinci Institute in various capacities’.  Steven, we salute you for your contributions.
Mr Cory Botha is currently the Head of Project Management Office, Centre of Excellence, Eskom Rotek Industries, and a remarkable Da Vinci alumni having received his Master of Science in Technology and Innovation (cum laude) in 2012. Post-graduation Cory has remained as involved as ever with the Da Vinci Institute in various capacities.
Cory has a philosophy that espouses The Da Vinci Institute principles of building a sustainable society and the vision of being a leader that cultivates all those one co-creates realities with.  He believes that “as individuals, we should know that we are not singular in this journey and there should be a collective willingness to introspect, argue, acknowledge and authentically address the gap together for mutual reinforcement and mutual benefit. Together, we should push the conversation forward – deeper, broader and with each other.”
It is clear that Cory has a profound passion for research that is purposeful, beneficial and has a deep-rooted social impact. He is of the belief that business can learn a great deal from research output and with his visionary thinking, he has no doubt assisted many business executives to understand that business practice is grounded in theory and validated in practice, making him a catalyst in bridging the divide between academia and actual practices.
Physicist Stephen Hawkings once said “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” and Corey is certainly a diverse individual who has built his career on being adaptable and a change agent. He was educated in light current electrical engineering in the 1970s but never got to practicing and working in that field because when he discovered the world of project management in his first job at Fluor International he was captivated. His combination of Engineering and Project Management skills are certainly formidable. His mentors advised him to look for employment as a project engineer and then as a full project manager. This led him to Dorbyl Industries and then Foster Wheeler Energy as a project engineer and finally, as a full project manager for Siemens. After completing his Siemens contract, Corey would go on to join the LTA subsidiaries, as the manager of their projects department. In 1990, Corey entered private practice as a project management consultant using his dynamic skill set and visionary approach to advise on project management development, lecturing in project management, developing project management systems and executing projects for clients. In 2006, he was recruited to support Eskom in their first new build project and in 2010 he joined Eskom Rotek Industries as the Head of the Project Management office, where he is still currently based.
As a Business Leader, Corey is an influencer in upskilling employees through education. This is because of his authentic belief in the power of education. He explains that “an organisation that encourages its employees to engage with academia and further their knowledge fundamentals, is bound to keep up with the ever-increasing performance demands and especially, with that rate of change.” He continues that he has “learnt that there is a pressing need for business executives and those who command business to adopt these principles, and themselves to seek that academic growth. It is regrettable that so often, those individuals in business who indeed strive to improve their academic prowess are often neglected and disregarded as “too academic”, and then, their suggestions towards improvement are devalued.” He believes that Da Vinci’s “mode 2 approach of developing employable knowledge is unique in preparing students to overcome this imbalance and assist them to deliver practical business solutions.”
Cory’s passion for learning and teaching is palpable and is reflected in his altruistic way of seeing education as a means to develop people. Engaging with Cory brings to mind a true educator, someone who believes that “education is improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and a world better than you found it” Marian Wright Edelman and that Cory certainly does. Cory lives by his word and to this end, plans to do ongoing lecturing and supervision of students, is currently researching and writing up his Ph.D. on the subject of dynamic imbalances between the temporary and permanent organising forms.  Corey does not believe he will ever slow down and post-retirement plans to remain as a consultant in the field of business strategy and institutionalising project management.



