South African business leader and serial entrepreneur says that to truly transform South Africa, education is a tool through which we can drive much-needed change. The future of South Africa bright but there is a lot of work that needs to be done for us as a nation to reach prosperity. Many young South Africans are not sitting down drowning in complacency; they are moving and shaking leaving no room for mediocrity and the predominant status quo. They understand that to succeed; you need to zone in on the problems that exist in your surroundings and find solid solutions so we can become product of our environments that are efficient, effective and purpose-driven.
One youth-led non-profit organisation, Young Aspiring Thinkers, is a great example of an entity that consists of young people that see a better future for South Africa and the world. With education being one of the core sectors that they aim to deliver value and change in, they are are actively building our nation one student, school and mentor at the time. Founded by three entrepreneurs and professionals; Monewa Matlwa, Thulani Masebenza and Masego Modiba, Young Aspiring Thinkers is an innovative concept which promised to deliver immense value by linking and assigning young professionals with high school learners for facilitate mentorship programs. Their focus is to reduce youth unemployment, improve learner career prospects and optimise how we teach young people in the public schooling system — particularly in the township.
We got the privilege to speak to exciting entrepreneur and co-founder of Young Aspiring Thinkers, Thulani Masebenza, to find out more about their NPO, their visions for the future and exciting developments in their entrepreneurial and professional careers.
Please introduce yourself and your startup?
Young Aspiring Thinkers was a Non-Profit Organization which was created by Thulani Masebenza, Monewa Matlwa and Masego Modiba which aims to improve youth education, reduce youth unemployment and improve the career prospects of young learners in public schools particularly public schools located in South African townships. All our career journeys have been interesting and uncertain, and we felt that even in our relatively privileged position as young black South Africans we are directed towards certain careers mainly out of necessity instead of careers which are linked towards our passion.
When conceptualising Young Aspiring Thinkers, what was the ‘why’ that drove you from an idea that lived in your head to a living entity?
As we started to explore the problem we began to realise this wasn’t only a problem which we faced, but a problem which other black South African youth face. When we’re young we are expected to enter careers such as Law, Medicine, Accounting and Engineering. This creates anxiety amongst youth that any career outside of those four is not one which should be pursued. Our original idea for Young Aspiring Thinkers was using a “speed – dating” solution but the career version where we invite young professionals excelling in their respective professions, to serve as mentors for the students on the day. The mentors speak to about two students at a time, for roughly +/- 5min where they give the students an insight into what they do, what their job looks like on the day to day, what degree they studied and other pieces of advice which could help them. This is beneficial as the students get exposed to multiple careers in one day. Usually we have a mix of professionals from entrepreneurs to consultants to doctors to football coaches to marketeers. All giving young South African students a view into their career and food for thought, for their futures.
What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis and how do you view challenges as an entrepreneur?
As our organisation has grown and as we have run more sessions at schools we have realised that the scale of the problem is bigger than we initially thought. As much as we think career skills development and career guidance are important, we are trying to tackle the larger problem of education and youth unemployment in South Africa. We are doing this through building structured programmes which we implement at schools, our programmes aim to increase the future career prospects of learners, filter our learners into bursary and scholarships programmes, help them develop youth led businesses or help them find employment. These programmes will all be different in nature depending on what we want the outcome of the programme to be, the first programme which we have implemented is the Illuminate Programme which we are running at Olievenhoutbosch Secondary School. We are also in discussions with a major international corporation which we can’t reveal yet and are planning to launch a programme with them at a high school later in the year. We are also in discussions with a German Business School which is interested in creating online content for the learners in our Illuminate Programme.
You have been invited to pitch at the prestigious ChangeNOW Summit in Paris, France. Congratulations, that is a great milestone and achievement. How can South Africa rally behind you in support?
This vision of moving from once-off career development sessions to programmes for the youth has led us on the path that we are now, which is having the opportunity to pitch our social enterprise at the ChangeNow Summit in Paris. ChangeNow is one of the largest platforms in the world for social impact startups, ChangeNOW is all about concrete actions and innovations: climate change, end of plastic pollution, new forms of agriculture, new models of education, solutions to the refugee crisis, clean energy, sustainable cities and other solutions to our most urgent global issues. Young Aspiring Thinkers has been selected to pitch in the education pitching session. This will allow us to pitch our vision and raise funding for the projects which we aim to implement throughout the year as well as gain strategic partnerships which will also us to further our impact. South Africans can rally behind us for support by joining our crowdfunding campaign, as a company we’ve been able to raise R15 000 for this trip to Paris, and we need your assistance to gather an addition R30 000. We’ve come up with a campaign that will help us reach our target and pitch our vision at the summit. We need 300 people to pledge and donate R100 each and would appreciate your assistance in reaching that target. This financial assistance will allow us to buy tickets, book accommodation and secure Visa’s for the trip. We are also always recruiting young mentors who can join our sessions and programmes to help with facilitation, giving career advice to the learners or talking about their career journey to help inspire the learners.
In conclusion, what is your vision for Africa?
Our vision for Africa is to become the most transformational youth led organisation on the continent. We hope to impact the lives of 50 000 learners by 2030, this means in the next 10 years we hope to impact roughly 125 South African public schools and either run sessions or implement a programme at these schools. We believe impacting lives to that scale would have such a positive impact on our economy as we believe the foundation of a successful economy is built on education, especially as we grow towards a knowledge based economy.
Where can people contact you online or social media?
You can visit our website, Instagram and LinkedIn.