Taddy Blecher is a young South African with a great heart and a brilliant mind. In 1995, during one restless night of tossing and turning, he realized that his whole life had been dictated by fear of freedom.
A restless night that changed everything
At that moment, he was 28 years old. In spite of his humble and poor background – his grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania, fleeing the Soviet persecution with nothing but ‘shirts on their backs’ –, Taddy Blecher had graduated from university with flying colours.
He was earning remarkably good salary as a business consultant to mining companies. Moreover, he had a 130,000 USD job offer from the US on his table. In fact, he had already bought the plane tickets and stored all his accumulated belongings (“43 boxes altogether,” as he recalls) in his mom’s basement. He had made up his mind and was ready to go.
Yet he never did.
During that night of restless tossing and turning, he suddenly saw how the safety of a good career and personal success were dragging him away from his real passion – the love for his country, and for its people.
Most of all, for the 25 per cent of population who still lived their disadvantaged lives in the vicious circle of poverty and unemployment. “I saw aching poverty but also the greatest and most valuable resource: human potential,” Blecher says.
CIDA: Community and Individual Development Association
Taddy Blecher’s own experience had shown him: the quickest way out of this vicious circle was through acquiring good, marketable education. He decided to devote his life to making this opportunity available to as many poor South-Africans as possible.
The first step on this road was CIDA, the Community and Invididual Development Association
set up in Johannesburg, South-Africa’s 3rd biggest city. CIDA offers a 4-year Business Administation degree.
And it does so for free.
Taddy Blecher was the CEO of CIDA from its beginning in 1995 up to 2007. He worked tirelessly, pursuing donations from companies like JPMorgan and Dell as well as from entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson. But perhaps his greatest asset was the firm belief that human ingenuity and motivation can overcome any lack of initial resources. So when computers were a scarcity on the campus, Blecher taught the students to type 30 words a minute … using a photocopy of a computer keyboard.
Here are some measurable impacts of CIDA as of 2013, according to the Skoll Foundation:
- 5,000 graduates, 4,500 working in jobs, together earning 20 million USD in annual salaries;
- 500,000 people reached with skills development;
- more than 30,000 students, staff, parents, and principals trained in self-development programmes – including Transcendental Meditation;
- 10+ schools in Johannesburg suburbs provided with computers, textbooks, and security equipment.
The next step: The Maharishi Institute
Taddy Blecher left CIDA in 2007 to start another free educational body, the Maharishi Institute, which keeps its costs low by getting students to contribute to its running.
According to a recent report published in Financial Mail, the Institute offers young people from disadvantaged communities “access to free education and the opportunity to work 4 hours a day in a customised call centre built on [the university] campus. With space to train 1000-1500 students, it can create a pipeline of skilled call centre operators to supply the industry. Students continue their studies while working at the call centre.”
Watch video: 21 icons of South Africa, Taddy Blecher
“Every student is a genius waiting to happen”
As in CIDA, Blecher remains devoted to giving students a consciousness-based education. Each day at the Maharishi Institute starts with yoga and Transcendental Meditation – a useful innovation in the curriculum which results in the students’ IQ rising by 9-14 points, and their creativity and memories improving steadily over the 4-year university programme.
“I really believe this from the bottom of my heart – in our generation in South Africa, we can end poverty, we can end crime, we can end the tremendous problems we have with sickness, and we can end unemployment.
But the only way we can really do this is through developing the most under-developed resource in this country – and that’s the human assets in this country. Every student is a genius waiting to happen.“ – Taddy Blecher
Taddy Blecher hopes that the educational models he has helped to set up so successfully can be one day replicated all over the world. He is now chairing a government’s task team on enabling entrepreneurship, under the deputy president of South Africa. The goal of the task team is to unlock the potential of entrepreneurship in schools, and to set up training colleges and universities accessible for students from every background.
At least in South Africa, Taddy Blecher seems well on his way to realizing the dreams of a certain sleepless night.
Watch a moving TEDx talk by Taddy Blecher, recorded in 2010: