Everyone can make a difference...

22 January 2004 Viviene Pearson

Everyone who has seen the movie Schindler’s List will know that everyone can make a difference. This is the story of Taddy Blecher, founder and Chief Executive Officer of CIDA City Campus, whose story is one that reaffirms this fact.

What makes a young person with excellent qualifications, a great job offer overseas and an unhappiness with the way things were in his country turn his back on an exciting and financially rewarding opportunity in the United States of America to remain in his country of birth, leave his job and start working in the townships of South Africa amongst school children?“A desire to make a difference, as well as an unwillingness to just be another victim of crime and undesirable circumstances, ” is Taddy Blecher’s answer to this question.

There is an enormous need out there
When Taddy Blecher made this decision in 1995, he did not only change the course of his own life but also that of many a young person. After working in the townships of Alexandra, Soweto, and Daveyton with CIDA’s Conrad Mhlongo, Mburu Gitonga, Richard Peycke and others for three and a half years, mentoring students and helping them to increase pass rates as well asthe quality of their lives, Taddy realised that there is an enormous need out there. “Young people pass their matric, turntheir backs on crime, drugs and alcohol, but then have no place to go. Due to their financial backgrounds there often is no money to pay for further education, and hardly anyone can find the jobs they need to sustain them. Massive demotivation is the result, in turn resulting in these young people again landing up in the spiral of violence, crime and drugs.”

Unlocking human potential in a big way
This is why CIDA City Campus was founded. “It was sad seeing this enormous potential go to waste. We decided that a tertiary institution was needed to provide these young people with the opportunity to become meaningful contributors to their society, and to develop the leaders of tomorrow. CIDA is about unlocking human potential in a big way, at virtually no cost to the student. Currently 1 600 sponsored financially disadvantaged young people are receiving a tertiary educationthat focuses on a multidimensional approach which leads to the development of the student on all levels, including one of the most important levels which is self-confidence. This, coupled with a recognised and accredited Bachelor of Business Administration qualification, practical training and assistance with starting own businesses provides an exceptional
platform from which students can launch a meaningful life.

When Taddy started the CIDA City Campus everyone thought he was quite mad – which is not surprising as a tertiary institution has never before been started with nothing… But enthusiasm of such scale is obviously catching. The first students enrolled at CIDA Citty Campus in January 2000. Another way of thinking and doing things assists the university to operate, while giving the students much needed practical experience. “Students participate in the running of the campus. They handle some of the administration, the computers, the cleaning of the campus and much more. At the same time theirdisadvantaged backgrounds make it necessary to do three times the number of hours needed for similar high quality university level training. Yet these students’ determination is such that one often finds them studying at the campus at 10 o’clock at night, or even at 5 o’clock in the morning,” says Taddy.

Achievements remarkable
“People from more advantaged backgrounds often do not realise how difficult studying is for some of our students. Many of them live in undesirable living conditions making the achievements of these young people so much more remarkable. This is why a building that could be used as a residence for these students is so needed. If there is any company that owns a building in Johannesburg that would donate it for this purpose, it will meet a need so desperate that it will change the lives of many people.

“CIDA City Campus aims to become the university for the financial services sector and already boasts several students who, to supplement their incomes as well as get some practical experience, market financial services products to their communities. “Entrepreneurship is a compulsory subject. Students develop a comprehensive business plan incorporating all their subjects and during their final years start their businesses according to these plans. Many of these businesses are so successful that the students continue after they qualify. Some of them also mentor businesses in their communities and mentoring the businesses of hawkers in Johannesburg forms part of the curriculum.”

Assistance needed
The most rewarding part of this work, says Taddy, is seeing how the buds that are these students when they start their training become beautiful flowers after being nurtured and provided with the things they need to unleash their potential. The potential is such that we need to find the capacity to enlarge this campus, as well as to duplicate the model in the rest of the country. “We turn thousands of students away and need assistance as well as other sectors, in the form of sponsorships for students, the seconding of knowledgeable people to lecture, contributions in terms of infrastructure including buildings, computers, learning material and much more. We also need employers in the sector to start interlinking with us by providing learnerships for our graduates, or to employ them in their companies in order to give them the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.”

CIDA City Campus could not have achieved what it had so far were it not for the assistance of many companies. Current partners include Puregas, Monitor Company, Investec, First National Bank, Dimension Data, MTN, Daimler Chrysler, Kellogg Foundation, African Bank, and others. Liberty Life, Sanlam, Momentum and Hollard have also contributed in some way in the past.

Equipped to make a successful life
The philosophy of CIDA City Campus does not stop at equipping its students with the tools to make a successful life! They have started a programme of community building through a youth development programme by its students. “Students go out into their communities during their holidays and for extra credits convey a positive life message to others who are not as fortunate. Messages on HIV/Aids, basic financial know-how and knowledge about banking, insurance, and business have been brought to almost a million people through the CIDA City Campus students.”

Taddy is adamant that a new way of thinking is desperately needed in our industry. “We are sitting on a gold mine with regards to our potential market, but we need to think of completely different ways to unlock this potential. The number of so-called unbankable people necessitates an approach that would include education, teaching and informing first and foremost.A broader customer base, as well as the loyalty of these customers, will be the result of such a different approach.

Individuals and companies wishing to make a contribution can contact Michelle on 011 486 3041 or orvisit

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