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Education is the way out of poverty

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This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 07-Feb-2014 issue

We all know that South Africa’s school education system is in a shambles. But does this matter, if an overwhelming 81% believe that school does a bad job of preparing learners for the real world and the workplace? Actually, education is still the way out of poverty and here is living proof.

The anti-poverty power of education

The Association of MBAs (AMBA) recently chose Olebogeng Glad Dibetso, the top MBA student at GIBS for 2012, as its global winner for the AMBA/Independent MBA Student of the Year Award 2013. This is a remarkable accomplishment, given that that there are roughly 40,000 graduating MBA students at 204 AMBA-accredited business schools in more than 70 countries worldwide. Each year, every accredited business school in the world nominates one outstanding MBA graduate for the MBA Student of the Year Award. Entry criteria include academic achievement, career advancement potential, exceptional leadership and ambassador qualities. Glad outshone all the other entrants to take first place in this prestigious international competition.

Glad’s inspirational story began in Rustenburg, where he grew up. His mother’s advice to him was to strive for a good education, because education was the best escape route out of poverty. “My mother’s words (were) that no-one can take your education away from you.” Ambitious and motivated to succeed, Glad embraced his mother’s advice wholeheartedly. He says: “You can invest in a lot of things, but if you put your money into your mind, you’ll never lose it. You’ll always be gaining from it.”

Hardships on his journey, including the failure of a company and bankruptcy, only bolstered Glad’s drive and hunger to succeed. In his words: “I decided to do an MBA because I realised my business failed not only because of economic downturn, but also due to poor business principles I had applied.

Soon after he finished his MBA in 2012, Dimension Data promoted Glad to General Manager of West Africa in May 2013, at which time he relocated to Lagos. Just a few months later in October, he was promoted to the position of Managing Director: West Africa.

“Education is the difference between poverty and success. I am a true example that, even though the odds are against you due to your country of birth, the era of your youth or the poor economic circumstances, you can succeed if you persevere. So never stop striving to be the very best that you can be,” Glad says.

What are the implications for South Africa, and for Africa, of having a South African winner of the international AMBA competition? According to Glad: “This award is bigger than me. It is an award for the African nation. We can begin to value the quality of our business schools. It is no surprise that in the top six finalists we had two South African business schools. Let us continue to uphold the high standards of education in our tertiary institutions and more importantly, to spread it to other schools that need assistance or mentorship. This award is saying our schools are world-class, therefore we can begin to attract students from outside of our continent.  Africa is ready for the well-educated business people who will build the new African multinationals.”

“The African people must believe that we can transcend our circumstances and be the best in the world. When students enrol at university they need to realize how global we have become and they need to perform with the global mindset. We need to take the same attitude into the work place.”

Glad is the first African ever to win the AMBA Award. What is it about him that impressed the AMBA panel? AMBA’s Chief Executive, Andrew Main Wilson, explains: “Glad’s story shows that the best way to succeed is by using your talent for the benefit of others. We need inspirational leaders like him who are able to overcome adversity and have a positive impact on communities worldwide”.

What does Glad believe gave him the edge over other competitors? “I was born in an era were children fought to be educated and many died for it, therefore I took my MBA seriously,” he says. “I made the best of every learning opportunity in and out of the class.”

So what’s next for Glad now that the MBA is over? On a career level, as MD of West Africa he will be growing the region for Dimension Data, and hopefully moving into a global executive role in the next few years. On a personal level, his calling in life is education. He believes strongly that we need more people and more stories like this to come out, to inspire other young people in South Africa to rise above their circumstances through education. As he says: “Your circumstances do not define you. Your education is an investment in yourself that you never lose.” He wants to inspire young people to recognise that education is something to be proud of, “that education is the cool thing to do”. “You can travel and you can take jobs across the world because of being educated,” he asserts.

Giving is the best medicine

There is another powerful giving side to Glad that strikes you when he speaks. “This award represents the power of random acts of kindness,” he says. “As the African proverb goes: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. I am standing here today as a result of nurturing from my immediate and extended family, my community, my teachers, lecturers, mentors and most of all I am here today as a result of the good Samaritans along my path. People who go out of their way to train and to give their talent with passion. Therefore I dedicate this award to all the good Samaritans. Never stop reaching out to those less privileged than yourselves.”

“When the purpose is bigger than self, miracles can happen. The more I reached out to help others, the more I succeeded at both the MBA and my work.”

Glad recognises that he is the product of a lot of individuals who took the time to teach him and guide him along the way. And so, in the spirit of paying it forward, Glad works as a board member for BizSchool, an NGO that arose out of GIBS. This teaches township children the life skills and business skills they need for the marketplace and university. In a small way, he hopes to repay the people along his path by giving his time to mentor, coach and give direction to other students. Thanks to the AMBA award, Glad is able to do this on a bigger global scale than he could before, especially as AMBA’s global ambassador for the year. He also advises young people on career choices and what to study, because as he says: “If you’re not passionate about something, you’ll never be the best at it.” (Incidentally, he also donated his award prize money (€1000) to BizSchool).

The world needs inspiring leaders today more than ever. And we have them right here in SA. Olebogeng Glad Dibetso has used education to uplift himself out of poverty and onto the fast-track to career success. “If there is one message that I want to get across”, he says, “it is that it is possible to succeed against all the odds. However, quality education increases those odds significantly.”  And he is paying it forward by spreading his love for education to other young people. Well done to this inspirational ambassador for flying the South African flag high!

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

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