Following on from the Talent Unleashed winners’ week at The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, I spent some R & R in the Western Cape before returning to Johannesburg to join the Virgin Connection trip.
The Connection Trip is a gathering of highly accomplished international entrepreneurs who join Richard Branson and Virgin Unite CEO Jean Oelwang for five days of insight into the organisation’s activities and partnerships in South Africa, all of which culminated into a weekend at Richard’s private safari reserve at Ulusaba.
Day One – A meeting with Thabang Skwabane
I met with Thabang Skwambane of Lonely Road Foundation. Previously a Corporate Banker, Thabang decided to devote his life to the orphans of HIV victims. He looks after 4,000 kids in 16 centres around South Africa and is about to start on an innovative crowd funding scheme to build a state of the art centre to incubate start ups and business ideas in order to build self sufficient communities.
Thabang expressed a keen interest to represent the Talent Unleashed Awards across the African ‘diamond’ which is Jo’Burg, Lagos, Nairobi, and Cairo – might take you up on that one!
Day Two –Sightseeing and storytelling
We experienced the most highly informative tour of Johannesburg with the passionate Gerald Garner, a well published celebrity tour guide. The tour involved a walk through the Constitutional Court, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s and Oliver Tambo’s original legal practice, and an insight into Ghandi’s time in Johannesburg where his experiences formed his future destiny.
Later in the evening, we were spellbound by Shaka Sissulu (grandson of Walter Sissulu – mentor and close friend of the late Nelson Mandela). Shaka shared with the table a first hand narration of the history on the struggle against apartheid and the unbreakable bond of the African National Congress (ANC).
Day Three – A day in Soweto with the Starkey Hearing Foundation
A highly emotive day as we went into the field with Bill Austen and the folks from Starkey Hearing Foundation who provides hearing for the first time to many disadvantaged people in the township of Soweto.
Bill donates his time to providing hearing solutions to over 150,000 each year in the developing world. Following some basic instructions from Bill, the team and I were able to test and fit hearing devices to the many people gathered there. An amazing and uplifting experience!
After the day’s events, we went on to spend the evening listening to the truly inspiring Taddy Blecher who turned his back on the corporate world to build his own education centres such as CIDA, for disadvantaged locals with transcendental meditation a key part of his approach.
His results and methods have been astonishing, producing in excess of 1000 business- related graduates from the most unlikely of sources.
Day Four & Five – Ulusaba
We were up early on day four for a private charter to Ulusaba which is situated in the Sabie Sands area and close to the Mozambique border.
On arrival at Ulusaba, we were greeted by the ever jovial Richard Branson and sat down for a very pleasant lunch overlooking his private reserve.
The next two days were a combination of venturing out on safari and checking out Virgin Unite’s local community projects teamed with animated discussions relating to making the world a better place. And of course plenty of wining and dining!
I was pleased to have the opportunity to run a few ideas past Richard and the Virgin team and am hopeful that we can develop some interesting initiatives in 2015.
In summary, the wildlife was unbelievable, the company was inspiring, and the wine went down far too well. A very special experience!
All the 5am starts and late evenings meant a very weary crew boarded the plane back to Jo’Burg to participate in a Q&A session at the Branson Centre.
The session was led by Richard and a group of local business leaders; who answered questions relating to challenges faced by a group of local entrepreneurs; a fantastic and insightful way to wrap up the five amazing days on the Connection Trip.
Thanks to Richard and Jean and also a big thank you to Suse Collier and Bridget Baker from Virgin who ran the whole experience like clockwork.