How Addressing Root Cause Helps Dell Young Leaders Grow
Imagine this scene: It’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re walking onto campus for your first day of university. You’re terrified but hopeful and excited. You hold your head high, muster up the courage to head toward your dormitory at a rapid pace. You are somebody now.
But as you look around, you remember that you’re also a statistic. You could be one of the 70 percent of economically disadvantaged South African university students to drop out. Or you could be one of the 700,000 young South Africans (10.4 percent of 6.7 million aged 18-24) eligible for further study who are not able to continue their education. Most people give you absolutely zero chance of earning a degree. Right now, you feel like there is one person cheering in your corner: you.
Dell Young Leaders Program
One hundred new Dell Young Leaders enter the University of Cape Town or the University of Pretoria each year. People assume that the trials these students face are those stereotypically associated with financially disadvantaged, black students from poor, rural provinces. Only if you dig into each individual story will you identify the root cause of their challenges, then provide the assistance needed to graduate from university, prepare for employment and position them for a lifetime of success.
The Dell Young Leaders program seeks to ensure graduation and employment for disadvantaged South African university students who show exceptional potential to become leaders in their professional lives and their communities. Financial support is at the core of the program, but what truly distinguishes it from other bursary programs is its focus on the range of academic, psychosocial and career readiness challenges students face as they make their way through university.
The Baggage of Our Lives
When students arrive on campus, some have clothing and basic necessities to bring. Others must make the choice between food and toiletries so they arrive at school empty-handed. Yet, they all arrive with the baggage of their past. As important as it is to determine the root cause of people’s fears or the strife that might have limited their opportunities, it’s imperative to recognize their untapped potential to ensure the supports most vital to their success at university, including those that will feed their hopefulness.
Almost every Dell Young Leader—present and past—could tell you the story of an atrocity he or she has witnessed at home, to a family member or to themselves. Among them there are those who’ve been assaulted or lived in inhumane conditions. One student left his proud family to attend school in year one. By year two, his entire family had been killed. They’ve grown up in unsanitary slums without access to resources that meet even the most basic needs. Their stories are chilling and their perseverance incredible. .
These are the types of challenges they had to overcome to attain exceptional results in primary and secondary school. These are students that have made it when others have not. What’s even more exceptional, and seemingly powerful, is the lesson you’ll learn by asking these students what motivates them.
The Root Cause Can Help Us Grow
As impressive as these students are, statistics will show you that their success beyond university graduation is still at risk. In order to truly help these students, we had to dig into the root cause of why such extraordinary perseverance and performance could be derailed along the way. In the case of Dell Young Leaders—and anyone with boundless potential and optimism—the root might be where you dig in. Find the root. Identify limiting beliefs. Nurture and grow solutions.
One Dell Young Leader decided long ago that she did not want to become a victim of her circumstance but rather take ownership of her own life and become a better person from it. She wants to be a doctor to travel to remote regions in Africa and the rest of the world. After about five years of travelling and volunteering, she wants to open her own practice and create employment opportunities in the process.
Another knows he can take control of his own destiny. He knows the struggles of his peers, and he believes he has great ability and the potential to lead. He wants to ensure the basic rights his forefathers fought bravely for. He believes the future of South Africa lies not only in his generation but in his hands, as well.
Defining a clear path for success involves aligning motivations with skillset. These students have big dreams and we took the time to understand the broader skills needed to achieve those dreams. We took the time to ask questions. From there, the Dell Young Leaders program team designed workshops and extended-learning classes to improve the on-the-job soft skills that employers in South Africa look for most—like career mentorship and work readiness training. We also provide psycho-social services along the way to help these students overcome the scars of hardship. We want the roots to take hold and continue to grow.
Developing leaders anywhere in the world is no easy feat. In South Africa, disadvantaged students face extraordinary obstacles. If 100 fresh-faced teenagers have the courage to rise from the ashes of their recent pasts, venture to a foreign campus and assume the responsibility of defending their democracy, shouldn’t they have a few more people in their corners?
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