MBA student bridges the gap between poverty and pursuing dreams
MBA student Thami Malope is passionate about education. His dream is to rally unemployed graduates to volunteer and impart their knowledge and expertise to young people who cannot afford tertiary education. In his dream, he sees graduates with a law degree offering their time by teaching those who cannot afford to study law, the basics of a law degree.
Thami believes that this exchange of knowledge will give unemployed youth a reason to get off the streets and start small businesses while providing many of South Africa’s unemployed graduates an opportunity to stay busy and add some form of work experience to their CVs.
“The township has so much untapped knowledge, but we do not have proper channels to distribute it. On the other hand, we have many underprivileged young people who are hungry for knowledge and development but do not have money to pursue their dreams,’ Thami explained.
“I want to bridge that gap.”
Self-funded dreams for self-made success
It is a big dream for the Stellenbosch Business School MBA student who was hit with a personal setback when COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were introduced in 2020. Most MBA students are normally funded by the big corporate companies they work for, but Thami is paying for his own MBA, and things started falling apart when the pandemic hit.
The 34-year-old Chartered Accountancy graduate from Hammanskraal township outside of Pretoria stepped into 2020 with excitement to pursue his dream of adding an MBA degree to his profile. His property business was doing so well that he decided to register for a self-funded MBA at Stellenbosch Business School.
He had made his calculations and knew he would be able to pay the money by the end of the two years required to complete an MBA.
A crossroad of crises
Three months into his studies, the whole world shut down. Construction work was not classified as an essential service. Therefore, his residential construction projects closed and were among the last group of industries that resumed operating around October, when most economic restrictions were lifted.
“When lockdown happened, the business school immediately moved to remote learning. Like many South Africans, I did not have a reliable internet connection. So, I struggled to connect to classes. Our house was full of relatives who came to live with us because no one knew how the situation would turn out. So, my mom opened our home for relatives to move in. There was an aunt, a baby, a close family friend, and a musician uncle under one roof. It was chaotic,’ said Thami.
While he was trying to adjust to his new living arrangement and figuring out how to manage online classes, his income dried up.
“My business had to shut down. I could not earn an income, and I could not apply for a bursary because companies were closed. I went through 7 months of absolutely no income,’ he explained.
“I felt extremely challenged, but I did not feel defeated,’ the serial entrepreneur added.
Falling back does not mean falling far
The young businessman decided to dig deep and revert to his qualification as a Chartered Accountant, taking on odd jobs helping people with their taxes and accounting for their companies.
“That’s when I saw the value of formal education. When all else fails, you can always fall back on your education. It’s the one lesson I always teach young people, to first get their degree, then they can go into business,’ said the former UJ graduate.
The income that Thami earned was only enough for him to pay for his living expenses but could not cover his tuition fees. By the end of 2020, he was in debt. Resources were low, and there was hardly any quiet space at home for him to sit down and focus on his studies. He had too much on his plate, and he could not proceed with his studies.
“I contacted the head of the MBA program at the business school, told him I could not pay my fees and asked him to give me a year to recover. So, I took a gap year in 2021 while my debt was gaining monthly interest,’ he said.
“Being in business has taught me that everything happens in cycles. There have been cycles where I had a lot of money coming in, and there were cycles when things were dry. So, I knew that the financial difficulty did not define who I am. I was not embarrassed at all to make that request. I just needed to re-calibrate,” commented Thami.
New roads to the same destination
Thami holds two honours degrees from the University of Johannesburg in Investment Management and Accounting, respectively. This is where he met and tutored a classmate called Dale Fortuin, who was impressed with him and would later become one of his closest friends to date. When Thami started having financial difficulties with his tuition fees for his honours degree at UJ, Dale told his story to his mother. She then relayed the information to a successful investment banker, Rob Hamer. As a result, the banker and his wife generously stepped in and co-funded Thami’s academic journey to become a Chartered Accountant.
Rob Hamer also became Thami’s first private lender when the young man and his UJ business partners were in a financial crisis to get funding from banks to cover their first property development project. They managed to pay Rob all the money he loaned them, plus interest.
While building his property business on the side, Thami worked in the banking sector. He has worked for FNB and for Standard Bank.
A success story in the making
The budding property investor has weathered many financial storms to get to where he is. The MBA financial challenge clearly inconvenienced him but did not derail him.
“Personal or business financial constraints don’t render any plan impossible; they just mean you have more thinking to do”, he added.
He is now back in class to complete the last few modules of his MBA with a new modular cohort. The group he started with has since graduated in the previous year. His fees are up to date, and he is set to graduate with the class of 2022.
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