Dr. Taddy Blecher of Johannesburg, South Africa has developed a
new model for business education.
Six years ago his CIDA City Campus had shoestring funding and a
few students. Now it has four buildings, 1,500 enrollees in its business programs, and is serving as a model for tertiary education in
the Developing World.
The foundation of his work rests not only only on corporate
partnerships, but also on the South African concept of ubuntu,
which refers to giving or sharing. Ubuntu is not at all like charity
because its model is not restricted to the rich giving down to the
In this spirit, by sharing his charismatic enthusiasm and talent with his homeland,
he is enabling many impoverished but talented students to succeed when heretofore
they would have lived out hopeless lives.
addy Blecher’s dream has been to radically alter the business of business
education so that disadvantaged students become entrepreneurs and
active partners in a growing economy. He has found a way to engage companies in an interdependent and creative web of innovative partnerships,
so that students who, under the prevailing circumstances never would have
access to tertiary education, could attend a business school. In South Africa
Taddy has invented new forms of corporate responsibility that enrich companies and students in tangible and intangible ways as well. The hearts and
lives of many have been profoundly changed.
This university offers a four-year Bachelor of Business Administration degree
that emphasizes entrepreneurship, business science, and technology. But
it goes much further, focusing on holistic skills development critical to the
world of work. Creativity, self-confidence, stress reduction, and meditation
are taught alongside marketing, strategy and corporate finance.
At 38, Blecher has successfully turned his vision into a highly successful reality. What underpins Taddy’s driving philosophy?
“If you recognize the interconnectedness of all people within an economy, if
you start caring for the people to get out of the poverty circle, you ultimately
increase the ability for all to create more wealth. It is not by looking only after
yourself that you work for the good of everybody; it is by looking after everybody that you ultimately create the basis of wealth for yourself.”
In the language of his homeland Taddy’s generosity of spirit is called ubuntu.
Ubuntu is about being so deeply connected to mankind that your identity is
defined by what you give to that community. It’s about the desire to enhance
and enrich others as a pathway to your own personal social, economic and
The founding of CIDA (Community and Individual Development Association)
City Campus by Taddy Blecher and others unfolded a true example of ubuntu,
presenting a new model of social entrepreneurship, business education and
corporate responsibility apt for the 21st century
“I grew up in a Western economic model. This approach has created a few
wealthy nations in this world, and it has led to a situation where there are a
relatively small number of very wealthy people. However, it has left the majority of the people in the world extremely poor. This model creates a few
winners and an enormous number of “losers.” Just consider that there are
still about four billion people living in poverty. That is not really a successful
formula for the evolution of the human race.
“My father always taught me that there is always only one winner. So it was
not good enough to be the second-best in school, one had to be the best.
However, your own winning depended on other people losing. Then I went
to university and studied economics. The first thing that came out of the
lecturer’s mouth was that economic principles are about fighting for the
allocation of scarce resources. Only the best would gain access to those re-
sources, only the fittest could survive. So all the traditional economic theories supported the win/lose perspective.
“However, I found out that there are a few things that the economic theories did not factor in. While certain resources certainly are limited, the
human brain and the possibilities it can create are infinite. And humans’
creativity is infinite. Humans went to the moon, human minds invented
Microsoft and the Internet, connecting the whole world and making former
ways of communicating messages obsolete.
“So, for example, the scarcity of wood for building ships to transport information through paper envelopes is not relevant anymore, as humans
have developed new ways to communicate across the ocean with the help
of their engineering skills. This metaphor applies to many other areas. The
world is in co-existence with the so-called scarce resources on the one
hand and infinite resources on the other hand. So, as there are surely limited and scarce resources, the one thing that had to be developed further
is the human mind, as it is in our own individual and collective imagination
that the potential for endless creativity and boundless options reside.
“I realized that the dominating theory of scarce resources has led to the
win/lose logic, which also created apartheid in South Africa. It was the
belief that there is not enough for everyone and that therefore the black
people had to be excluded from the wealth of this country.”
Taddy’s and CIDA’s success have been recognized both in South Africa and
internationally. In 2002 Taddy was selected by the World Economic Forum as a
Global Leader of Tomorrow. Three years after, the same organization selected
him to serve as one of 234 Young Global Leaders who are internationally
prominent and share a commitment to shaping the global future.
In fact, CIDA is fast becoming a hub for academics all over the world. Professors visiting from Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Cambridge, the London School of
Economics, and Rutgers are examples of many who have come to research
and understand CIDA’s unique and highly effective educational model. Oprah
Winfrey has visited and donated over $1 million to build a new student residence. Other well-known leaders and celebrities, including the Dalai Lama,
Richard Branson, Tom Peters, Suze Orman, Edward de Bono, and the Lord
Mayor of the City of London have visited the campus.