Da Vinci @ Work: Deelan Chetty Achieves Cum Laude

Life-long learning for some is a life philosophy. It is a way of living and approaching the world. For Deelan Chetty, he embraces this reality whole-heartedly. Having studied Information Technology straight after matric, Deelan restructured his focus to enter the logistics industry and went on to complete South African Customs modules 1 and 2, and International Forwarding.  To quench his hunger for knowledge, he has continued his learning through internal training whilst completing such programmes as leadership and employee development courses.
His thirst for learning more did not stop there and in June 2017, he enrolled for his Higher Certificate in the Management of Technology and Innovation with The Da Vinci Institute. “I am at a point in my career of 19 years where I need to constantly study and improve myself and the opportunity came about with Hellmann Worldwide Logistics and The Da Vinci Institute and I grabbed it. Experience can only take you that far; however, it is always good to back that experience up with a qualification.”
As many of us know, the challenge to balance working full time, studying part time and having family commitments can be quite a struggle. For Deelan, it was not an easy journey. “It required a lot of sacrifice. At first, it was difficult wearing the different hats and switching between family, work, study and play. I was lucky enough to have a strong support network in the office and at home and I was able to still achieve results and maintain control throughout.” Making it more difficult was the fact that Deelan resided in Durban. “I travelled to Johannesburg every month to attend my classes, so it was a lot of time away from home.”
“My position of Operations Manager (Air & Sea) at Hellmann is one that demands attention every minute of the day. I work in a fast paced and rapidly changing environment. My biggest challenge was working and studying and allocating time after hours to complete the programme”. Fortunately, the power of support from loved ones was imminent for Deelan. “I had a lot of support from my wife who was also studying at the time. She has inspired me to see the benefit in studying hard and the self-improvement that is derived from it.
“As a people manager, the programme set a tone of how to structure different leadership techniques and to manage and problem solve in a systematic way. It also taught me a lot about myself, my learning and personality style and how to engage with and identify other people’s learning styles.”
Through all the challenges on his learning journey, Deelan successfully graduated on 20 September 2018 at The Institute’s annual Graduation ceremony, held at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg. Not only, did he graduate, but also he achieved his qualification, Cum Laude. “It was an incredible experience graduating with my fellow colleagues and friends. One of my goals set out at the beginning of the programme was to achieve a Cum Laude and I accomplished it. Hard work and a positive mindset truly pay off.”
From his studies at The Institute, Deelan says he has learned that one has to take any opportunity to study seriously in order to make the biggest impact on one’s job. “As an operations manager for Hellmann Worldwide logistics, I take pride in learning as much as possible to, in turn; empower my people to achieve greatness and to lead by example. Prepare your mind, be committed, be dedicated, realize that it is not a task, but a learning journey of self-improvement.”


We would also like to acknowledge students from Hellmann Worldwide Logistics who graduated and achieved Top Achiever status. They are Elizabeth Marie Desancic for modules Managing Systems and Problem Solving, Creative Thinking and Decision Making, and Morne Erasmus for the Management of People module.

High level of interaction on ResearchGate makes all the difference

Not all opensource research platforms are equally useful. This is the experience of masters graduate Cliff Brunette, who has registered on two platforms and found them vastly different.
“I published my dissertation on both ResearchGate and,” says Cliff, who completed his masters through The Da Vinci Institute in 2017. “With ResearchGate, I get constant feedback. I have 60 reads across the world already and get monthly updates about how many people have read my dissertation and responded. I have also been asked to review someone else’s project and to comment on it.”
His experience of the other platform is more one-sided. “I know it’s there, but unless I go back in, there’s nothing forthcoming. ResearchGate is very active.”
Cliff, a Learning Experience Specialist with Cornerstone Performance Solutions, is now working on his PhD through Da Vinci and is finding ResearchGate resources useful and beneficial.
“When anyone I have cited (in his master’s dissertation) publishes a new article, I get notified and receive automatic access to their work. That is extremely relevant to me because of my field,” he says.
Cliff’s masters was about learning architecture and the role that personal significance plays in helping learners to co-create. For his PhD research, he is exploring learning architecture for a future Fourth Industrial Revolution world.


It’s a huge topic that affects everyone living in the 21st century, which is another reason why ResearchGate is helpful to Cliff. “You’re not limited to what is happening in South Africa; you’re playing on the international scene.”


Three and a half years ago, Mkhululi Moyo started a chapter of his life. It would be a start to something life-changing.  Mkhululi was no stranger to education, having completed his National Diploma in Computer Science. However, when enrolling with The Da Vinci Institute for his BCom (Business Management), he liked the experiential learning approach used and the emphasis on self-discovery, and the practical application of learning in a workplace.
His learning journey paralleled with full-time employment as he continued to work as a Software Developer in Global Markets Technology at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB). This was both life and career changing because Mkhululi soon realised that to get the most out of his BCom studies, he had to change his career and be in a role aligned to his BCom studies. Mkhululi then joined the Client Strategy team in Coverage. Part of Mkhululi’s struggles in balancing work and study lied in procrastination. “During the first half of year one, I would start working on my assignment close to the deadline. After going through the pressure of having to accomplish a lot within a limited time, I decided to overcome procrastinating and start doing my assignments early and completing them in time.”
This alignment of study and work became more integrated as Mkhululi started applying his learning in the workplace. His role as a Client Strategist at RMB includes driving the origination and retention strategy by providing deep corporate client and industry sector insights. “I enjoyed my experience of learning and working as I was able to apply most of my learning in my workplace. My work-based challenge was based on an existing situation within the RMB Global Markets technology division. I shared my research paper with my line manager and they were appreciative of the work I had done and committed to using the information from my research paper as input to make informed decisions.”
“When the energy was low my motivator was knowing that the theory I was learning in class was applicable in the real world of work and there were noticeable and immediate benefits in my contribution in the work that I was doing.” In this context, motivation and support came from those closest to him. “My wife who is an academic was very supportive. She helped to simplify some of the assignments that I was overthinking.”
Mkhululi Moyo graduated on 20 September 2018 at the Annual Da Vinci Graduation Ceremony and was awarded a Cum Laude for his BCom (Business Management) qualification. When asked how it felt, Mkhululi stated, “It felt good. I am pleased with myself. In fact, I am proud of having achieved the BCom qualification and the recognition I received for obtaining a Cum Laude. It is humbling to have been supported and provided with an enabling environment that has allowed me to unleash my potential.”
“Studying while you’re working is different from studying to complete your studies and get a qualification. It is beneficial because when you study and work you are not just dealing with theory, there is an existing work “sandbox” environment available to test and apply your learning. It is this experimental approach that will ensure that you will always remember what it is that you study. It becomes transformative because your contribution towards your work environment and society becomes fact based and is supported by credible sources.”
What is next for Mkhululi?
“I intend to study further. Da Vinci has cultivated in me the culture of being a learner and I intend to use education to equip myself with the knowledge to contribute meaningfully in corporate and entrepreneurial business initiatives in South Africa.”

