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South Africa’s youth face a myriad of challenges, particularly within rural and township areas where poverty levels remain stubbornly high and educational outcomes poor. This leaves many with few prospects for employment and hinders development and upliftment of these communities.
These were some of the complexities that Lesego Serolong-Holzapfel (32) was exposed to as a young volunteer at rural and township schools outside of her hometown of Mmabatho and school in Vryburg, North West. This, and other influences, inspired her to think about education and entrepreneurship as solutions to poverty from a young age.
“These experiences opened my eyes to the challenges facing South Africa’s youth in poorer and rural areas such as lack of access to quality education – if at all – and dire unemployment. There are however plenty capable individuals living in these areas who, with the right support, can make something of themselves, and positively impact their communities.”
Serolong-Holzapfel is the founder and CEO of Bokamaso Impact Investments – a social enterprise dedicated to uplifting remote, underdeveloped areas of the country through agriculture and entrepreneurship. She has also unlocked various opportunities for high-performing orphans in rural and township communities of the North West province, where she grew up, through a foundation she founded while completing her tertiary education. Serolong-Holzapfel, who became an orphan at the age of 14, says that her parents & paternal grandmother played a significant role in defining her path.
“Like many in the small town of Taung in the North-West, my grandmother was raised in a poor household but unlike others, received the opportunity to attend Tiger Kloof school in Vryburg and then went on to graduate with a teacher’s qualification after meeting a missionary family while herding cattle who sponsored her studies. She then returned to her village where she cultivated talent and supported young people who had the desire to make something of themselves.”
Serolong-Holzapfel adopted the same leadership qualities as her grandmother after attending the same school, where she developed several programmes, including an after-school programme for children living on nearby farms without any access to education. After finishing matric, she received the opportunity to study in the United States after an African American family recognised her potential. She then co-founded Raise the Children International while in the US, which identifies orphans from impoverished and rural communities of the North West Province and mobilises resources for these children to gain access to higher education that leads to employment and public service with a high return on social investment.
“There is plenty of talent hidden within remote, rural areas of South Africa. I wanted to create a scholarship that focuses on identifying diamonds in the rough, who will make an impact in their community and thereby create a ripple effect. As an orphan myself, I could relate to understanding their position of vulnerability. The best gift you can give to an orphan is that of education.”
In recognition of the challenges the youth of today face in developing themselves, and to drive growth on the African continent, Standard Bank proactively identifies and invests in individuals like Serolong-Holzapfel with strong leadership qualities and a desire to bring about positive change on the continent.
As part of a wide range of efforts to develop South Africa’s youth and equip them with the necessary skills to become successful entrepreneurs, Standard Bank created the Standard Bank Africa Derek Cooper Scholarship programme. Through the scholarship programme, Standard Bank aims to champion those African leaders who will actively build a future for Africa, led by Africans.
The scholarship programme, which is now in its 7th year of existence, carefully selects a handful of students to complete their Master’s studies at the prestigious institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Economics (LSE) in the United Kingdom. These leaders are asked to exercise global influence through visionary leadership.
This is how Serolong-Holzapfel was able to complete her Master’s degree at the LSE, where she was exposed to the idea that business could be used not just for profit but to bring about social change as well.
“What makes this scholarship unique is that there are no strings attached. This is unheard of. The one ask was to think about what I can take from the experience that will help drive the growth of communities and economies of Africa, which is exactly what I ended up doing.”
She explains that Standard Bank assisted her along her journey to becoming a successful social entrepreneur by providing access to its extensive and influential networks on the continent while providing other necessary tools and support.
Once she recognized the need for income-generating activities to revitalize the mindset and economy of the communities from which her orphan scholars hail, she identified agriculture as a sector for her efforts for various reasons. “We have vast amounts of untapped arable land on the continent, yet many people remain unemployed in rural areas. This creates a flight of people to urban areas in search of employment. Whereas we can actually create opportunities with the resources available in those areas.”
She explains that the support Standard Bank provided her with was invaluable. “I was able to tap into the extensive and influential networks of the largest financial services organisation by assets on the continent. They also provided me with the necessary tools and support that helped me to start Bokamaso Impact Investments.
Bokamaso introduces innovative agricultural solutions to poverty, educates and incubates local rural entrepreneurs, and tackles lack of basic resources with commercial strategies and natural asset mobilization.
As the cohort of agripreneurs grew through Bokamaso, Serolong-Holzapfel started Bokomaso Foods after she realised that value could be added to the agricultural commodities. “The incubation stage helps agripreneurs to understand and study the market and realise that more money can be made by adding value to the raw commodity,” she explains.
Bokamaso’s goal is to see the company expanding and excelling in the food and beverage industry, generating enough profit for shareholders to create more job opportunities and to continually empower young people in rural and township environments.
Another initiative that Bokomaso created for impact and to allow young people to make a living encourages corporates and individuals to buy a beehive on behalf of a young person in the rural area. “If the person does not have space, we manage the hive and give the person a chance to earn annuity income. We buy the honey that is harvested from the box, which increases our honey volumes across the country for Bokomaso, but the project also aims to achieve an environmental impact and has set the goal for ourselves to increase the number of beehives by one million in 2025.”
Serolong-Holzapfel says that she has always known that she had a role to play in building and developing our country and that Standard Bank’s sponsorship and support has enabled her to successfully navigate her entrepreneurial journey. “This has allowed me to develop myself and others as African entrepreneurs, to create jobs and much-needed economic growth on the continent.”
She adds: “Standard Bank has shown that it cares about developing future leaders, by rallying behind brilliant minds from the continent, and making sure that they receive support when they return, helps individuals to start programmes and initiatives that align to the organisation's theme of ‘Africa is our home and we drive her growth’. This is evident in the platform Standard Bank has to drive the pan African idea of collectively building Africa. The programme is one of kind globally.”
In 2017, Serolong-Holzapfel was honoured by Mail & Guardian as one of South Africa’s top 200 young leaders. While in August of 2018, she won the Standard Bank Top women award in Agriculture, alongside Yvonne Chaka Chaka. She was given public recognition by former President Jacob Zuma on June 16, as a young Achiever and Trailblazer. While in 2019, she became a Desmond Tutu Fellow, which is a prestigious network of African leaders and change-makers across the continent.