Cyril Ramaphosa: Collector of contributions

2013-05-26 14:00

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Business tycoon, politician and philanthropist Cyril Ramaphosa (60) has been dubbed by his biographer Anthony Butler as “the Forrest Gump of South African political life” – always in the front row when history’s being made.

The founder and executive chairman of the Shanduka Group and the newly minted deputy president of the ANC, Ramaphosa believes no act is too small when it comes to changing the world.

His Shanduka Foundation, through its Adopt-a-School programme, in collaboration with many partners, has “adopted” nearly 170 schools in a decade.

The Shanduka Black Umbrellas programme provides support to small-business entrepreneurs.

Ramaphosa lives in Joburg.

You’ve said philanthropy is ‘not only about giving money but about sharing your time’. Can you give us an example of how you do this?

The programmes undertaken by the Shanduka Foundation seek to mobilise funding and other contributions from companies across the private sector.

That requires time and effort, and building and nurturing relationships.

Much of my time is spent encouraging others to make a contribution.

It is spent meeting bursary recipients, visiting adopted schools and meeting some of the small businesses in the Shanduka Black Umbrellas incubators.

A great many people have capabilities that extend beyond the level of the financial contribution they can make.

They have skills, experience, networks and influence that can all be put to use in promoting social development.

This sort of contribution often acts as a catalyst to unlock financial resources.

There’s a growing trend among 21st-century African philanthropists to ’invest’ in people and programmes in ways that produce lasting change. Does the Shanduka Black Umbrellas programme fall into this category?

It provides support to entrepreneurs who have the vision, determination and energy to establish and grow their own businesses.

It aims to provide 100% black-owned small businesses with the tools to enable them to be sustainable after the three-year incubation programme.

Global experience suggests it is these small businesses that will drive economic growth and create employment opportunities.

Shanduka Black Umbrellas is therefore an investment to unlock potential that already exists.

The return on that investment – to the businesses involved and to society as a whole – will continue to grow for many years to come.

Last year, you went back to your old school, Tshilidzi Primary in Soweto, for a day. What’s the aim of the ‘back-to-school’ programme?

The programme encourages company executives and employees to go back to a disadvantaged school for a day and engage in activities that contribute to the improvement of the school.

In addition to the practical impact that these activities have, they provide the companies with greater insight into the challenges that the schools face.

It provides a platform for company executives and employees to become ‘hands on’ and personally involved in their company’s social responsibility initiatives.

It affirms the value society places on the success of each pupil and offers them recognition, encouragement and inspiration.

If charity begins at home, was there anything or anyone in your upbringing that shaped how you think about giving?

I guess my father who, as a policeman, was very generous to many people.

More specifically, two Jewish widows who arranged that I should get a bursary from their late husbands’ trusts ignited my charity instinct.

Through Shanduka’s Adopt-a-School programme it’s clear you’re very focused on the needs of children in particular. Why is that?

That is where social investment is bound to have its greatest impact.

Investing in the education of our children is the most effective and sustainable way to achieve growth and development.

It is the most effective way to ensure young people have access to better opportunities and are able to realise their full potential.

You set store by personally meeting people who benefit from Shanduka programmes. Is there anyone you’ve helped who has inspired you and made you think, yes, this is what it’s all about?

I am inspired every time I meet an entrepreneur who is succeeding against the odds.

At every school I visit, the enthusiasm of the learners and the commitment of the principal and teachers inspires me.

Every time I meet a bursary recipient or a young intern, I am struck by how resolved these individuals are to improve their prospects and the state of their communities.

Do the rich have a duty to give?

Everyone with the means to contribute to improving the lives of the poor should do so.

Often it is people with very little themselves who contribute the most, in one form or another, to social development.

The rich should follow their example.

We hear about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, but not so much about home-grown African philanthropists like Nigeria’s Tony Elumelu or Morocco’s Miloud Chaabi. Is it time African philanthropists took a higher profile?

We should certainly encourage the wealthy to give, but we should celebrate those who aren’t necessarily wealthy, but who nevertheless give a significant portion of their money, time and skills to good causes.

They are people we should profile.

»?This series was developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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