CIDA City Campus – how it all started
CIDA City Campus is a place where the poorest of the poor can receive a tertiary level business education at a fraction of what it costs elsewhere. Noticing the many barriers to entry to business schools, which still recruit mostly
financially privileged white South Africans, Taddy and his colleagues felt
inspired to start CIDA six years ago.
He says, “A key question for me was, ‘How can we take society to a higher level on a big scale?’ Look at the key problems in African countries: the economy
is not growing fast enough. There is unemployment, poverty, lack of engagement, lack of creativity, lack of entrepreneurship, corruption, crime, AIDS, etc.
Many of these problems are linked, and ultimately I see them all as human problems. You know, it is not just about an economy expanding by X percent
per year; it is also about people growing X percent per year.
“Take the problem of crime: we are installing all kinds of camera systems to
spot criminals; we have huge police forces in South Africa. All these are reactive solutions to crime. If society could manage to develop a more pro-active
solution to crime, we could start seeing the human dimensions behind crime
and then find a human solution on a deep level – that could make a real difference.”
The campus enrolled its first students in 1999 in an old building in the heart
of Johannesburg’s central district. When many of her friends thought that
Taddy was overly idealistic, Barbara Nussbaum, one of the co-authors of this
article, spent six months of her career with him, earning a modest salary,
because she believed in Taddy’s dream and worked with him when CIDA was
nothing more than a concept on paper.
“I recall spending a few days driving around Johannesburg with Taddy during 1998, when many businesses with beautiful buildings in the city centre
were simply abandoning their offices to escape the effects of rising crime.
One after another, companies were moving their staff to safer locations in
the suburbs. Taddy had his heart set on a particular building owned by Anglo
American, on Johannesburg’s West Street. We tried hard to buy the building
at a low price, or to rent the building, but at that stage, CIDA had neither the
credibility nor the track record to merit successful negotiation of such terms.
Taddy never gave up or lost hope.”
CIDA now owns four buildings, all of which have been donated by companies.
Anglo American eventually donated to CIDA the West Street building that
Taddy so desired.
In 1998, a year before CIDA began in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa
had the highest recorded per capita murder rate of the countries selected
in the Interpol report. According to Interpol, in 1998 there were 59 recorded
murders in South Africa per 100,000 of the population, followed by Colombia
with 56. By contrast in Spain there were three murders per 100,000 and in
Canada four murders per 100,000. (Source, Interpol 1998, CIAC)
CIDA began humbly, hosting 250 first-year students in a rundown building
that formerly sheltered a small teaching college. By the end of the first year,
CIDA and Taddy had gained the confidence of companies willing to provide
significant support. Investec, a South African bank now listed on the London stock exchange, agreed to donate the use of their former head office to
CIDA for free. Investec also paid the full cost of all renovations to create large
rooms for lectures. They paid for other conversions, which would transform a
traditional office building into an educational setting. To their delight, students found their environment and their world completely changed. Instead
of walking on old floors with shabby carpets, students were surrounded
by lobbies built of Italian white marble and scenic views of the city from a
beautiful sunroof garden.
CIDA now has 1,500 students on scholarships worth R60 million. It provides
an affordable alternative to high-level tertiary education at a fraction of the
cost of a conventional business degree. Fees for registration, tuition and
books are R350 (less than $50 US) in the first year and then R150 a month for
the next three years of study. Students also need to find about R 300 a month
for accommodation and about R 250 for food.
Costs are kept down in several ways. Corporate sponsors provide financial
support for student scholarships. All students have a work-study job in the
university, donating their time to running the campus to keep overhead low.
So students run the admissions office, work in the library, act as janitors and
audiovisual technicians. Technology enables lecturers to reach students in
more than one classroom through state of the art video equipment. Then
instead of carrying a large overhead for faculty salaries, corporations provide
many of the lecturers themselves. So students receive lectures from industry
professionals, rather than simply learning textbook theories. Curricula fulfill
accreditation requirements for a degree (Bachelor of Business Administration) which has been accepted by the South African government’s education
department. 2004 saw CIDA’s first graduation ceremony.
What is inspiring about Taddy Blecher is his vision of a model for a new society and a completely different economic paradigm that values the triple
bottom line and service. “Giving” is more important than simple profit. Many
of the principles in Taddy’s thinking resonate with the philosophy of ubuntu,
which is about building relationships and releasing the potential for generating, creating and sharing wealth.
