Low Hanging Fruits

For the past 14 years, I have worked with different programs that help students from underprivileged backgrounds to become Chartered Accountants  (CAs). One of those is the Thuthuka Bursary Fund, a program that takes students from some of the poorest areas of the country and grooms them to be CEOs of listed companies - true story! To date, the program has groomed over 1020 Chartered Accountants in South Africa alone. I am one of those success stories and I actively play my part to help create a balance the social and economic inequalities in our country. It is in this spirit of Thuthuka ( Isuzulu word meaning "to develop") that has challenged me to think beyond the accountancy profession, beyond the borders of our country and go conquer the world. One of the biggest challenges we face is that students graduate, get practical experience, qualify as CAs but then what's next? How do we help them achieve the C-suite dreams we sold them? How do we get them to run billion-dollar enterprises? How do we help them to go back to their communities to transform them into megacities?


Much like the Thuthuka program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) was created as a leadership development program for Young African Leaders in business, public management and/or civic engagement to meet similar goals.  Through MWF a young leader's dreams literally go from wanting to lead the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to create global enterprises that will compete with Facebook, Google, and Amazon. MWF alumni, known as YALI Fellows leave the USA at the end of the program charged up to go home and change the world - literally. Three weeks ago a lot of my brothers and sisters from the YALI program returned home to champion this transformative change, however, have already encountered major stumbling blocks. Their motivation starts fading away slowly, creating a sense of hopelessness. Why?



The MWF program provides fellows with access to leaders of government, civic organization and private business who invest in the fellows and their businesses/organizations.  The networks that MWF fellows form in the USA are aimed at strengthening collaboration between American and African business community. However, some fellows still experience challenges accessing their own countries' government and the business community to implement the awesome business models and ideas they have developed.  This is a wasted opportunity that could actually be a gamechanger for many developing countries.


To ensure Thuthuka's vision to have black CEOs in boardrooms, leadership mentorship programs were established by other organizations through collaboration of government and business community. Thuthuka is recognized for its role in helping students obtain the professional qualification and is left to maximize on that strength. The next organization will take the baton, run a couple of miles with it, and pass on to the next stakeholder. The ecosystem is successful as each organization focuses on a specific objective based of their strengths - as recommended by Gallup. This ideal model will produce incredible leaders to lead some of the largest organizations beyond our ancestors' wildest dreams. The government, business and civic organizations recognize the potential of Thuthuka alumni and continue to invest in them as catalysts for development. The model can be replicated into different professions and different countries through collaborative efforts of business, civic organization and community.


"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

Nelson Mandela


Having a YALI fellow is a country's power card that can be used to unlock opportunities for sustainable development and reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals.  The groundwork is already done - the fellows already established a good track record, YALI elevated their vision, all that is left is our countries to tap into the talent that is already here and take it to the next level. The business of development is a question of scale - how do we help this non-profit from serving 60 homeless children to serve 6 000? How do we partner with this tech organization from serving 5 000 underprivileged school children to serve 5 000 000? 


There is an opportunity for African countries to recognize the YALI fellows as crucial stakeholders in the development of Africa - like as a developmental power card, or a developmental infinity stone. By investing in the organizations established by YALI fellows, countries are able to tap to an international network that is crucial to the successful implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and developmental needs.


Over the next couple of weeks, the African Union, embassies, governments, civic organizations, business, and communities will be engaged by YALI alumni to tap into this opportunity. This is one of the resolutions we have committed ourselves to as fellows and we call on all relevant stakeholders to see this as an opportunity to grow the continental economy and social systems.  YALI alumni networks play a pivotal role in leading these strategic engagements. Many of us have already held successful meetings with our South African embassy and the Washington DC business community to collaborate.


YALI had about 700 fellows in the 2019 cohort and the program has been around since 2014. There is more... there are many other leadership development programs that Africa can tap into - Acumen, Fulbright, Atlas Corps, WEF, Obama Foundation etc, all this talent, all the experience that we can tap into and make Africa a self-sufficient, globally competitive economy. Imagine the number of global leaders we can produce.


Imagine the possibilities!



About the author:

Thabo Godfrey Mongatane is a South African entrepreneur, Business Coach and Professional Speaker currently working at LDI Africa in Washington DC.  He completed a Leadership Development Programme in Civic Engagement at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as part of the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. He is a founder of Kumbaya Africa, a non-profit providing strategic development opportunities to emerging social enterprises in Africa.