Black History Month 2023: Dream Big, Embrace Challenges And Never Stop Learning – Steven Zwane
- Name: Steven Zwane
- Programme: Doctor in Business Administration (DBA), and MBA graduate – Durham University Business School
- Country of Origin: South Africa
- Current Job role: Founder and Chairperson of Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development; Doctoral Candidate in Entrepreneurship Education
Please could you give us a brief overview of your background and career so far, and what your role is now?
I am Steven Zwane, a scholar, social entrepreneur, and relentless advocate for entrepreneurship education.
My life began in the rural landscapes of South Africa, a country characterized by a tumultuous history of struggle and resilience. But my path to education started in a rather unconventional manner. In the midst of apartheid, where black South Africans were systematically provided inferior education, my family held unique beliefs. My grandfather, a man of unwavering traditions, never believed in sending boys to school. He saw their future solely in the fields and tending to cattle.
This meant that my educational journey began later than most. I was fortunate enough to attend school only from the age of 11. Completing high school at the age of 21, I faced the daunting task of pursuing undergraduate education. However, the lack of career awareness and limited access to funds created significant barriers. To realize my dreams of higher education, I had to work for two years, diligently saving every penny to supplement the limited student aid available.
My voyage through postgraduate education was catalysed by the prestigious Nelson Mandela Scholarship, a beacon of hope named after the global icon, Nelson Mandela. This scholarship was bestowed upon me in recognition of my early social change initiatives and paved the way for my pursuit of an MBA at Durham University Business School in 2006/7. Little did I know that this was merely the prelude to a remarkable educational odyssey.
“My journey stands as a testament to the power of determination and the transformative impact a single individual can have on their community and beyond.”Steven Zwane
Today, I stand as a doctoral candidate at Durham University Business School, where I am on a quest to obtain a Doctor in Business Administration (DBA). My research focuses on entrepreneurship education—a powerful instrument for igniting entrepreneurial spirit and lifting South Africa’s youth out of the clutches of poverty. Specifically, my work is dedicated to high school students in South Africa. It seeks to illuminate the impact of the Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development (YLED) program (which I founded) and Junior Achievement South Africa. These programs run in tandem with formal education, providing invaluable entrepreneurial interventions in selected South African high schools.
My educational journey is a testament to the resilience and determination that characterizes so many individuals who navigate systemic barriers in pursuit of knowledge and empowerment. It is a reminder that despite adversity, the human spirit can overcome even the most challenging circumstances.
As the visionary founder and Chairperson of YLED, my mission is to empower young South Africans, moulding them into future business leaders, innovators, and agents of change. YLED, now in its 19th year, has transformed the lives of over 20,000 young individuals. I attribute this growth and expanded impact to the invaluable networks and resources I acquired during my studies in the UK while pursuing my Master’s degree.
I initiated YLED with a singular purpose—to address the lingering effects of apartheid and segregation, especially on young people who would graduate high school without the skills and confidence needed to navigate the real world. By targeting youth from marginalized communities, we empower them with a 28-week-long entrepreneurial intervention program, instilling in them the confidence and competence they need.
How did you experience at business school help you with the next stages of your career?
I owe a substantial debt of gratitude to my experience at business school, as it armed me with the tools I needed to face the challenges and seize the opportunities that lay ahead. The MBA programme at Durham University Business School endowed me with a global perspective on business, nurtured critical thinking, honed my leadership skills, and fostered a robust network of like-minded individuals.
These skills and connections became my greatest assets as I embarked on my journey as a social entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a black person in business, as well as a black student. What are the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
As a black individual in both the realms of business and academia, I can attest to the unique challenges I encountered. My journey was punctuated by moments of isolation, where I found myself underrepresented in various spaces. However, rather than deterring me, these challenges fuelled my determination to effect meaningful change. I came from a country still grappling with the legacy of apartheid, and my experiences there had left deep scars. Yet, my exposure in the UK demonstrated that systems could differ, and this realization helped me heal.
