Having a dream is all very well, but it’s far better to have a vision says Dr Lwando Mdleleni, a senior researcher in social innovation and development at the University of the Western Cape. With a vision you can paint a clear mental portrait of where you want to be and how to navigate to get there. Mdleleni navigated himself through university to gain a PhD in development studies. Now as an employee he’s working on innovations to improve how the university collaborates with local communities.
“Higher education institutions are being increasingly challenged to respond more directly to economic and social needs. The growing demand is for them to emerge from the detached pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and address more directly the widening array of social problems facing humanity,” he says. “We are guided by the ethos of taking the university to the communities and bringing the community to the university.”
He was one of five children raised by a single mother. Although he won a bursary, it didn’t cover all his needs and the university’s Centre for Student Support Services bailed him out.
After university he joined Bidvest as a business developer, and set up an incubation programme that focused on developing small black businesses.
He’s also a founding director of Zenzeleni, a community-owned internet service provider in Mankosi in the Eastern Cape, which provides high-speed internet access to people in economically disadvantaged areas.
He’s also concerned with finding ways to help young black women achieve equality. “South African woman are facing tragic challenges every day, from gender-based violence to discrimination,” he says. As part of his PhD he helped rural women to access various opportunities, and he’s hoping to replicate those interventions now and scale to other marginalised communities.