Blecher says, “CIDA embodies a new economic paradigm. Our university
focuses on providing world-class business education. Why business? Because
business is one of the dominant wealth-creating institutions in society. So
we are developing entrepreneurs, people who can start new initiatives, be it
in banking, in trading, in education of their own communities or whatever. I
believe that CIDA can play an important role in the transformation of South
African society and economy by developing top students who can reach out
all over the country, teaching people things like: how to manage their businesses, how to finance an investment, how to do the accounting etc. By doing
this we have reached by now already over a million people in the country.
And this is really a kind of revolution we initiated with CIDA.”
Incentives for Corporate Partners
Why do businesses partner with CIDA? What is “in it” for them”?
Taddy has a gift for brokering creative win/win partnerships. For example,
under one formula the education of CIDA students serves to benefit donor
partners. For First National Bank (FNB), students not only work in paid internships year after year during their university terms, but they also become
advisors and marketing agents in outlying rural areas so that the banks can
expand and create markets and services which truly meet the needs of rural
Another benefit of the partnership of CIDA and FNB is that children of the
bank’s less privileged employees are offered scholarships to CIDA. Taddy
weaves a network of creative relationships and transforms lives for people
who would, under normal circumstances, never set foot in a business school.
Many times, he says, he has been inspired by a German proverb, “Weave and
the thread will follow.” So often, the power of his optimistic determination
and problem-solving capacity has yielded unimaginable results.
During the first year CIDA simply had no computers for the students. Undaunted, Taddy xeroxed 250 copies of the computer keyboard and a monitor
for each student. They learned how to type to the rhythms of Bob Marley’s
Redemption Song:” “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but
ourselves can free our minds.” Several months later, when companies eventually started donating older computers, most the students had mastered a
typing speed above 30 words a minute.
Five years later, 84 students graduated, equating to a third of those enrolled.
Of these 45 found jobs in the business sector, 19 are continuing their studies
at other institutions, and 10 students have been hired by CIDA. DaimlerChrysler, one of CIDA’s corporate sponsors, hired four graduates. All came from
poor rural areas, or urban townships, or squatter camps. Graduation rates in
South African universities are now quoted as regularly ranging between 15%
and 25 percent. By comparison, even with all the challenges of the first year
— students leaving because of the poor building facilities, lack of student
accommodation and adequate mentorship — CIDA exceeded national averages. Taddy Blecher predicts that for the coming year the dropout rate will
fall below 10 percent.
In post-apartheid South Africa, all companies face the challenge of meeting
employment equity requirements and retaining a skilled and loyal workforce.
Edgars, South Africa’s version of Macy’s, hires student interns for weekend
work. At the end of three years, Edgars is given first choice to hire from the
pool of graduating students. During this time, the student has had ample opportunity to experience different kinds of jobs within the Edgars’ vast chain
of stores. The company has had an unusual window of opportunity to groom,
supervise, and gain the loyalty of a young and talented group of graduates.
Everybody’s success becomes everyone else’s success. This is ubuntu finding practical expression in business. It is by living this formula that we see
the building blocks intrinsic to CIDA’s success. Taddy Blecher’s dream is to
grow the CIDA campus in Johannesburg and then to replicate CIDA’s model
in other provinces. This year the Cape Town branch of CIDA is up and running
with its first intake of students.
Taddy is an exemplar of ubuntu and an unusual entrepreneur in many ways.
He finds greater personal meaning in working with CIDA, with minimal financial reward, deciding to give up an opportunity to earn a substantial salary as
a senior strategy consultant for the Monitor Group, a prestigious international
strategic consulting firm headquartered in Boston.
True to its reputation as “a great place for optimists who try to change the
world,” it was Monitor South Africa that gave Taddy sponsorship support in
CIDA’s earliest days. When Taddy submitted his resignation, they invited him
to keep his office and work for Monitor for five hours a week, leaving him free
to work on his dream the rest of the time. When CIDA owned neither an address nor fax machine, it was Monitor’s fax machines that became jammed on
a daily basis, with thousands of applications for CIDA from graduating high
school students. It was Monitor that provided some of the first scholarships
for CIDA students and access to its clients so that other partnerships could be
With the support of “Monitor’s Optimists” and fellow CIDA co-founders, Taddy
celebrates a life vibrant with imagination and passion, inspiring others to
engage in a new, more holistic form of corporate responsibility. An actuarial
science major, he blends attention to quantitative financial models with a
huge heart. Many who become involved with CIDA just want to be generous.
