Limpopo-raised businessman and philanthropist Tim Tebeila started the Tim Tebeila Foundation in 2008.
The Foundation is involved primarily in education and youth leadership programmes. Two years ago, it joined forces with Usher’s New Look Foundation to stimulate youth leadership.
Tebeila says that mentoring up-and-coming visionaries who are empowered with the requisite skills to access quality jobs and become entrepreneurs is critical to South Africa’s development.
Tebeila, a former school teacher, is the founder of Sekoko Resources, a mining and minerals resource company, as well as the non-executive chairman of Firestone Energy Limited.
In 2011, he was one of the Top 20 Forbes Africa Person of the Year. His latest venture is an insurance offering, Reliance Life.
Q: Like many rural learners, as a child you walked 15km barefoot to school every day. What made you get up and do the trip daily and how has it forged you into the man you are today?
A: I understood the value of education, something that my parents and other community role models had inculcated in me. It was the only way to improve the quality of life in the rural area.
Q: You are a former school teacher, is it this background that has informed your decision to concentrate on educational and youth programmes?
A: It is an add-on to an earlier understanding of the role of education. Even during apartheid we knew that what we learnt could not be taken out of our minds and brains. Education gives one the opportunity for enlightenment, exposure and knowledge, which then offers endless opportunities of what is possible.
Q: Much of your educational work has been in Limpopo-based schools. How do you intervene and what has that intervention reaped?
A: Limpopo is one of three poorest provinces in the country and the major focus of the Tim Tebeila Foundation. Some of the schools are under-resourced with learning material, electricity and other basic necessities. We believe we can reduce the burden by providing warm clothing against the winter chill, and shoes to those who have none.
We have taken the liberty of researching what the school children require on a daily basis, and found that warm clothing in winter such as track suits, socks and shoes help facilitate the learning atmosphere in any child.
Above that, we have a history of helping learners that are heading households, mostly orphans, who have potential to go through tertiary studies with the help of our bursary and scholarship programme. We later assist them to find employment.
One of the legacies of apartheid was poor education among the majority of the citizens of the country. This impedes the development of technical skills, which modern mines and other businesses rely on. We believe there is a gap between people who get the chance to make the most of their talents and those who don’t, and providing everyone with education and resources is the key to closing this gap.
Quality education is a prime ingredient to providing access to employment, economic prosperity, improved quality of life and personal fulfilment and growth.
Q: Two years ago, you joined forces with Usher’s New Look Foundation and last year five students were chosen to attend the World Leadership Conference in Atlanta. How did that partnership come about?
A: Usher’s Performance in Joburg last year presented an opportunity to bring his Foundation’s Global Leadership Model to South African youth. This initiative is in line with our foundation’s aggressive long-term strategy, to select top-performing students and then train them in leadership, social entrepreneurship and to prioritise their education, so they can be successful throughout their careers.
New Look’s programmes are a good fit with our Certificate Programme in Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation for Youth, which is aimed at providing unemployed graduates with entrepreneurial know-how and skills while developing their self-esteem, attitude to success and self-belief.
Q: What did the five young people take away from that experience and how did they share it?
A: The five young South Africans who were chosen to represent their country at the World Leadership Conference joined 245 other young people from eight different countries to have a global dialogue about real issues affecting their current generation.
During this conference, which took place in Atlanta, they interacted with other young people in the community and further developed their leadership potential by meeting and shadowing leaders from global corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company, Georgia Power, AT&T, Ford and General Electric.
These youth returned to give back to their communities by sharing their experiences, so that the other students are encouraged to lead better lives and aspire to contribute positively to their country.
One of the students, Khalisha Bheemraj, said of the experience: ‘I believe I can make a great leader one day, and understand the power of integrity in everything I do.
‘Some of the stories that other students shared about their pasts reminded me that as the youth we should never ever give up on our dreams and that it is possible to always practice what one preaches.’
Q: How are you taking the partnership with New Look forward in 2013?