In the big wide world of research, Marcus is not alone

At least 50 people from around the world have read Marcus Desando’s master’s dissertation since he uploaded it to ResearchGate, an opensource networking site for scientists and researchers.
He uploaded his dissertation about a year ago and it clearly struck a chord among other researchers, focusing as it does on leadership regeneration in the performing arts in South Africa.
“Initially, a few people followed me and after a while I realised my dissertation was being read by people all over the world, including the United States, Europe and India,” says Marcus, an alumnus of The Da Vinci Institute and CEO of the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT).
Marcus, who has since embarked on his Doctorate in management through Da Vinci, says ResearchGate has also made him aware of other researchers in his field, which could be useful as he makes progress with his Doctorate, which is about how to integrate the creative arts into the mainstream business.
“Sometimes I come across questions that other people have asked on ResearchGate where the answers might be relevant to my own research. An example was the question, ‘Do you think entrepreneurship principles can be applied to non-profit organisations?’,” he says.
This caught his attention since Marcus heads up an NPO and his Doctorate research is about how to integrate the creative arts into the mainstream business from the point of view of artists. “There tends to be a perception that the arts are a pastime or charity, and not revenue-generating.”
So it helps to know that the mainstreaming of the arts is a subject that concerns other researchers elsewhere, he says. “ResearchGate has opened my perception of the research world and the fact that there might be others out there who are doing similar work.”

The fine art of using ResearchGate: a Doctorate student’s experience

For several weeks, Da Vinci Institute Doctorate student Estie Serfontein had been struggling to find out more about the research technique known as “purposive sampling” and was having precious little luck. She turned to ResearchGate, an opensource platform for researchers around the world.
“I found an article that explained the different kinds of sampling and sizes and research paradigms. It helped me quite a bit,” says Estie, who has a master’s degree in fine arts and a day job as Quality Assurance Manager at Execujet, a private aviation jet company.
“Whenever I find a source on ResearchGate, it’s quite specific and explanatory, which is helpful,” she says, adding that she has also benefited from the platform’s Q&A Board. “I haven’t asked a specific question on this forum myself but have found quite useful information by looking at other people’s responses to questions that have been posted.”
Estie started her Doctorate in Technology and Innovation in April 2017 and is preparing a descriptive case study on process control systems in South African aviation. She became a member of ResearchGate a few months later, attracted by the concept of being part of a worldwide community of people with a lot of information and research experience.
“I’m not an expert researcher and it helps to be able to follow other researchers in my field,” Estie says.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to request automatic alerts when people doing similar research upload their work. “You add keywords connected to your project and profile, and receive alerts when someone using related keywords uploads material.”
Apart from following other researchers, ResearchGate members can ask the community for input on their work. From Estie’s experience, the response has not been overwhelming. She uploaded her research proposal in February 2018 and has had four reads so far but no specific responses.

She does not find this discouraging. “Once I have completed my first chapter in the near future, I’m sure I’ll be able to use ResearchGate and its functionalities much more to my advantage.”

