My safari had begun already one and a half years ago with a serious, significant business mission to harvest a 4.5 trillion USD market.
As part of the senior management team of one of the most successful Corporate in Telco and IT/OT Services – Deutsche Telekom – I still was on a mission to disrupt the education space.
My team and I felt still assigned to change the world. We were close to launching our learning platform for German Engineering, accessible for many around the globe. Leading technical universities would provide content and context. Constructing E-vehicles and other projects gave the context to problem based learning. We were about to fix the global skill gap in STEAM disciplines; today we call this udacity.com or coursera.org and the like.
Surprisingly for me, I was asked by the management board to discontinue the project. It seemed I had lost sight of the track. Had I made a mistake? My visionary perspective to make German Engineering accessible beyond the boundaries of universities and other institutions was not shared by important stakeholders. The deeply personal experience I had had in rural South Africa at GWF, and in contrast also by working with the Silicon Valley ecosystem, had transformed me and my team – but not the other important part of the equation. The empire struck back. My team and I were ahead of our time.
Facing the reality that our start-up project should not continue had more consequences. Some of my team and myself had to give up our jobs. Within a short period of time I had to decide to either continue to work for a corporate or do what I believed in my heart was right for me.
So, I left the safe harbour of corporate employment and invested in my own company. Together with two founders I continued the project to launch a learning platform for German Engineering – tekataku.com.
Before reaching out for financial investors and partners I went back to my African family since the whole mission was inspired by Kate Groch and her team from GWF. They helped me shape the brand and values for the new endeavour. Our domain and brand carried values and the concept of learning of Good Work Foundation. Teka taku was derived from Tsonga and meant “take your land, use the opportunities you are offered and do not take more than you should…” We had a similar brand icon to the GWF: a tree – representing wisdom, sharing and community.
We also had coaching sessions with the staff to foster their organizational capabilities as a foundation for further expansion of GWF. Together with some Trackers from Londolozi we worked on a business model for a coffee shop to initialize local entrepreneurship. We infused state of the art Silicon Valley methodologies and applied them practically to the local, rural context. The “coffee shop” workshop lead to my friendship with a young man – Teaman Manzini, a former school dropout. He became an entrepreneur, a teaching assistant in GWF and a father of a son. Later, I was honoured by Teaman since he gave his son my name – Karl.)
All that gave me new grounding, new inspiration and a lot of new energy. I was obviously tracking towards a new encounter, the next spoor on my safari.
After I returned home from Africa the next one a half years rushed by. The learning platform evolved, we produced video lectures and we got customers and I still dreamed of giving most of the profits we would make to GWF. Even the great support of Dave and Boyd Varty from Londolozi with investor pitches and access to their very influential network was not enough for a breakthrough. Meanwhile I had spent most of the money I personally could invest. We did not scale and did not find the right investor. Sadly, I had to discontinue this project.
Some would say we failed. We may have failed. I do not want to hide how challenging it was to get things going, knocking on many closed doors, begging for support and having the responsibility of earning a living for my family.
However, I knew I had to try and I never would have made this amazing experience if I would have not been forced into giving up the stereotype career and my well-paid senior executive position.
It all depends on your vantage point. The education space is hard to change for the better. Our specific project could not continue.
But the mission will.
I made so many new friends and long-lasting relationships that were built during these years. The Open Academy was built up and serves so many learners. The re-connection with my daughter came true and we as a family shaped our own as well. We are pioneers in our church and business environment. It is about creating spaces where many people have a choice for a better future. This unites us with my African family of the Good Work Foundation.
I gained more than I ever dreamed of. I know it is a blessed life.