Tuesday, July 16, 2024

ConnectHub: Teaching school pupils entrepreneurship and community self-reliance – Thebolo Motshegare

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Thebolo Motshegare is a teacher at St Stithians College in Johannesburg. Noticing the differences in how pupils view entrepreneurship where he hails from, Bafukeng near Rustenburg, he decided to start a non-profit organisation, Connect Hub, that created a 10-week entrepreneurship programme for high school pupils. Motshegare told BizNews he wants to challenge the mindset that formal education is the only way to advance. “There are many kids who get a university degree but can’t get a job in South Africa,” he said. Motshegare also wants to encourage young people to solve community problems without relying on the government. “Communities are not built by governments,” he said. “They are built by those who live in it.”

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Highlights from the interview

Connect Hub, a nonprofit organization, has launched a 10-week entrepreneurship program aimed at high school students, using a project-based learning approach. Thebolo Motshegare, a representative of Connect Hub, explained the organization’s goal of fostering a new mindset among young people, encouraging them to address community challenges themselves rather than relying on government solutions. The initiative stems from Motshegare’s observations in his community, the Royal Bafokeng Nation, where despite wealth from platinum deposits, youth lacked engagement and opportunities post-school hours.

Motshegare was inspired by the Fees Must Fall movement and his experiences as a teacher in different socio-economic contexts. He noted that students from affluent backgrounds are often more exposed to entrepreneurship due to their environment, unlike those in mining communities like Bafokeng, who primarily aspire to traditional employment.

Connect Hub’s vision includes expanding its impact across the African continent, inspired by leaders like Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership Academy. The organization aims to create a sustainable and accountable model, emphasizing the importance of building relationships and learning from global counterparts to address educational and community challenges effectively.

Extended transcript of the interview 

Linda van Tilburg (00:00.91)

I am Linda van Tilburg for BizNews. There’s a nonprofit organisation called Connect Hub that has created a 10-week entrepreneurship programme for school pupils. We have Thebolo Motshegare in the studio to discuss that with us. 

Thebolo Motshekgare (00:00:34)

It’s a nonprofit organisation that focuses on teaching entrepreneurship to young people, particularly high school learners using the project-based learning method. What we’re doing is that we’ve identified a couple of challenges within the education system. What we’re trying to do is to get young people to think differently about challenges in a community. So, beyond the skills that you’re going to be getting, what we’re also trying to say to students is that the problems in our communities are not going to be solved by anybody but us. We’re trying to challenge young people to think differently to focus on the government.  I think to a great extent there is an argument that can remain for that. But what we’re saying is that it’s the ordinary citizens on a daily basis who make decisions about the conditions in their own community. So, that is what ConnectHub is, a non-profit organisation that is targeted at young people to get them to think differently about their communities while teaching entrepreneurship in a different way, in a fresh way that currently does not exist in mainstream schooling.

Linda van Tilburg (00:01:53)

The community you come from, is that where you identified the problem?

Thebolo Motshegare (00:01:58)

Anybody who has attended a FIFA 2010 World Cup game, England versus the United States of America will know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s in a place called the Royal Bafokeng Nation, currently one of the wealthiest tribes in Africa, the African continent, doing very well. There is a beautiful history behind how it acquired its wealth and its relationship with the likes of Paul Kruger.  

I could go on and on about the history of this place. But basically what happened was that land was acquired back from De Beers and beneath the soil is obviously this platinum deposits, this platinum belt. I think that if they knew what was beneath the soil, they would not have sold it back to the Bafukeng people. But here is a community that is thriving. Of course, it has its own issues. Of course, there are things that still need to be resolved. But I think that it’s come to a point where citizens have to take some responsibility for that. Bafokeng is where I identified this need when I was in university, at Nelson Mandela University, coming home every single holiday. I used to observe that young people are not being catered for and this is not only Bafukeng. 

I think there are a lot of communities all around South Africa, where young people are just not catered for, where schools, for instance, that don’t have strong extracurricular programs means that when school is out, when the academic program is over, young people are loitering about.  I think that that is a recipe for all sorts of issues. So this is where I  thought, well, somebody has to do something about this.

I’m not necessarily going to rely on the government or anybody to do it because I have a fundamental belief that communities were not necessarily built by government officials. They were built by those who live in it. This is where I got inspiration. When I first thought about it, it was not about an educational program. I wanted a space for young people. I did not know what was going to go into that space. I

I knew that I wanted to sell coffee perhaps because I’m a coffee lover but other than that, I did not know why and,, and what was going to go into the space other than the fact that I wanted it to be for young people. Over time we thought, well, I think it’s much more sustainable to think about a programme rather than creating a space for its sake and that’s where it was born. 

Linda van Tilburg (00:04:50)

What are these kids aspiring to do? Are most of them telling you they want to get a job one day? Are they thinking of an entrepreneurial route?