Da Vinci @ Work: Meet our Alumnus – Zain Reddiar

How Zain faced his fear and came out winning
Having lived and worked across continents, including in a war zone or two, MTN’s Zain Reddiar doesn’t scare easily. He admits to having been petrified of one thing, though: the thought of writing a dissertation.
“The idea scared me to death”, says Zain, Human Resources Director at MTN Cote d’Ivoire and before that, in war-torn South Sudan (where shelling literally occurred outside his house at one stage).
It was during his stay in South Sudan that he faced his fear of formal study and signed up for his master’s degree – dissertation and all – through The Da Vinci Institute.

“I had been a senior executive at MTN for a long time, done tons of short courses and worked in nine different countries, but had no formal tertiary education,” says Zain, who is not linguistically challenged and has a language repertoire that includes Sotho, Farsi, Arabic, French and South African sign language.

“Then MTN Group introduced recognition for prior learning (RPL) and people at the office kept saying to me, ‘You should do it.’ So I tried Unisa and my application was rejected. I felt despondent.”
The Da Vinci Institute, on the other hand, interviewed Zain and was willing to accept him as a master’s student, provided he achieved at least 60% for his research proposal. He succeeded and started out on his dissertation, which was on the topic of transforming HR from the traditional delivery model to shared services.
Life happens
“Being in South Sudan, I couldn’t attend any lectures. That was very challenging because it was all new to me and academic writing was a nightmare – I’m a minimalist by nature,” Zain says. To make up for losing out on lectures, he read voraciously, doing double or triple the required reading.
Then his personal life took a dip. “My dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I flew between South Sudan and South Africa every weekend to see him. This shifted the priority of my studies and increased the pressure of adhering to timelines.”
Round about the same time, mid-2016, the civil conflict in South Sudan intensified, forcing NGOs, multinationals and foreign nations to leave the country. In the interest of employee wellbeing, MTN took the decision to evacuate its staff as well. This led to Zain’s move to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Amid all this turbulence, Zain continued with his master’s studies but realised that he still needed to earn some additional marks to fulfil the academic requirement. Da Vinci suggested that he write a critical review to make up the balance of marks, and Zain agreed.
“Eventually I wrote a full dissertation along with additional reviews and no credits for RPL was granted. I earned the full qualification.”
Defending his master’s dissertation was a challenge he did not relish, though. “I was sick to my tummy when I arrived at the campus; I didn’t know what to expect from the assessing academic panel. My topic was very real to me – it was an experience I had lived – and I managed to do it.”
Zain, who graduated in September 2017, is now working on his research proposal for his doctorate, this time looking at the impact of international assignments on expatriates and their families. This is another very real topic for Zain: not only does he work for a multinational that has a footprint in 22 countries but is also away from his family based in South Africa.


Clearly, he has lost his fear of academic writing. “Once I took the plunge, I started enjoying it. It changed my perspective on the world, the way I think and the manner in which I approach things. I have become far less judgmental. Conducting research has taught me that my view is just a very small lens into a very big and complex picture. It humbles you to some degree.”

Da Vinci @ Work: Meet our Alumnus – Dr Dana Gampel

Answers are easy, says Dana; the questions make up the ‘art’
Twelve years ago, Dana Gampel became the first Da Vinci Institute student to graduate with a PhD. Today, she is still closely affiliated to The Institute because, like its namesake Leonardo, it continues to be relevant.
“Da Vinci is one of my superheroes. He made art to better understand the world and to inspire the world to engage its elements more creatively. He participated in autopsies to understand how the body worked and designed the Vitruvian Man to teach artists and architects about perspective,” says Dana. “Applied knowledge was the crux of Leonardo’s thinking and applied knowledge is what sets The Da Vinci Institute apart.”
Dana, head of Eskom’s Strategic Intelligence and Analysis unit and CEO of her own company, Atum Strategy Consulting, says The Da Vinci Institute is one of only a few higher education institutions who are actively working with the application of knowledge.
“We don’t need new ways to do algebra and geometry. We need to apply algebra and geometry,” she says. “I want students of Da Vinci to come out and apply knowledge for innovation. That’s what they are taught here, that’s why we are relevant and that’s why I am very proud to be affiliated with The Institute.”
Conventions make for lazy thinking
Dana says anyone hoping to receive a template from Da Vinci on how to apply knowledge is likely to be disappointed. “Conventional practice in business today increasingly relies on templates and ’best practice’. I think these conventions make us lazy and lower the bar.  You’ve got to think creatively. That’s hard and it’s uncomfortable … and from that difficult space, innovation and insight usually emerge.”
When quizzed on how The Institute advocates the TIPS™ framework and whether this is not a template for thinking, Dana quickly retorts that this is “far from being a template. TIPS™ is a meta-framework for responding to challenges and it has to be applied in a creative way,” she says. “To do that, you have to understand the art of asking questions. Finding the answers is relatively easy – the problem is we shy away from, and often don’t know how to, ask the questions. Asking the questions is the start of applied thinking, and the essence of most creative thinking processes.”
Ahead of her time
Dana defended her PhD thesis in 2006, examining the interrelationship between leadership, power and radical transformation. She innovatively developed several tools for managing this interrelationship in order to sustain a competitive advantage.  These tools remain relevant today – and continue to be successfully applied for small and large organizations, government and NGO players and even for individuals, suggesting that she may have been ahead of her time, given how much has changed since then.
“Of course I’m ahead of my time. I’m South African,” she says. “Creative thinking is everywhere in South Africa. We have it in spades. You see it when you go into an impoverished rural area; the inner city … and even in suburbia. It’s remarkable how much innovation and creative application is underway right here. Sadly, as a nation, we have not yet succeeded in harnessing this creative thinking for everyone and making it available for others to improve on. But we will. We’re South African.”

