Content Partner: Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation

It’s not about the cards you are dealt. It’s about how you play the game.

My name is Lesego Ndala. I am a 23 year old, 3rd year student at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. I am currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, International Relations and Political Studies. I am a perfectionist and hope to be a future IPE expert. But, above all, I am a leader who wants to make a difference that will not only change my own circumstances, but also the world around me.

I am passionate about community engagement, public speaking, writing and most importantly education, because I have seen what a difference it can make to a person’s life. What drives me is being able to give back to the community and those around me with the hope that it will bring about change in my community. I am currently the Chairperson of the Wits Volunteer Committee and my duties entail assisting the Volunteer Programme with community engagement projects, volunteer opportunities, as well as administration duties. The Programme aims to involve the Wits community to give back their time and resources for a greater cause.

Activate has been an eye-opener to the possibilities that lie within each of us. Activate has allowed me to meet people who have diverse values and practices to mine, people who come from different backgrounds and circumstances, as well as people from different parts of the country – ranging from large cities, small towns in rural villages and sprawling townships. It has given me the opportunity to meet people I would have never had the chance to meet. It’s given me a chance to interact, create dialogue, share ideas and inspire one another to continue our commitment to be catalysts of change in South Africa.

Being selected as an Activator was a breakthrough for me. I didn’t see myself as a leader nor someone who had the characteristics of a leader until other people and institutions started to identify me with such attributes. I was tutoring High school English and Economics at the Ikamva Youth Tutoring Programme in 2011, being a student assistant and volunteer manager at the Wits International Office, working part-time, being a committee member of the Wits Volunteer Committee and still being able to commit to my academic responsibilities. It required commitment, discipline, focus, persistence and above all sincerity.

Tutoring on the Ikamva Youth Programme allowed me to see what a difference I could make by having one-on-one personal interactions with students regarding the problems that they were having in their respective subjects. Ikamva Youth Gauteng had a high pass rate in 2011 and this was largely due to the committed volunteers who participated in assisting students and giving their Saturday mornings to help others.

Seeing students being able to comprehend and understand their school curriculum was a defining moment because I could see how volunteering can affect your community and ultimately your country. When each person does their bit to make the country a better place we all benefit.

Activate has allowed me to focus on what role I play in the community and what skills I need to develop in order to be a more effective and efficient leader. Being a part of Activate 2012 has afforded me the opportunity to develop myself to become an astute and dextrous leader. A leader that can communicate effectively through technological means such as Twitter, Google +, and Facebook. A leader that can create connections and networks that extends beyond borders and boundaries. A leader that can utilize innovation develop a shared mission of unscrambling the challenges and complexities facing South Africa.

I see myself continuing with my tertiary education to postgraduate level, my volunteer commitment and envisage a career in public service, particularly in the Economic Development and International division. I also see myself becoming part of network of young, powerful and influential leaders that will not only change their own circumstances, but also their surroundings and the world that we know today.

Throughout my primary and high school career I participated in public speaking competitions and writing because I had teachers who believed in me. I had the support of my family who encouraged me to develop these skills. Being named Editor-In-Chief of my high school magazine was a defining moment for me because it proved how much work I had put into the publication and my ability to write. This encouraged me to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree and continue to write. The art of public speaking is one that has come to my advantage many times. It has allowed me to articulate myself in job interviews and to get people to be motivated towards achieving a shared mission. Community engagement becomes more effective when you are able to speak in public. You are able to get your message across and be effective in making a difference in the projects that you are involved with.

The sad reality is that only 4% of South Africans who finish Grade 12 have a chance of getting access to a tertiary education. These kinds of statistics are pretty grim and one cannot wonder and ask how they can contribute to making our communities a better place.

The moment that stood out for me on the Activate programme was realizing that despite the difficult circumstances we have all been through – divorce, death, financial hardships – we are still committed towards making a difference in the our respective communities. Some Activators like myself come from single parent households and, even with the struggles we faced growing up, we are able to realise how our actions can positively impact others. It doesn’t matter what kind of cards life has dealt at you, what counts is how you plan to play the game of life.

There are people such as Lesego Mookapele who was brave enough to trek from Cape Town to Addis Abba, Ethiopia to educate the youth about the Millennium Development Goals. Some have devoted their time to volunteer for free and give back to the community. What was most significant was that it makes me realise that I am not alone on a mission to try to improve our community.

I always had this image that a leader was someone who could make a difference on a large scale, someone who had a massive amount of supporters and followers. It had never occurred to me that leadership begins on the ground with you. It beings with the commitment to want to make an effort, to involve yourself in matters that will benefit not only you, but those around you and the community at large. The Activate camp made me acknowledge what roles I am playing in my community and how these roles have put me in a position to make a difference – it does not have to be on a large scale nor do I need to have massive amount of supporters and followers. What counts is that I am making a difference and this difference is creating a ripple effect with those I am engaging with. The roles I identify myself with would be a student leader, a commitment volunteer looking to make a difference, dedicated learner and student. There are many others ranging from brother, son, nephew, cousin etc, but at the end of these roles put up in a position to make difference for the better of those around us.


Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation is a national network of young people committed to social transformation. United across race and class, they will develop the perspectives and skills of innovation needed to tackle some of South Africa’s most challenging social issues.
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