Entrepreneur with the grassroots touch

Xolani Shelembe doing a study skills workshop for matric learners in Impendle. (Supplied)
Xolani Shelembe doing a study skills workshop for matric learners in Impendle. (Supplied)

Cape Town – Xolani Shelembe, owner of ‘Doing Things Differently’, launched his business after identifying a dire need for career guidance in his community.

Fin24 asked him about his journey as an entrepreneur:

Tell us more about yourself...

I am a qualified extraction metallurgist and have worked in the mines in Mpumalanga province, Richards Bay and later a large manufacturing concern in Pietermaritzburg.

When did you start your business and what inspired you to go into the training field?

I left full-time employment and went into business five years ago. I wrote and self-published books in isiZulu. My first book dealt with share trading, because I felt our people somehow were not aware of this fun way of making money.

I wrote my second book on career guidance also in isiZulu. I decided against writing in English because too many books on the subject are already written in that language and mine would not make a difference.

The books thrust me into a different career altogether. I was asked to do motivational speaking at career exhibitions and the learners loved what I had to say.

I realised that there was a need for career guidance and that teachers were not providing assistance. I was asked to do career guidance workshops by Olwazini Discovery Centre and I have done them twice annually since 2011. Olwazini is the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) arm of the Golden Horse Casino, which falls under the Tsogo Sun group.

Identifying the gap...

I realised that learners were ignorant on how to select careers, what kind of financial aid is available, and how to apply for a job - career guidance in a nutshell. They were also ignorant on basic study and exam techniques.

The sad fact is that very bright and talented learners are failing due to these basic knowledge gaps. I teach life skills with an emphasis on the fact that successful people always have a vision. I also cover memory improvement techniques.

Who are you clients?

My clients have included the Msunduzi and Mkhambathini Local Municipalities, as well as the Olwazini Science Discovery Centre - it  has a mandate to foster student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I service the career guidance aspect of their mandate.

Currently we are sponsored by CHIETA (Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority). We focus on maths and science tutorials for rural schools. I cover the career guidance and study skills aspect of the project. We serve mostly rural and semi-rural schools where the need is desperate.

What are the major challenges in your business?

While other training companies are rolling in cash, we are not, as very few of our clients are private companies. We primarily depend on sponsorships and sometimes work pro bono. We are therefore compelled to be extra careful with our cash flow - we wouldn't survive in this field otherwise. Sometimes payments take six months to materialise and by the time they come we are flying on a wing and a prayer.

Why the name ‘Doing Things Differently’?

Our entity is called Doing Things Differently because Albert Einstein is quoted as having said: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. I think we need a different approach to our problems in this country and in the world. My hope is to be involved in organisational transformation in the future. I think the recent Marikana incident happened because organisations are stuck in the industrial age using the 'carrot and stick' approach while we are living in the information age.

The world is a messed-up place because industry is missing the point. Right now the problems we are dealing with in rural areas are due to the fact that industry does not understand that the world is connected. They erect high walls and hire security, while they could seriously plough resources into developing the learners that emerge from these areas so that they do not become criminals but contributing citizenry.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

I am inspired by Sir Richard Branson. I think he is a madman and I love him. I love Dr John Maxwell, Robin Sharma, Dr John DeMartini, Dr Steven Covey, Pastor Sthembiso Zondo and others in the Inspirational movement.

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