Black Female-Owned Enterprises on the Rise!

Opportunity knocks for black female-owned entrepreneurs
There are encouraging signs for entrepreneurship in South Africa. While the percentage of adults involved in entrepreneurial activities is still low compared to the rest of Africa, necessity is no longer the primary reason why South Africans go into business for themselves. The pursuit of opportunity – known as opportunity motivation – is the main motivating factor for male and female entrepreneurs alike, according to the most recent Global Entrepreneurial Monitor (GEM) report on South Africa.
The trend is particularly marked among women entrepreneurs in the country. In 2001, almost 45% of women in early-stage enterprises were motivated by necessity, says the GEM report. This decreased steadily over the next 15 years and by 2016, had dropped to just over 27%.
In other words, almost 72% of women entrepreneurs in early-stage companies in 2016 were motivated by opportunity and not a necessity. This is a positive trend as opportunity-driven entrepreneurs tends to choose entrepreneurship rather than be pushed into it for lack of alternatives.
The GEM report also notes a strong increase in opportunity-motivation rates among black Africans, rising from just under 30% in 2005 to an impressive 55.4% in 2016, the highest rate of all population groups. What’s more, black Africans now make up three-quarters of the entrepreneurial population in South Africa.
Gender gap narrows
The report does not say where black African females, specifically, stand in this scenario, nor for that matter, where white females stand. This is a pity given that small black women-owned enterprises are widely known to be the least represented segment of the entrepreneurial community in South Africa.
What we do know is that the historical gender gap between the percentage of women entrepreneurs compared to male entrepreneurs is no longer as wide as it used to be. More than seven women were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurship for every 10 male entrepreneurs in 2016, according to GEM, which describes this ratio as a “healthy level of gender parity in terms of entrepreneurial involvement”.
Bearing this out are the results of the Real State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa survey 2017, conducted by the Seed Academy among 1 200 entrepreneurs.
“Encouragingly, we are seeing the gap between the number of male and female entrepreneurs start to narrow as women represented 47% of entrepreneurs surveyed,” said Donna Rachelson, CEO of Seed Engine, which incorporates Seed Academy.  “This gives some indication that efforts focused on the development of women-owned businesses are beginning to pay off.”
This is a reference to South African government initiatives to prioritize the advancement of women-owned and youth-owned enterprises through policies, preferential funding schemes and targeted support.
Wanted: strong female role models
While access to funding and markets are perennial requirements for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, a support mechanism that should not be underestimated is the motivating power of good role models. As Donna Rachelson of Seed Engine says: “I engage with many female entrepreneurs. It is clear that strong role models are especially powerful. I would, therefore, encourage successful women to mentor and support other women where they can. Successful women entrepreneurs are both an example of what is possible and a source of funding for others.
A powerful platform for showcasing the success of women entrepreneurs in general and black women entrepreneurs, in particular, is the tt100 Business Innovation Awards Programme, now in its 27th year and held annually to recognize excellence in the management of technology, innovation, people, and systems.
The tt100 programme is open to companies of all sizes, including emerging enterprises, and has the long-standing support of the Department of Science and Technology, as well as major private sector companies known for their innovativeness.


“For 2018, we have embarked on a major drive to encourage the participation of black female-owned entrepreneurs, who up to now have been underrepresented in tt100 – just as they have been in the broader economy,” says Sonya Landman, tt100 coordinator. “The time has come for this to change and for black women-owned enterprises to show what they are capable of achieving, and in the process to inspire other women entrepreneurs.”
Entries for the 2018 tt100 programme are already open and will close at the end of August 2018. l