Not only has he created meaning in his own life and those of his students, but
Taddy has found a way to work with corporate partners in a way that enables
them to find meaning in contributing to the larger community through sharing knowledge, wealth and resources with others in a network of win-win
Wolfgang Jakob of the South African branch of the German-owned company
T-Systems spoke at the launch of CIDA’s world-class ICT Academy (“Information and Communications Technology”) in 2003. His company spearheaded
a consortium of 12 other companies that came together to sponsor an academy designed to address the skills shortage in the ICT sector. “Taddy got into
my heart. How could I not become involved?”
The ubuntu concept is, of course, a South African term. The nation has the
highest crime rate in the world and not surprisingly, the poorest 20 percent of
the population represent 3 percent of consumption. Foreign aid amounts to
less than half a percent of GDP, but foreign debt service extracts almost 12
percent. In this context, the concept of “giving” seems particularly apposite.
“The question is: can’t there be an alternative way of thinking that allows
many more people access to wealth? I am not talking about communism,
but I am talking about flowing knowledge and about unleashing creativity
that form the basis for wealth creation. Why fight for a share of a cake that
cannot grow beyond a finite size? Instead, why not give the entire cake a
chance to grow so that everyone could get a share of it without most of the
people having no access to the cake at all? The more people have a chance
to create wealth for themselves, the more the entire cake grows, which is
ultimately beneficial for all.
“If the poor stay poor, they can’t buy anything. Instead, the more poverty
there is, the more crime, the more the few wealthy have to protect their
wealth against the huge number of poor people. So what is the result?
Instead of investing in useful things, the wealthy have to spend a great
amount of money in protection as well as security services and technologies, not to mention the tension of constantly living with the fear of being
robbed, mugged or murdered.
“Seeing this bigger picture was a major shift in my understanding of how
the economy works. It also showed me that in an economy we are all very
much interlinked. We rely on each other, whether we want it or not. My
wealth depends on the ability of other people to purchase my goods. So we
have to understand ourselves as an interconnected system. That means that
by leaving worldwide four billion poor people in the street, we destroy most
of the potential economic wealth that could exist in this world.”
A life filled with ubuntu values is about enhancing and enriching the development of others, as a pathway to one’s own personal social, economic and
spiritual fulfillment. Taddy’s life and his teachings give us a glimpse of how
ubuntu can be made practical.
“We are trying to implant this mind shift, all this new thinking into the
student body, so that they can replicate us in their own towns, their own
cities, in the whole country. They can take the CIDA philosophy and apply
it to a farm, to an IT company, to a branch of CIDA, to a school. Part of our
philosophy at CIDA is that “it takes a child to raise a village.” All students go
back to their communities and share their own learning with their communities. They choose an area of passion or interest. For some, it is about teaching their high school principals about financial management; for others it
is about AIDS education for the youth. For others it is about helping small
businesspeople with a more ambitious marketing plan.
“We started to realize what a new society, what an exciting business world,
what an exciting academic world we can create.
“If you use this model and extend it to society, you could easily have a society free of poverty.
“Then we would not need hundreds of millions of dollars from the IMF and
World Bank, for such a system would be self-generating, self-sufficient, and
self-sustaining. And that is exactly how nature works. Everyone does what
he or she is best in and offers that to the society. CIDA is a wonderful experiment to reconnect to this natural order in life.”
“Imagine what the world could be if more entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs took to heart this young man’s wisdom?
“It is not by looking only after yourself that you work for the good of everybody; it is by looking after everybody that you ultimately create the basis of
wealth for yourself.”
About the Authors:
Barbara Nussbaum (www.BarbaraNussbaum.com/) is a teacher, author and
coach. She co-authored, with Dr. Ronnie Lessem, Sawubona Africa, Embracing
Four Worlds in South African Management (Zebra Press, 1996). Based in Ojai,
California, she is also a visiting guest lecturer at CIDA City Campus in South
Africa and an adjunct faculty member of the Spiritual Leadership Institute in 9
Houston. She was invited by Bill Drayton to be the Ashoka (www.ashoka.org/)
representative in Africa, managing the first office in southern Africa where
she had the privilege of screening social entrepreneurs for fellowships. She
may be contacted at BarbaraNu@aol.com.
Dr. Alexander Schieffer (a.schieﬀer@c-cell.com) is Managing Partner of CELL
Center of Excellence for Leadership and Learning GmbH and a Lecturer at the
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. There, Alexander also holds the position
of Head of International Network Management at the Institute of Leadership
and Human Resources