What you do in your community can change the world

Internationally acclaimed entrepreneur Sandile Tshabalala is changing the world, after learning how to change his community as a 7-year-old Cub in the Kanyamazane township of Mpumalanga. Recently, Sandile accepted an appointment to the SCOUTS South Africa Board.

With decades of experience in the private and public sector, Sandile’s qualifications and expertise lie in corporate governance, corporate philanthropy, human rights, and entrepreneurship development. He has held governance positions with the multinationals and most recently as a Board of Directors and Investment Committee Secretary for the Public Investment Corporation, with oversight of over R2 trillion assets globally. We caught up with him while he was in Cape Town and learned about the profound impact a local Cub food gardening initiative had on his success and passion for governance and entrepreneurial development later in life.

“I joined the 1st Kanyamazane Scout Group in Grade 3. Scouting was integrated in my school’s extracurricular programme and a teacher, Akela Solitha Themba, ran the activities. During that time, our government denied the existence of the HIV and AIDS pandemic despite many people succumbing to the disease. The Scouts saw an opportunity to provide some assistance towards solving this complex problem. As part of our service projects, our Akela implemented the Food for Life programme whereby we would go into the township to establish vegetable gardens at the homes of some of the learner’s whose parents were struggling and often were very sick. This was quite a traumatic experience for us as children, but at the same time it enabled us to see how we as children were able to make real differences within our community. This project was instrumental for my personal development and influenced not only my education, but also my career choices”, explains Sandile.

“When I was in Grade 7 I applied for a scholarship to the prestigious private school Uplands College. I was invited for an interview and decided to go in my Scout uniform. I was proud of what it symbolized and how I felt wearing it. The principal asked me about it and was so impressed with my response and how I was taking initiative towards bettering myself, but also my community. I got the scholarship and was able to get a really good education through the institution. When I was 14 years old, I was selected by SCOUTS South Africa to join the contingent to the World Scout Jamboree in the United Kingdom. This is one of my favourite Scouting memories. Today I fly around the world for work, but at the time, it was my first flight and my first time to go overseas as a Scout. Partaking in the Jamboree opened my eyes. I realised that Scouting isn’t just a programme, it’s a place of belonging, it’s a lifestyle, implemented by people from different walks of life all around the world.

Scouting promotes entrepreneurship by giving youth opportunities to create solutions to resolve real local problems

Upon my return, I needed to step back from Scouting as I had a lot of catching up to do at Uplands College due to the discrepancy in the education I had received until then. However, I believe that the foundation that I received through Scouting set me up for the path I have followed into impact economy, human rights, and entrepreneurial development.

The Scout Movement develops one’s character through the Scout values, and one’s independence, creativity, and entrepreneurship through the programmes. The Scout programme enables young people to become independent and creates self-confidence by encouraging them to do things for themselves whilst developing the skills to complete their objectives. Scouting also promotes entrepreneurship as young people are given opportunities to create solutions to resolve real local problems. They are encouraged to work together with people from different backgrounds for a common goal. Even though establishing food gardens in the homes of people who were sick was traumatic. It was a key moment in my development. It taught me to be sensitive to the needs of others. It showed me I can effect change when the people in power are not. This is why Scouting is still relevant today. It creates an eco-system where young people are enabled to grow. They are given opportunities to create innovative solutions to their daily challenges, whilst being nurtured and encouraged by adult leaders. Scouting fills the gap between school, home, and personal development.

I have always strived to be intentional and purposeful in my decisions. Seven years ago, together with a partner, we opened our own business Huruma Bantfu. I find that the value system and ideals I acquired as a young Cub still guide my corporate decisions today”, he adds pensively.

The value system and ideals I acquired as a Cub guide my corporate decisions today

When asked if he believes youth can stand up and apply for leadership roles both within the Scout Movement and within the employment market, he thinks for a moment and responds: “As youth we are all the leaders we are waiting for. If you as a youth don’t step up, then who will lead you? When I was approached to be a member of the Scout Board, I was honoured to step up and help the very organisation that gave me leadership opportunities when I was very young. I see it as my role and duty to now play a role in creating further sustainability. “

Sandile’s expertise is in corporate governance. Why is the role of the Board in ensuring good governance for an organization like SCOUTS South Africa so pivotal? “SCOUTS South Africa is an organisation that has been in existence for many years. It is clear that the values and skills Scouting transfers is needed now more than ever. If we look within our communities people are struggling. Poverty, violence, crime, drugs, and many other social ills taking a stronger hold. Scouting mobilises people, brings them together around common goals, enables them to better their lives and that of their community. These opportunities and their impact are not to be taken lightly. Having the governance of a Board in place ensures oversight and systemic change. It facilitates discussions around decisions that need to be made and enables the organisation to be held accountable for its actions. Board governance safeguards our decision-making processes and enables the organisation to be taken seriously.”

After all these years we can imagine that some of Sandile’s Scouting buddies might be excited to see his return to Scouting. When asked what he would like to say to them, his response was nothing but inspirational. “Let’s not forget where we come from. We can be comfortable in where we are now but must look back. What were we being prepared for? I personally was prepared for this, I was prepared to serve, to be able to develop leadership qualities and to reinvest in in our world. What were you prepared for?”

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