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Allan Gray Orbis Foundation: A time for reflection

As we start a new year, Dr Nontobeko Mabizela, acting CEO of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, shares some highlights of the Foundation’s activities over the course of 2022.

The end of the year brought with it great reflection on the journey that we have embarked on as an organisation, especially as we bid farewell to our esteemed CEO, Yogavelli Nambiar, in November. It is a great honour and privilege for me to step into her shoes as acting CEO.

While 2022 was a tough year, as a collective, we at the Foundation achieved the majority of the milestones that we had set for ourselves. And we did this in an extremely challenging economic environment. The dedication, passion and commitment demonstrated by our employees have helped propel the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation to new heights, and brought us that much closer to achieving our Vision 2030: nurturing entrepreneurial leaders who will create sustainable, high-growth businesses that contribute towards meaningful job creation, in addition to the Foundation becoming a centre of excellence in identifying and developing entrepreneurial potential.

The dedication, passion and commitment demonstrated by our employees have helped propel the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation to new heights …

Today, more than 60% of Africa’s population is younger than 25, and by 2030, the continent is expected to be home to 42% of the world’s youth. Numbers like these inform our Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and keep us pushing towards our ultimate goal of helping to establish 500 businesses, 10 of which valued at R1bn, and creating 30 000 jobs by 2030.

Following are some of the highlights of 2022 from our various initiatives.

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The Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge

The Allan Gray Entrepreneurship Challenge (AGEC), a two-dimensional game aimed at primary and high school learners, has long played a crucial role in developing an entrepreneurial mindset among young South Africans. In 2022, we introduced a year-long series of mini challenges instead of the usual five-week game. This ensured that entrepreneurship education took place throughout the year, rather than being concentrated in a specific period.

As a result of these adjustments to the programme, we saw 15 000 people sign up to take part in the AGEC, 2 000 of whom were primary school learners, while 9 800 were high school learners. The remaining participants were parents and teachers, who provided mentorship and assisted learners in unpacking some of the entrepreneurial concepts.

The Scholarship programme

The Scholarship programme serves as a platform for cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset, personal mastery and academic excellence in high school learners. It is pleasing to note that all our Scholars are on track to complete their Grade 12 examinations with a bachelor’s degree pass.

A highly successful 2023 intake process has recently been completed, together with the hosting of various selection camps. Our employees also undertook home visits across the country, welcoming each and every incoming Scholar and their family. It is so important to include the families in the Scholarship programme process so as to build their commitment and buy-in, as this ensures the Scholars are offered holistic support throughout their participation in the programme.

We have taken some solid steps towards ensuring that all our programme participants are on track to help us attain our BHAGs. For example, it is encouraging to note that 13% of our Scholars have already started their own side businesses – many small-scale, of course, but a promising start nonetheless, and a sign that they are already embracing an entrepreneurial mindset. With 216 Scholars currently in the programme, we look forward to improving on the 70% Fellowship throughput rate in 2022, i.e. the percentage of Scholars who advanced to our Fellowship programme.

The Fellowship programme

The Fellowship programme helps university students prepare for life as high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs through entrepreneurship education, self-development and academic support. The performance of Candidate Fellows (beneficiaries of the Fellowship) in our Fellowship programme is equally encouraging. During 2022, the programme retained 95% of its participants from the previous year. We have also seen an impressive number of Fellowship alumni return to the programme to mentor new beneficiaries.

The programme had also set itself the target of seeing 100 Candidate Fellows participate in our business Ideation, Validation and Creation (IVC) programme. I am pleased to report that we exceeded that target, with 165 Candidate Fellows taking part. More impressive still is the fact that, after several years of focusing on encouraging the participation of female Candidate Fellows, our efforts have paid off: 59% of the IVC programme participants in 2022 were female.

The Association of Allan Gray Fellows

The Association aims to foster a culture of lifelong learning, create opportunities for world-class entrepreneurial development and equip Fellows to establish sustainable enterprises. The Association comprises those Candidate Fellows who have successfully completed their degrees and met the requirements of the Fellowship programme, thereby earning the title of Allan Gray Fellow.

Our Association programme continues to showcase the entrepreneurial impact of our Fellows. The current cohort consists of 698 Fellows, 56% of whom are female, evidencing our commitment to promoting and supporting female entrepreneurship.

It is gratifying to see that so many of our Fellows are leaving their mark on South Africa’s business world. Companies such as Yoco and Go1 have become household names, but the smaller enterprises that keep up their daily operations, despite the tumultuous economic times, are equally deserving of applause. Kudos to those who continue to build their businesses. Lipa Payments (a black-owned business), which recently sourced R10m in funding to facilitate its expansion, is a case in point, and demonstrates the tenacity, perseverance and resilience of our Fellows.

Additional flagship entrepreneurship events

One of the highlights of our 2022 National Jamboree – our annual Festival of Ideas, which includes a range of interactive speaker sessions, masterclasses and community networking activities to inspire entrepreneurial action – was seeing entrepreneurship education activated in a manner that makes it tangible for our beneficiaries. The principle was celebrated in our Entrepreneurship Village, which offered an exciting and dynamic platform for celebrating and sharing ideas and innovations.

This initiative was hugely successful, not only in terms of the number of programme participants, but also from the perspective of ecosystem involvement: It was heartening to see so many key stakeholders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem partnering with and supporting us to expand our impact.

We also hosted the second Ignite Africa event, an official event of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which aims to bring like-minded individuals, organisations and countries in the entrepreneurship mindset development space together to discuss and share best practices and research knowledge. What made this occasion particularly significant was the fact that it was a gathering that not only saluted our entrepreneurs, but also sparked engagement at policymaking level. I am pleased to note that many of the recommendations put forward have been collated and will be presented to the Minister of Small Business Development for consideration in advancing entrepreneurship in South Africa.

Persevering through partnerships

Despite the enormous challenges faced in 2022 as a result of the economic downturn, we are still here, supporting and nurturing entrepreneurial South African youth to become high-impact entrepreneurial leaders.

It is important to note that the Foundation does not operate in a vacuum – we are part of an ecosystem in which partnerships are key. “Partnering for impact” underpins all that we do. Our stakeholders are aligned with our vision of scalability, impact and sustainability, not only in South Africa, but also further into the African continent, as we constantly strive for more equitable opportunities for the African citizenry.

Hosting events such as Ignite Africa demonstrates the vast stakeholder network we have built, all working towards supporting an entrepreneurship revolution on the continent. We have the capability and expertise to influence policy, therefore working with the government, as a critical partner in this ecosystem, is paramount.

Our work is a tribute to Mr Allan Gray, whose vision lies at the heart of the Foundation.

I look forward to seeing us better our achievements in 2023. It will not be an easy task, as we are moving forward in an environment characterised by various challenges – a fact which necessitates that we continue to operate in an innovative, efficient and agile manner to be able to face those challenges head-on.

I have no doubt that through the efforts of our employees, who are committed to the vision of the Foundation, we will go on to reach more programme participants, laying the foundation for more high-impact businesses.

Our work is a tribute to Mr Allan Gray, whose vision lies at the heart of the Foundation. And what a vision it was. Mr Gray personified an observation made by Warren Buffett: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

There are so many South Africans sitting in the shade of Mr Gray’s tree, our programme participants among them. And so, too, will the people be whom they will go on to help through their fine ideas, perseverance, foresight and sheer determination to make this country a far better one than it is now.

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