Could you start by introducing yourself?

Everything I do sits around a real core of wanting to take what we have around the world and make it a little bit better. I did start off with a finance and accounting background but quickly realized it didn’t allow me to fulfill my dreams of being able to really work and impact.  So I studied economic development and I got into lecturing, which has been one of the joys of my life.

Since then I’ve worked on all sorts of programs around economic development but the real core of it for me is working with entrepreneurs, with young people and finding ways of catalyzing people to achieve their own impacts. So, I’ve got a lot of experience across different accelerator programs. One of the prior prides of mine is a program that I started at the University of Cape Town, which pairs students with entrepreneurs from our townships and allows cross directional learning. All of that comes together in my company Accendio which is what I like to call a ”home for the sparks”.

For me, a spark is somebody that creates that ignition, creates that moment of change where you go from zero to one. So with Accendio, my overall goal is to bring people who want to work into the impact world and place them into great organizations, partner them with great people and allow for a space that can develop someone in the same way that a law firm might develop a lawyer or an accounting firm might develop an accountant. I want to be able to sit at that nexus between personal and global development.

When you think about building a sustainable future, what makes you optimistic?

There’s a lot that makes me optimistic at the moment. There’s a term that I like to use, which is the ‘’patchwork of development’’. What I’m loving about the way we’re all working towards a sustainable future is that everyone seems to be doing it in their own way and every little bit counts. So what makes me super excited is the organizations that have popped up that are doing work at scale and big important work funding operations. Catalyzing working with corporates and improving their sustainability but also the local, homegrown grassroots solutions of: ‘’oh, I’m just going to improve my house, my family, my street’’. All of those more ground-up solutions. I feel like the world is in this place where we realize that this is all our responsibility.

Impact doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. It can be impactful in smaller niches.

So many organizations are realizing that it will take a multifaceted patchwork approach to solve these complex issues. To achieve that sustainable future, we’re really looking at collaboration and not competition. So that gets me even more excited is that in the past, you kind of competed for a smaller pool of resources. Whereas now we’re trying to all work together to make sure everyone’s future is brighter. So what I’ve seen a lot in the development world is organizations that would never traditionally work together really kind of coming together to build a sustainable future. 

So, for example, one of the programs that I’m working on is called the Fight for Access accelerator. We’re partnering a big, multinational corporation with grassroots entrepreneurs in Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa and realizing that we’re working together towards the same objectives. We really want to make sure people have all of the things under our sustainable development goals. We can do that together instead of trying to compete for who can do it best.

What would you identify as the most common challenge among young, sustainable entrepreneurs, in South Africa and in a global sense, as well?

One of the real big challenges in terms of sustainability entrepreneurs, or people working in impact with a lens of having a sustainable business or sustainable model, is that you are fighting on a lot of different fronts. Entrepreneurship,as a journey, has been known to be incredibly difficult. When you throw in the other angle of sustainability, which is also really complex, you’re trying to solve two big problems at once.

By fighting on two fronts, there’s a lot of stuff that can feel insurmountable. If you’re trying to make your business sustainable, but you want to maximize the good that you do, sometimes it might feel like those don’t go hand in hand. Young people might be facing that more so when they’re trying to learn at the same time. Another thing that I find as a really common challenge at the moment is the inward-looking questions; ‘’is my work going to matter?’’, ‘’is my effort going to have an impact?’’. It becomes a confidence. A psychological side of understanding that impact doesn’t have to be big to be impactful. It can be impactful in smaller niches.

Then lastly, in terms of other things that entrepreneurs or our young, sustainable entrepreneurs are facing is; there’s an infinite number of things that you can work on. There’s an infinite number of things that you can fix. We struggle sometimes with understanding where our energy can have the most impact. So, if you’re looking at your own community and you realize there’s 100 different problems and trying to solve all 100 of them at the same time can be overwhelming, but that’s why I speak to the ‘’patchwork’’. Trusting that even if you’re not able to solve every problem, there’s maybe another young person that’s able to solve or another lots of other young people that are able to solve that.

What would be the most essential traits in any good leader? 

The idea of servant leadership is what really resonates with me and works really well with the impact world. Understanding that as a leader, your main objective is actually to serve the people that you’re leading. One of the entrepreneurs that I’ve been absolutely privileged to work with is Alef Meulenberg. He runs Rhiza Babuyile and he is possibly the best leader that I’ve ever encountered. He consistently speaks about the people in his team as they are there to be served by him. His job is to make their job more defined, easier and more impactful.

For example, they just opened up a new clinic in an underserved area around Cape Town. The nurses and staff that run the clinic have ownership in that clinic; they are empowered to be able to complain, speak up, and voice their opinions. To be able to say ‘’oh, we really need this’’. What that allows for is that as a leader, he doesn’t have to necessarily go and lead and know exactly what the clinic needs. He’s not a trained physician or nurse. He doesn’t know exactly what a clinic might need, but he’s empowered the people on the ground enough such that they can communicate upwards to him about exactly what the needs are of the organization and to hold them accountable. 

The most essential trait, especially if you’re being a good leader in the impact world is to understand that you are ultimately in a position of service. There’s a humility that comes with that such that you cannot reasonably do everything yourself, but what you can do is really empower people and put that pyramid upside down. Every time you build a layer of people that you’re leading, whether it’s in your community or in your company, you’re empowering them to be effective in a way that doesn’t take away from any levels of dignity. Instead, it allows them to be leaders in their own right. So, leadership being the strong man world in which you have to be harsh and cruel to be efficient all the time can really get turned on its head.

Thanks so much. Thanks for your time. It’s been such a pleasure!

Thank you! I wish all the best for all of the beVisioneers Cohort. 

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  1. ZoeGreat insights Rowan - thank you!

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