“As a black individual in both the realms of business and academia, I can attest to the unique challenges I encountered. My journey was punctuated by moments of isolation, where I found myself underrepresented in various spaces. However, rather than deterring me, these challenges fuelled my determination to effect meaningful change.”Steven Zwane
Through resilience and unwavering dedication, I navigated these challenges, transforming each one into an opportunity for personal and communal growth. My journey stands as a testament to the power of determination and the transformative impact a single individual can have on their community and beyond.
What do you think needs to be done to create a more inclusive environment for black people in business and education?
To foster inclusivity for black individuals in both business and education, I advocate for three critical pillars:
- Access to Quality Education: I emphasize the importance of accessible and quality education, particularly for underprivileged communities. Education, as Nelson Mandela wisely noted, is the cornerstone of empowerment.
- Mentorship and Role Models: Encouraging mentorship programs and amplifying the voices of black role models in business and academia is crucial. Representation matters profoundly, as it inspires future generations.
- Diversity and Inclusion Policies: I firmly believe that businesses and educational institutions should implement robust diversity and inclusion policies. These policies ensure that opportunities are equitable and accessible for all, regardless of their background.
My journey—from a Nelson Mandela Scholar to a social entrepreneur and advocate for entrepreneurship education—is a testament to the power of resilience, education, and unwavering commitment to creating positive change. I hope that my story inspires others to continue the fight for racial equality in business and education, reminding us all that we possess the capacity to be change-makers in our communities.
As I reflect on my journey, I’m reminded of a powerful quote by Nelson Mandela, a luminary whose legacy continues to inspire my work: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“Dream Big: Your dreams are not just aspirations—they are valid goals. Aim high and pursue your passions relentlessly.”Steven Zwane
These words encapsulate the essence of my mission, my advocacy for entrepreneurship education, and my unwavering commitment to drive social change in South Africa. With education as our guiding light, we can break the chains of inequality, uplift entire communities, and create a brighter future for generations to come.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let us all take to heart Mandela’s profound wisdom and join hands in the pursuit of a world where every individual, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to thrive, learn, and make a difference.
Together, we can be the change-makers our communities and the world so desperately need.
What do you think will be an indicator that we are achieving racial equality in business?
Racial equality in business can be assessed through several key factors
- Representation: A truly equal business environment reflects diversity in its leadership and workforce, mirroring the demographics of the population it serves.
- Equal Opportunities: Genuine equality eradicates racial disparities in hiring, promotions, and access to resources, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance at success.
- Inclusive Culture: An inclusive workplace culture values diversity, fosters inclusion, and celebrates differences, ensuring that everyone feels respected and valued.
- Economic Empowerment: True racial equality translates into economic equity, providing opportunities for underrepresented communities to thrive.
Can you name an initiative or perhaps a person who is helping to create a more inclusive environment for black business people?
I acknowledge and commend the significant impact of organizations like the Canon Collins Trust in driving inclusivity and supporting black students from Southern Africa in their pursuit of post school education mostly in the UK. These academic improvement initiatives play a pivotal role in dismantling barriers and advancing diversity.
What advice would you have for other black business people and students at the start of their careers?
To those embarking on their careers, I offer the following sage advice:
- Dream Big: Your dreams are not just aspirations—they are valid goals. Aim high and pursue your passions relentlessly.
- Embrace Challenges: Challenges are stepping stones to success. Learn from setbacks, adapt, and use them as fuel for personal and professional growth.
- Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with mentors, allies, and like-minded individuals who uplift and support your journey. Together, you can achieve more.
- Never Stop Learning: Education is a lifelong journey. Continuously seek opportunities for growth and self-improvement, as knowledge is the key to transformation.
- Give Back: As you ascend the ladder of success, remember to reach back and uplift others in your community. Your success can inspire the next generation of leaders and change-makers.
Interested in this topic? You might also like this…