The Story Behind the Entrepreneur who Opened South Africa’s first Free University 

Trans. By John Converse Townsend

Dr. Taddy Blecher had a crazy idea.At the time, back in 1995, he was an up-and-coming South African actuary making a comfortable salary—and packing up to move to the United States. Then everything changed.
“I was 27 years old and had whatever I wanted financially. But I really started to feel unhappy about the thought of leaving my country, given that so much damage had been caused in South Africa, so many divisions between people,” he said. “I just gave up everything. I just jumped off a cliff.”
Dr. Blecher didn’t actually jump off a cliff, of course, but he did take a big leap of faith. Dr. Blecher gave up his salary to join a nonprofit serving school-age children in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township.
“I went into the township for the first time and four huge guys rocked my car. I’m this, like, little, weedy guy and I thought I was going die that first day of changemaking in the townships.”
But he wouldn’t change a thing, describing his journey into social purpose leadership as the best time of his life, “unimaginably wonderful.”
Back to Dr. Blecher’s crazy idea: he wanted to build South Africa’s first free university. Because the resourceful, witty, and bright children he worked with in Alexandra couldn’t access higher education—they had no money. And they didn’t have the time or failure-tested skills to start their own businesses. Dr. Blecher couldn’t stand to see great potential wasted.
“We wanted to show that young people, even street kids, could be accountants, merchant bankers, stock brokers, Java programmers, engineers, anything they wanted to be,” Dr. Blecher said. “If we could prove that, then we could show that all these youth being thrown away in their millions in this country are actually the greatest assets of the future of Africa.”
Long story short, Dr. Blecher and his team succeeded. Big-time. They’ve opened six Maharishi Institute campuses across the country. And along the way, they’ve granted more than 15,000 young people without the cash or grades required pursue a university education with the chance of a lifetime.
And while the institute is indeed free for scholars, who also get real-world job experience and earn money for four hours every week, it’s no cakewalk (even with open book exams). But Maharishi’s programming is incredibly effective.
“It’ a 50-hour a week, very intensive, four-year internationally recognized business degree,” Dr. Blecher said. “We’ve got a 98 percent job placement rate. Employers love these graduates.”
How does Maharishi’s magic work?
“We’ve really tried to reinvent the way university education is done. We’re using an approach called consciousness-based education and we focus truly on the whole person, not just on learning some content. We don’t do memorization.”
“A person’s empathy, emotional intelligence, their creativity, their ability to think out of the box, their ability to solve problems in a logical way, ask good questions, work with other people … all these things are fundamental [to success in today’s world] and yet they’re not really fundamentally built into a normal university learning process—well, certainly not in a traditional South African university.”
Dr. Blecher has plenty of wisdom for aspiring innovators. And like his programming at Maharishi, he’s willing to share it free of charge.
Here are the key takeaways from his one-hour session.
1) Just get started.

“What you do is do the best you can. We do what changemakers do. First, you create your own models where you’ve got independence and autonomy, where you can prove things to be working and keep control.
“So, by creating models that work, you give hope to people that it is possible and that everything is possible.”
For that reason, don’t be afraid to radically invent yourself. Dr. Blecher did and look what happened.
2) Find the right partners.

“It’s very important to find the people who care about action, who are accountable, who’re responsible, who are caring, who believe in their own country, believe in their youth, and are prepared to put their careers on the line to fight for an ideal.
“Those are people to work with. And then all the people who just talk a lot, do absolutely nothing, just stay away, don’t waste your time, and just don’t work with people like that.”
3) Fight for what’s right.

“I don’t think we should ever let our ideals fall because we see corruption around us or weakness around us. We have to hold to the highest ideals, take action, think wisely, move quickly, and apologize later. Always have that policy, apologize later.”
People need you: your passion, skills, and leadership.
As Dr. Blecher said, getting people employed, developing their potential, making a difference—those things “are not going to go out of fashion.”
Culled from Ashoka, Mastercard Foundation Course “Future Forward Africa” 


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