The rise and rise of CIDA City Campus isthanks largely to the irrepressible energy of its founder, Taddy Blecher (CIDAstands for Community and Individual Development Association). Blecher believesresolutely in the innate potential of every human being. “Poverty is a functionof the fact that people haven’t been taught how to solve problems. If wenurture every person’s talent, teach them how to create something from nothingand encourage them to lead lives of humanity and dignity, we could address somany social ills,” he says.
This philosophy fuelled Blecher’s drive toestablish CIDA. Having opened in 2000, the Campus now educates up to 3 000students each year and boasts several hundred graduates who have foundemployment in SA’s leading firms. The Campus has also expanded significantly,spawning a host of foundations, funds and academies aiming to help studentsfrom previously disadvantaged backgrounds further their education. Impressive it may be, but Blecher admitsthat CIDA’s progress had its hiccups.
“Naturally, there were many barriers toestablishing an institution that offers low-cost, technology-based education ona par with the country’s finest universities.” The answer to many of these obstacles layin innovative thinking. For example, to reduce administrative costs, Blecherintroduced a system whereby students assist with running the institution, workingin the kitchens, offices and libraries – in fact, anywhere help is required.
“Not only have we managed to save millionson administrative costs, we’ve also created a system that encourages studentsto take ownership of their campus. More than this, the tasks they undertaketeach them skills which eventually add up to work experience,” Blecher says.The institution also used creative thinkingto get past problems associated with access and funding. “Since most of ourstudents matriculated from disadvantaged schools, many have poor academicrecords. We’ve established bridging courses, vocational courses and academiesto ensure they still have access to further education, and to help them findjobs.“Funding has been boosted throughpartnerships with our corporate donors, whom we repay in kind, withscholarships for employees, free training or PR. We’ve also establishedfundraising foundations in the UKand US, and virtual foundations in Bermuda, Canada and Germany. Then there’s the CIDAInvestment Trust, which owns – partially or wholly – 10 businesses. The profitsof these companies are put back into the Campus.”
CIDA’s culture of lateral thinkingpermeates every aspect of its functioning, including the curriculum. “One ofour primary goals is to create a culture of entrepreneurship, and we encourageinnovative ideas,” Blecher affirms.This is supported by facilities like TheBranson School of Entrepreneurship at CIDA, established by Sir Richard Branson.In addition to implementing mentorship programmes and incubator support, theSchool has set up CIDA Seed, a R4 million fund to provide seed capital forstudents with sound business ideas.CIDA has also taken its spirit ofentrepreneurship beyond the Campus, thanks to the Nelson Mandela Extranet Programme.This initiative sees students taking their knowledge back to their communities,converting venues like halls, schools and churches into classrooms where theyteach the principles of entrepreneurship. “We’ve reached thousands of childrenthis way,” says Blecher.His quest to improve CIDA is unceasing inthe face of continuing challenges. “We have to ensure that CIDA maintains adynamic staff who believe in the vision. That means building a place wherepeople enjoy working. We also have to keep up to date with governmentrequirements and legislation, such as accreditation. The biggest challenge, ofcourse, is securing long-term sustainability, which is why we’ve establishedour various funds and trusts.”Despite these potential stumbling blocks,Blecher would change nothing about CIDA. “Establishing the Campus has been afantastic journey. We will overcome whatever challenges come our way throughinnovation, hard work, passion and our deep belief in the vision. We will nevergive up.”