National Disability Rights Awareness Month, observed from the 3rd of November to the 3rd of December, presents a meaningful occasion for all South African businesses, emphasizes Rajan Naidoo, Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy. It’s a prime moment for companies to highlight their dedication to inclusivity and diversity, illustrating their commitment to affording equal opportunities to all employees, including those with disabilities.
What personal experiences or values have driven you to establish and lead a business with a strong emphasis on social development?
As a person of colour, now in my mid-50s, I was born and raised to adulthood in
apartheid South Africa. Like so many South Africans, my family also suffered from the
unjust oppressive laws of the apartheid regime. In 1994 our icon Nelson Mandela and
others negotiated a political settlement, but this failed to address the massive economic
deprivation that is still so much a legacy of apartheid and colonialism. This legacy left
certain groups such as women, people living with disabilities and the youth at a
particular disadvantage. I felt a need to address this directly, hence EduPower Skills
Academy was born.
Can you share a significant moment or event in your life that inspired your commitment to making a positive impact on society through your business?
As a child in the 1970’s my family was forcibly removed through the Group Areas Act
and displaced. In 2013 my aged dad (mid-80s) received compensation from the ANC
government for the loss of his property, but this was a tiny fraction of its true value
albeit we remained grateful to the government for this gesture. Like most people of
colour, I grew up in a township or rural area and the vast disparities in education
between the education of the white child and those of colour is still being reflected in
our job market today. I was a child of 8 years old, during the Soweto uprising in 1976
and did not fully understand the meaning at the time but as I grew older the essence of
the protest and the brutal oppression did not escape me. I had older relatives who
became targets of the apartheid state during this period as well. I had an enduring
desire in my adult years to contribute toward addressing the apartheid legacy.
How do you, as a business owner, balance your personal values and social responsibility
with the day-to-day demands and challenges of running a successful business?
EduPower Skills Academy was established in 2016 and was initially a micro business but
it has grown rapidly over the last 7 years. It is very demanding on my time, often
encroaching on personal time, but I have a passion for what we do, and it is this passion
that drives my energy. Of course, I would be remiss omitting mention of my dedicated
team of employees and shareholders who share the same values. We have several
stakeholders that we serve i.e., the learner (central), shareholder, corporate sponsor,
staff, and SETAs. All these stakeholders require attention to ensure all components of
the whole, work efficiently. Learner transformation is the core of what we do and we
strive to transform lives, not just educate. This value is what underpins our actions.
Have you encountered any personal challenges or sacrifices in your journey as a socially
responsible business owner, and how have you navigated them?
Some learners are not mature enough to fully grasp the full gravity of the learnership
opportunity and the promise it holds for their future. We undertake constant
mentorship but despite our best efforts, we do encounter some learners who abuse the
Many sponsors embrace the social impact of their contributions and are fully immersed
in the social outcomes. However, there are some sponsors who are only interested in
the compliance aspect of funding but have little interest in learner transformation. We
do our best to engage our sponsors in the social outcomes for the learners and we find we are winning many of them over.
There are many training providers who enter the industry with profit as their main
motivator and engage in dubious practices that bring the industry into disrepute. This is
a problem that is very difficult to address except to ensure our own practices are beyond reproach.
The transition of the SETAs to QCTO is a very uncertain terrain and is the source of
anxiety for many training providers. We constantly seek clarity from these statutory
bodies, but a clear answer is not always forthcoming.
As a business owner who cares deeply about social and environmental issues, what are
your proudest achievements or moments?
Our values require employability as a direct consequence of our process and our
proudest moments are when many of our learners find employment. We have
ourselves, together with our group of companies, employed many of our own learners,
some of whom have moved on to other opportunities. We have also facilitated the
employment of learners in other companies as well.
Personal development and growth of our staff is very important and the greatest
testament to this aim is when staff/ex-learners get promoted even if it is outside of our
business. Staff developing themselves through further education is always a proud
moment for us and we even fund some of this ourselves.
Looking ahead, what are your personal aspirations and goals for your role as a socially
responsible business leader, and how do you envision your legacy in this regard?
Many learners re-enter the unemployment queue after learnerships or simply enter
other learnerships and this is not transformation. We are actively searching for more
mechanisms to create sustainable employment for our learners after the learnership
At present we use the call centre for work experience and job opportunities for learners,
but we know that not all learners are suited to this outcome. Some learners may be
entrepreneurial in nature, and we want to develop this potential. Other learners may be
suited to other professions, and we are exploring a few of these. This is in line with our
We are already collaborating with like-minded training providers, but we want to
expand this collaboration as this allows us to spread our values but, most importantly, it
provides an opportunity to access qualifications, work and employment opportunities
which is currently beyond our scope of operation. Continue to spread the value of transformation to corporate sponsors to ensure our purpose is common and strengthened.