Conversation: Taddy Blecher on empowerment through education

Taddy Blecher, CEO of CIDA and the Maharishi Institute has pioneered free access to post-secondary school education for historically disadvantaged youth. He is known as a pioneer of the free tertiary education movement in South Africa, having helped to create six free access institutions of higher learning, as well as inspiring the creation of two other institutions.
He is consistently working on developing sustainable means to help unemployed youth in South Africa gain access to transferable skills through education, training, jobs, and careers, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty.

1. What is your hope for the youth in South Africa?

My hope is that every single person lives up to his full potential and finds a career they love and have the skills and values to live the life of their dreams.

2. What are the main obstacles preventing South African youth from reaching their potential?

The main obstacle is that our youth are not equipped with the right tools and training to change their lives. There is a lack of development of the person in a holistic sense. With the right skills, tools and training as well as a quality schooling, there is no reason why each person cannot change their life. Our youth have massive potential but are not treated like they do.
There is not enough awareness through all the media avenues of what opportunities are available for jobs and education.

3. How has your organisation addressed these issues?

Many people believe that South African youth are entitled. However, our experience has shown that when we assume the best of our youth, they always rise to the challenge.

Our young people need training on what is expected of them in the workplace, and how to have the best attitude. We focus on expectations, give training and help them achieve success. We expect the best of them and have seen a total transformation.

Using this model, we have assisted 17,580 formerly unemployed youth to access higher education and quality employment. These youth now earn well over R1 billion per year in combined earnings. We estimate they will earn over R28.3 billion in their working careers. Many are now leaders across the economy. We are grateful to have an average annual job placement rate of over 95%, which is unusual in that these have been drop-out youth who have been stuck and marginalised.

I believe things will change when more and more youth are successful and go back to their communities and start to inspire their younger peers. The school system is the ideal place to start to inspire and educate youth about opportunities available and career guidance, so we are working on an initiative relating to entrepreneurship and employability in the school system.

We have seen that anything is possible, but we need to deal with the whole person. So many young people are dealing with depression, anxiety, abuse and other trauma. Therefore, by dealing with the whole person – their history, their emotional makeup, their context – and also giving them a holistic set of skills and offerings, we will see miracles more and more.

The youth of South Africa possess much more latent potential than people give them credit for.

4. What is your personal connection to what you do? Why did you get into this field?

Growing up, we were very poor and because of education, we became very successful. My family originally came to South Africa from Eastern Europe with absolutely nothing. Although we slept on mattresses on the floor in our early years, my parents made sure that we went to the top private schools. Education was like a religion in our house.

Because I have seen first-hand the impact of education has, I want to give it over to the people around me. I could never have imagined what the result would be. It is a lot of work, but my life is an absolute joy; it is a privilege to do the work I am doing.