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Closing the circle: investing in SA’s property leaders through the SAPOA Bursary Fund

No society can expect to grow or thrive when the vast majority of its young people are out of work” – a comment made by President Cyril Ramaphosa shortly before SA’s 15 to 24 year old’s recorded an unemployment rate of 59.6% during Q3 2022, with 25 to 34 year old’s at 40.5%. Of the 10.2 million South Africans within the younger age group, 34.5% were registered as unemployed or not enrolled in education or training according to Stats SA.

Of more concern is that 10.7% of graduates were without work during this period too. This, coupled with a critical skills shortage, paints a picture of an institution that has systematically degraded over the years, failing to produce on its promises of transformation, free education, and job creation.

Like many other organisations in the private sector, SAPOA, the voice of SA’s commercial property industry, stepped up to the plate by launching the SAPOA Bursary Fund in late 2009 in aid of previously disadvantaged individuals, many of whom are the first generation within their families to enrol for higher education.

Since welcoming its first cohort of students in 2011, the SAPOA Bursary Fund has granted R27.6 million in sponsorships to well deserving individuals who do not have the financial means – like Philani Mzila, one of the programme’s original bursars and a success story worth mentioning.

Born in KwaMashu township in Durban, Philani was raised by his single mother in Johannesburg who worked two jobs to support him, and his brother. Through his academic achievements, he attended Jeppe High School for Boys on a scholarship where he completed his Matric and when he set his sight on studying finance, he applied – and was awarded – a bursary through SAPOA’s Bursary Fund.

Philani Mzila

Post-graduation, he started his career in 2013 with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), a member of SAPOA. Today, he works as an Investment Manager at Founders Factory Africa, focussing on investing in and scaling FinTech, HealthTech, and AgriTech ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is a Chartered Development Finance Analyst (CDFA), an alumnus of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community and he has contributed to academia through papers focused on behavioural finance and savings behaviour in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Philani holds a BCom (Hons) in Investments and Corporate Finance from the University of Witwatersrand and a MPhil in Development Finance from Stellenbosch Business School.

SAPOA’s bursary fund was amazing from an overall support perspective,” he says. “It covered my tuition, residence and text books costs which allowed me to take my mind off of the pressure and the impact this would have had on my family. I was able to fully immerse myself in the university experience, both academically and from a social perspective.”

Investing in SA’s property leaders

Over the many years, the programme’s model has developed and while it has moved away from sponsoring ‘general’ qualifications within the property sector, such as Philani’s, it has shifted to home in on industry-focused qualifications in advocation of “circling back” into the real estate industry, says Moeketsi Moshata, Bursary and Career Specialist at SAPOA.

Initially, the bursary fund also only focused on sponsoring tuition. We quickly realized that there are a number of ad-hoc expenses that students are faced with and now, we also cover our students’ accommodation and text books.”

Moeketsi Moshata

The programme has also incorporated mentorship, bringing together various professionals from within the industry including tutors, to assist students with subjects that they struggle with, HR practitioners, who play a part in preparing the graduates for interviews, and psychologists who support students on a psycho-social level.

While we have found that our students do well from an academic perspective, they often aren’t equipped with the necessary skills when going for a job interview. We have come across situations where the psycho-social morale of our students is bad, and we have worked tirelessly to ensure that we do not lose anyone half-way through the programme. The gap between high school and university is large – other graduates, from other universities, are their competition and it is essential that they are equipped to stand above the rest.”

Preparing for the world of work

Most of the programme’s sponsors are industry members of SAPOA and outside of their financial support, these partnerships have evolved to fuse with various independent graduate programmes, including Vukile Property Fund’s initiative, The Vukile Academy which was launched in 2019 as driver for the REIT’s skills development and transformation strategy.

Historically, three or more graduates from SAPOA’s programme have been accepted into the academy’s twelve-month internship programme every year where individuals gain professional experience within the working environment.

“Our internship focuses on employing new graduates with applicable property related qualifications. It is not a requirement for the applicants to have prior working experience. We look for dynamic individuals with a strong work ethic, who are eager to learn and passionate about making an impact in the sector,says Nomsa Kole, HR, and Transformation Manager for Vukile Property Fund.

Access to quality education and youth unemployment are concerning issues that our country is facing and contributions to programmes like the SAPOA Bursary Fund and the Vukile Academy are not only important but should be a requirement for our country’s benefit.”

Applying to the bursary fund

For individuals wanting to apply for 2024’s intake, there are three main criteria that need to be considered: applicants must be accepted and registered with the university of their choice outside of the degrees that fall within the bursary fund, they must require financial assistance, and they need to be hard workers.

Applicants do not necessarily need to be ‘A’ students – we have the right support via our tutors to assist them along their journeys. What we do look at are things like extra-curricular activities during Matric. I have always told our students that when they work hard, the opportunities will be there. Your academics need to be good; you need to be persistent and to possess curiosity to learn new skills. You need to enter the room to learn, to grow and most importantly, to ask the right questions.”

We have to think towards the future and to implement solutions that can assist our youth in advancing, especially with the high youth unemployment rate. As an industry, we need to come together with the resources we have. Past graduates of our programme have gone on to become mentors and tutors over the years which has helped to close the circle and a way in which to pay back the support that they received.”

Applications for 2024’s intake open on the 1st of July 2023 and close on the 15th of September 2023. All successful candidates will be notified by November 2023. Keep an eye on our website and social media platforms for more information.