Changing Lives through Entrepreneurship

By Tuesday Nolen, Dialogue of Civilizations

If you listen to the media these days, it seems like the whole world is going up in flames. There is constant yelling from every direction whenever a big topic comes up in conversation. There has been no little amount of arguing in the limelight about systemic problems, which unfortunately leaves little room for an actual conclusion of the issue.

A systemic problem is defined as a problem due to issues inherent in the overall system, rather than due to a specific, individual, isolated factor. These sort of problems and discussions exist everywhere in the world, but it can be hard to see them when you, personally, exist within the system. One way to significantly change your perspective is to step outside your own system, or consider a system you are not inherently biased in.

One bus ride, about a week and a half into Northeastern’s social enterprise dialogue in South Africa this summer, I had a conversation with a very quiet consulting colleague of mine named Athi. We were on our way to the job site of the entrepreneur we were consulting for. This was the first and only time I saw him speak at length or in depth with anyone. We talked about many things, including the cultures of where we grew up, the excitement of travel, school struggles, political difficulties in both of our countries, why America has black people, and the biggest takeaways from the trip. Athi attends a school named the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA). Its mission is to help people who cannot access opportunities to jump ahead in life through entrepreneurship.

One of South Africa’s systemic problems is that, much like the United States, the government and a good deal of social institutions were developed around the premise that certain people were inherently unequal. In South Africa, this system of racism that was epitomized by Apartheid — the policy of institutional segregation and discrimination against non-white people from 1948 to 1994 — although discrimination goes back a long before that. After much struggle, in 1994 South Africa was handed over to the people to become a true democracy and the current constitution was adopted, making all people equal before the law.

However, the last 24 years has been unable to entirely undo the harm of hundreds of years of injustice. Though South Africa is leaps and bounds of where it was, there is still significant economic inequality between whites and non-whites, as well as under-access to employment opportunities, education, food and housing, particularly for black citizens.

It is TSiBA’s mission to change that. Their answer is entrepreneurship, and it is making a difference. TSiBA not only teaches students entrepreneurship in its curriculum, but also in practice. Through accelerators, networking, each other and their own ingenuity, its students are proving themselves not only capable, but leaders in their own right.

I met an architect, a jeweler, a wedding planner, a social media master, a musician, and many others. Most also had other responsibilities – like being a mother, keeping up a family business or farm, playing for the national rugby team, or working two other jobs. Many had tried their hand at several businesses, with varying success. But every single person I met was dedicated to their education, to business, and to improving the lives of others around them.

These amazing young leaders and entrepreneurs would never have had the access to the tools to support their incredible ideas 24 years ago, when the idea of their getting this kind of education would have seemed impossible. For most, the only reason they are able to attain these opportunities is because of TSiBA’s unique mission to make such an education accessible. But many others are not as fortunate. The students know this, and in true spirit of ubuntu, they are looking to give back. With entrepreneurship, they know they can spark opportunities for experience, knowledge sharing and job creation for those who have been locked out of the system, improving the lives of many more South Africans impacted by Apartheid.