Thebolo Mothshekgare (00:04:59)

I work and live in two different contexts. Where I’m from in Bafokeng, the idea is to get through my matric, get a good qualification, come back home and work in the mines. Rustenburg is still very much a mining town. Whereas where I teach, there’s much more of an entrepreneurial spirit there. So, I’m living in these two different worlds. These kids that I’m teaching are much more affluent, much wealthier and more set up differently from the kids who are coming from Bafokeng. I think the only fundamental difference is the rhetoric, what they’ve been fed on a daily basis. 

Where I teach a lot of the parents are in business already, so they get exposed to that.  I think that is the fundamental difference. On the one side, the idea is just to get a good job, be able to provide for your family and then have kids and retire gracefully. Entrepreneurship is not really encouraged as much as you would in a different context. So, I think that for a child not to get formal education as in go to university, it’s seen as a taboo. So for me, it’s also kind of challenging that mindset a little bit, because if anybody knows the kind of issues that we have in some Africa, they will attest to the fact that even a formal education in South Africa does not guarantee you a job. 

There are a lot of kids who get a university degree and then still can’t get a job. We’ve got engineers who can’t get a job in South Africa.  I think it’s the most practical way of seeing a different route to making a living for oneself.

Linda van Tilburg (00:06:58)

Tell us about your background, you mentioned where you come from and that you are a teacher.

Thebolo Mothshekgare

I think what really inspired me was the events of the Fees Must Fall Movement. I think what that did, besides the actual protest and learning about the plight and predicament of students who were definitely not from my background, was the challenges around education. The amount of learners who can’t get access to formal education, the number of students who get left out of the system, because there was a lot that happened beyond just the protests. I recall evenings where we would have long discussions about how to pinpoint what the actual issue is. 

That awakened my thinking around the challenges and obviously, they were further deepened when I got into the education space where I was inspired.  I think that if I have to just take another step back into my own background. I had phenomenal teachers who made me believe that I could be part of the change that I wanted to see.

I recall my history teacher. I forgot half of the things that she taught me, but I’ll never forget how she made me feel about being a part of the solution in this country. I’ve got mentors who have become friends who have guided me, inspired me and instilled this idea that nobody’s going to do it for you. 

If you study any community that is thriving, it is the people who took responsibility and who took charge of some of those issues. That is what inspired my own thinking and just my love for this country.

Thebolo Motshekgare (09:15.534)

Now, we’ve just gone through elections and just seen this process that many people take for granted. We’re a very young country. So, moments like these are quite memorable and they leave an emotional mark. When these things happen, they just continuously remind me that I have to be that change. It might not be a major role, but if I could play a role in the change, then I would have done my job as a responsible citizen. Lastly, I think this thought, very important for me, is Leruo Molotlegii, the current king of the Bafokeng nation. He said we are building the school, Lebone College, so that you can go out into the world and make an impact, but also go and learn from the world and come back. During the opening of the school, the new campus in 2010, late 2010, he reiterated this message over and over. I mean, lots of resources went into building that school. So, the idea was that we’re building this so that you can go out into the world, come back and contribute to your own community.

This is where I draw a lot of my inspiration. This is where I kind of, locate how I need to conduct myself as a responsible citizen. That’s the background of where and why I do what I do.

Linda van Tilburg (00:10:31)

Where do you want to take this?

Thebolo Motshegare(00:10:33)

The African continent has 54 countries, and this is what I continue to emphasise to my team: while we aspire to have a global presence, we also bear a responsibility toward our own continent. I draw inspiration from remarkable individuals like Fred Swaniker, the founder of the African Leadership Academy and African Leadership Universities. Similarly, Chinezi Chijioke, the founder of Nerva Pioneers, inspires me with his focus on creating an education system that cultivates problem-solving skills in young people.

So, for me in the next couple of years, it would really be getting a good footprint within the country but the long-term goal is to have all the African countries involved. That is my moonshot project is that we need to have a global reach. We’ve got some amazing people who have helped us to this point. We’ve got some friends in Canada, the likes of Leo Johnson and Mark Stewart, who I met when they were visiting the Royal Bafokeng King Nation and they’re doing some amazing work in Canada. They’ve been generous with their time and advising us to this point because there’s a lot of things that we overlook when building organisations and sustainability and accountability is one of those things that was a priority for me in everything that we do, the relationships that we build. 

When people look at Connect Hub, I don’t want them to look at just another non-profit organisation looking to gain money. That’s why we’re very serious about sustainability. So, for the next couple of years, 54 countries is kind of the big goal within the continent. Of course, we want to build relationships in other countries as well so that we can get them involved.

Because I know that the issues that I’m describing, particularly around curriculum, exist in other countries as well, because we speak to our colleagues, be it in the UK, be it in Switzerland, be it in Canada, be it in the United States, and all of these other areas. 

It’s the same issues where they’re thinking we’re not intentional enough about what we’re trying to build. So let’s put something together that is going to respond to some of those needs very intentionally.

That’s where we want to take this in the next couple of years. Hans de Bolo and Mocha Kharo, that’s a great aim to change education in South Africa, the way we teach and the way people think about education.

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