Giant jump to the country's top 10%

Paying it forward: TSiBA has two campuses: in Pinelands, Cape Town and Karatara near Knysa

Paying it forward: TSiBA has two campuses: in Pinelands, Cape Town and Karatara near Knysa

From the moment they enter the campus, new recruits at the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA) are encouraged to “pay it forward”. The immediate result is that you’ll find students mentoring, tutoring and encouraging each other to the point that it becomes an approach to life.

“We looked at how we could create a multiplier effect to our vision of igniting opportunity and it comes back to this simple idea that, if you do something kind for one person, they will do something kind for the next person,” said founders Leigh Meinert and Gia Whitehead.

The approach has proved enormously successful for the private, non-profit university. It aims not only to teach traditional commerce and business skills to underprivileged youth, but to develop its students to become entrepreneurial leaders who ignite opportunity and social change.

 “After four years in this system it becomes part of their DNA and they find many creative ways of paying it forward in their communities,” the founders said.

At its two campuses in Pinelands, Cape Town, and Karatara near Knysna, the university offers an embedded support model. This includes an active student support centre, access to registered psychologists and a thorough mentorship programme where every student is connected to a mentor.

The idea is to graduate whole, centered individuals who not only have the requisite business knowledge and skills, but also a healthy sense of self.

It’s this, said the founders, that sets TSiBa’s graduates apart and makes them highly desirable employees.

“Businesses tell us, ‘we can teach them the business skills, what we want is someone with the right attitude, someone who’ll take responsibility and shows leadership and emotional maturity’. So in effect we’re reversing the order by placing emphasis on the soft skills and then looking at the business skills. These days we have companies that come to us and say ‘we only want TSiBA  graduates’,” said Meinert and Whitehead.

Since it began in 2004, TSiBA has awarded more than 1 200 full-tuition scholarships to school leavers who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford tertiary education. The majority of these (83%) are the first in their families to enter tertiary education.

Altogether 95% of its graduates are employed or pursuing further education. Five graduates have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships, two are Alan Gray Orbis Fellows and one has been awarded a Kofi Annan Fellowship.

To qualify for the certificate in practical business administration or the higher certificate in business administration and ultimately the bachelor of business administration, students must have a grade 12 and a bachelor’s pass.

“Because the level of that pass is often inferior because of where they’ve gone to school, we create a bridge. What we are really trying to do is say, ‘get your matric’ and when they do graduate, to catapult them to the top 10% of the country’s earners. That jump is the space we are trying to play in,” said Meinert  and Whitehead.