From Vision to Action: Alistair Mokoena sets up an Education Fund

[L-R] Vice-Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Ms Simphiwe Sono, Mr Nhlakanipho Cele and Dr Alastair Mokoena
[L-R] Vice-Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Ms Simphiwe Sono, Mr Nhlakanipho Cele and Dr Alastair Mokoena

By The Division of Communication and Advancement


“A visionary with a heart to empower others to break through.” That is how Google South Africa Country Director Dr Alistair Mokoena has been described after launching the Alistair Mokoena Education Fund at his alma mater, Rhodes University. The announcement was made at a lively alumni event in Makhanda in April. 

Dr Mokoena, the author of a top-selling book ‘Servings Of Self-Mastery’, has contributed the first R100 000 to the Fund, to reduce the debt owed by Honours students, many of whom would otherwise enter the working world on the backfoot

As a start,  two bursaries valued at R50 000 each have been awarded to two deserving students studying towards their Honours degrees at Rhodes University.

Dr Mokoena says more must be done to improve access to quality education, address gender inequality, and train African innovators and job creators.

In a moving speech at the launch of the Fund, Dr Mokoena urged students to be problem solvers.

“Google was started by two PhD students at Stanford University who had a passion for solving society’s challenges. They asked questions like ‘what if we could index all the websites in the world and make them accessible to everyone through a simple search query?' Today, Google search handles eight billion queries a day,” he said.

“The question that led to Gmail was ‘what if we created a free email account for everyone that had the capacity of 1GB instead of being limited to 100MB?’ The question that led to YouTube was, ‘what if we created a platform that allowed anyone to inform, educate and entertain?’ As you can see, all great ideas start with the words ‘what if’,” said Mokoena.

On a continent where around 500 million people live below the poverty line, with limited access to schooling, Dr Mokoena highlighted the critical role of education in providing hope and shaping the future.

“We must see many more dreamers, inventors, creators, leaders, and problem solvers. All you need is to identify a problem that speaks to your heart and then dedicate your life, your talents, and your resources to solving it,” said Mokoena.

This is exactly what one of the beneficiaries of the Fund, Simphiwe Sono, 23, aims to do. Sono, who is doing her honours in Mathematical Statistics, says the bursary has been a lifeline.

“When I found out that I had received the funding, I was so excited. I was relieved that some of the financial burden would be removed from my mum and dad. I called my parents in tears to tell them the good news. I was over the moon. It is such a privilege to receive this, especially at postgraduate level,” she said.

“I grew up in a township. My parents have always been my superheroes. They have tried to give me the world. My dad had to put many of his plans on hold to prioritise paying for my education. My family supported my dream even though it came at a high price,” she said.

Another recipient, Nhlakanipho Cele, 23, says that when he received the good news about the funding, he promptly Googled Dr Mokoena.

“I was eager to see who this man was and what kind of person would do something so kind. The Google search results showed me the type of man I want to be when I grow up,” he said.

Cele, who hails from Umlazi, south of Durban, says many people have helped him on his journey and spurred him on to keep pushing, even under tough financial circumstances.

“I live off campus, and I pay rent from the money I make after selling colognes and perfumes. It’s tough, but it is all part of my growth. I have received a lot of attention from my family, my home, and Rhodes University. Now, it is my turn to work hard, be consistent, and aim for the top so that I, too, can give back. I thank God for this opportunity, and I will strive for greatness,” said Cele.

Sono has encouraged others to contribute whatever is within their means to the Fund.

“It is a genuine investment in the production of knowledge. Students are doing important research at Rhodes University – research that can and will make a difference. I am so grateful for the opportunity to study. One day, I will also give back and empower others. “

The Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sizwe Mabizela, congratulated the Fund's first recipients and expressed his gratitude to Dr Mokoena “for being an answer to somebody’s prayer". He said the establishment of the Fund came at a time when universities around the country were facing diminishing financial support both from the government and private sector, particularly at the postgraduate level.   

For Dr Alistair Mokoena, the Fund is just one way to change people’s lives.

“True happiness lies in serving a higher purpose,” he said. “Our humanity is intertwined, and to whom much is given, much is expected," he said, quoting from scripture.

If you would like to contribute to the Dr Alistair Mokoena Education Fund, please contact the Alumni Relations Unit by email: or phone: +2746 603 8516.