He asked whether he could meet me, as he had recently co-founded a nonprofit organisation, the Student Business Council (SBC) and is its CEO.
I explained that I am in Grahamstown, and he replied that he knew this. I made an appointment with him and he took a bus from Joburg to the Eastern Cape. I was so impressed with his commitment and drive that I agreed to sit on the organisation’s advisory board.
“Students and most young people are so keen to learn about business and what it takes to be an entrepreneur, but many are studying courses that are not related to entrepreneurship, or business management studies,” Tshabalala said.
“This needs to be mobilised at a national level through a body with a formal structure and governance board that can engage with higher education institutions, business and government.”
He told me that he grew up in Bodibe village in the North West and is a graduate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), with a national diploma in engineering: computer systems. He is currently completing his BTech in management services at UJ.
He told me about the SBC’s co-founder and chief financial officer. Imani Munyai (23) is from Mashamba village in Limpopo. He is also a graduate of UJ, with a BTech in environmental health, currently working at the WF Knobel Hospital in Polokwane.
Both of them believe in “thinking beyond the headlines”, which, Tshabalala complained “frequently focus on economic gloom and youth unemployment”.
He said they don’t accept that this is their generation’s fate, and that is why they are committed to youth employment through empowerment, which they believe can improve the country’s economy and reduce poverty as well as unemployment.
“We believe the SBC will be the bridge between students and the business world,” Tshabalala said. “The SBC will assist all aspiring business people and entrepreneurs at tertiary institutions by bringing business and entrepreneurial information to them on campus.
“We will achieve this by hosting various business programmes, such as business seminars and entrepreneurship talks, at institutions of higher learning, and we will assist students with financial information, such as how to apply for funding for a start-up.”
The SBC has established a board of five student directors including their marketing director Sharlotte Madiseng and Thokozani Shablala, both UJ students.
“At the moment, the SBC is running at a zero budget, which is why all of us are from UJ, but this is just the start: our goal is to reach all the higher education institutions and to recruit board members from all of them.
“The SBC is a registered non-profit organisation and we aspire to have it registered as a structure at a range of universities and colleges,” Tshabalala said.
“For now, we have started approaching successful entrepreneurs, business people, and business schools to advise us on how to make the SBC a success and benefit the community. We also want to develop strong relationships with the corporate world to secure internships and jobs for graduates.
“Another goal is to develop relationships with the appropriate people in government, so that we can encourage government to not only invest more in student start-ups and businesses owned by students and young people, but also to streamline the process of applying for assistance.”
As he spoke, it took me back to when I was a student at Rhodes University when the student-run organisation Aiesec made a huge impact on me. It was all about leadership development, internships, training and exchanges that prepared students for the world.
The SBC could not have launched at a better time. There is a huge gap on our campuses for this kind of organisation today, and I was so impressed with Tshabalala that I want to help the SBC get off the ground and grow.
All entrepreneurs, businesses and corporates can assist by offering their time, experience and resources when the SBC hosts talks and seminars for students.
The SBC would be extremely appreciative of this and I believe it would offer an invaluable opportunity for people in business to engage with students and find out what they are thinking, and how they see SA’s future economy and their place in it.
• Contact Jabulane Tshabalala on 072 496 5569 or firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in Business Day on Wednesday, 25 May 2016.