Mandela Month by Portia Msamo

In South Africa the month of July is informally known as “Mandela month”. It is the month in which Nelson Mandela was born, on the 18 July 1918. It is also the month in which people from all corners of the country take 67 minutes (or more) out of their day to do something for someone else, be it someone less fortunate than you or just someone you feel might benefit from a random act of kindness. This has always been something that has made South Africa as unique. Through all the hardships that the country has been through in the apartheid years and still being a country with such a large gap between the rich and the poor, the thought that we can still all come together on one day and dedicate it to someone outside of ourselves with small acts of kindness is humbling. It is a true legacy that Nelson Mandela has left with us as South Africans and the world, and is testament to his selfless nature.

This year we as TSiBA students had been tasked with pairing up with students from Northeastern University (USA) and help a few struggling entrepreneurs with their businesses. The entrepreneurs had been invited to be part of the social entrepreneurship program we had been assigned to and they had indicated that they needed help with their businesses to help them grow and increase profitability. This is important in South Africa as the country is currently facing very slow economic growth and economy needs entrepreneurs to create employment and increase the country’s GDP.

In the two weeks that we worked with the students from Northeastern, we also had short lectures from Prof. Dennis Shaughnessy who is the Executive Professor in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at Northeastern University, and he also organised the program. The Professor introduced us to a quote by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his lectures which caused us to think back to the sacrifices people like Nelson Mandela made in the struggle for freedom for so many years. The quote reads, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. “ Although the class came up with many interpretations on the meaning of the quote, we all agreed that it spoke very much to Justice sometimes taking much longer to be served than one would like, but it is the one thing that human beings rely on to keep them going when it often feels like there is nothing else left to fight for.

The month of July for me was about being part of a circle, which started with a group of students who worked with an entrepreneur to help to grow their small business, which would hopefully help the business to grow and create employment. This would in turn improve the lives of the employer; the employee and both their families. This would eventually improve the living standards of a few people in South Africa who will hopefully be part of creating a new circle and continuing the cycle.

So, the lesson in all of this I guess would be that although we still have a struggle of a different nature to deal with as South Africans, creating wealth through entrepreneurship, improving skills by sharing knowledge and being part of the cycle of paying it forward are all things that could help to bend the arc of financial freedom for many South Africans just a little faster and improve lives.