This week was kinda star-studded: we had Richard Branson come and talk (see report of that a little earlier), but also Anita Roddick (of Body Shop fame) and Taddy Bletcher (invited by the Africa Club). I didn’t go to these last two, but I asked my friend Mmmmmm who went to write a short impression of both so I could share them with you. Thanks Mmmmm for taking the time to write these!
Anita started by upsetting the audience by saying that business schools stifle entrepreneurism. What I think she meant was that there is an element of enthusiastic naiveté to being a successful entrepreneur. Business school teaches one all pitfalls of business and in doing so destroys this naiveté. I mean how many times have I been told in the last six months that only 90% of new businesses are successful? I don’t think Anita nor Richard were told this before they started! Unlike Branson who said that starting out is so difficult, so worry about making money first and then worry about giving back to society, Anita believes that business is not just about money and you can be successful while having a social conscience. The inevitable question was asked: Had she not sold out on the sale of Body Shop to L’Oreal? There was a massive intake of breath as everyone waited for the answer. Anita naturally, just answered it honestly. I have to admit that I have always been a little bit sceptical about her, but the way she answered questions without consideration and often with answers that were not "politically correct" changed my mind.
That evening, I went to see Taddy Bletcher. Taddy passed up on a career in management consulting and a fat salary to go and work for a not for profit called CIDA that helps poor children in South Africa. CIDA had had a lot success in helping students get their high school certificate, when they realised that there was no opportunities for them after school. University education in South Africa is expensive and applications are competitive. Poor children from the townships or rural communities do not stand a chance. CIDA decided that they wanted to start a university that cost less than R4000 for a degree including books and administration. I think if you ever get the opportunity you need to have Taddy to tell you the story. They started with nothing so each member of staff at CIDA had teach the students. This also meant they had to be creative in coming up with solutions. KPMG was approached for volunteers that were between projects who might want to teach Accounting at the university. Other companies also volunteered and students had the opportunity to return the favour by doing work for the companies. A key element of the school is that students are expected to give back. So students clean and cook. They are also expected to teach in there home community and once they make it they are also expected to give another child from their community the opportunity for higher education. My favourite quote from Taddy: “When you look back on your deathbed one day and ask, ‘Was it all worth it?’ … I’m going to look back and every day would have made it worth it.”
[addition: The Africa Club is hosting the Africa day on May 13th, check this webpage for more information.]