A: As a philanthropic organisation, we view this journey as a cause for optimism and as a blueprint for change. We have a special role going forward, to nurture these young leaders as well as to encourage others to start community service projects.
Furthermore, we will utilise our power, both in the private and nonprofit sector, our knowledge, and practical experience to leverage off resources to support the establishment of the Powered By Service model in South Africa to support our broader Youth Development Programme.
Q: You handed over a renovated building to St Joseph Catholic Mission in 2011 for Mandela Day when you realised the Mission didn’t have the facilities needed to service the community. The building has a daycare centre and Hospice, which can accommodate 100 orphans in Brits in North West. What is the foundation’s project this year?
A: During this Mandela month and Mandela Day in particular, we made a contribution to the upgrading of Clarkebury Senior Secondary School’s science lab, an Eastern Cape heritage school. The school played an important role in the development of youth in South African history, with Nelson Mandela being a product of this institution.
Working with our partner, SABS, we will sponsor laboratory equipment and the handover will take place later this month. We will also be doing our annual winter blanket drive to the elderly in need of some warmth in rural areas.
Q: One of the pillars of your foundation is ‘a culture of volunteerism’. How do you think we go about inculcating this into society at large?
A: The foundation has developed a model to fundamentally change how young people succeed and participate as leaders throughout the world. We want to see a generation of service-minded young leaders. Through innovative programming, we have developed programmes that are designed to ensure:
1. Underserved and at-risk youth find success in talent, education, entrepreneurship and voluntary service to make a difference in their own communities;
2. Youth are viewed as essential participants in solving local and global issues; and
3. Youth participate in local, national and global decision making around issues such as tertiary institution access, bullying, health, disaster relief and the environment.
Q: Your foundation makes investments that would be considered ‘high-risk and high-reward’ – but not in the economic sense of the word. How do you encourage more people to make long-term investments in other people’s potential?
A: The foundation has learnt to be responsive to the needs of the poor and those marginalised in society. Our vision is to educate children from impoverished and rural communities, particularly orphans as we believe that a good-quality education will not only make their futures brighter, but it will restore their pride and dignity, where lost.
An investment in those individuals, in the form of mentorship, by just giving them your time and sharing your experiences, whether as a successful businessman, or a professional, can go a long way in changing at least one person’s perspective on life, and this will make a difference in just that one individual, which will be a catalyst to their success.
Q: Do you think the nature of philanthropy is changing?
A: Yes and no. In South Africa we no longer wait for overseas donors because many South Africans make donations every day in different ways and South African businesses like Sekoko Group make large donations through their CSI programmes.
Some business people who understand the responsibility to give back in recognition of what God has done for them also contribute to philanthropy like my family does through the foundation.
Q: What is your favourite story about ‘giving’?
A: As a Christian who started this foundation as a way of thanking God for what he has and continues to give to me, I will tell a story that I often preach in churches.
Once there was a scientist who would spend days in his lab searching for answers to the problems of the world. One day, his seven-year-old son asked to help. The scientist, worried about his son’s interruption, thought of something to give his child to distract his attention.
He found a magazine in which there was a map of the world. With scissors, he cut the map into pieces, grabbed some duct tape and gave all that to his son and said: ‘Since I know how much you like jigsaw puzzles, I am going to give you the world all cut into pieces so that you repair it all by yourself.’
After a few hours, he heard his child’s voice calling him. ‘Dad, I finished repairing the map.’ The father thought that it was impossible that his son could repair it without ever seeing it before. Surprisingly, he noticed that the map was very well put together, with all the pieces in the correct place. How was that possible?
The father asked, amazed: ‘My child, you didn’t know how the world was. How did you do it?’ The child answered: ‘Dad I didn’t know how the world was … but when you were cutting the map into pieces, I noticed that on the other side, there was the shape of a man. So I turned each little piece over and started to repair the man. When I had repaired the man, I turned it over and saw that I had repaired the world.’
This story teaches us that when we give our time to repairing and working on each individual’s hopes and dreams, we can repair the ills of the world.
» This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust
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