Award winning article – FunDza: A revolution in teen reading 1

Mignon Hardie has been involved with the start-up and management of a number of SMEs including the Fundza Literacy Fund where she is a trustee and trust manager.

She’s warm-hearted with a welcoming charisma, down-to-earth nature and a genuine ‘do good’ approach to life that makes one question what the real purpose of life is. During her MBA at Stellenbosch University, it was the combination of learning about value-based organisations and the work philosophy of ‘make meaning, not money’ that resulted in Mignon resigning from her unsatisfying corporate position and set her ambitions to find a greater cause to support.

Together with other inspired individuals, she created a new demand in an uncontested market space. In the millennial world of technology, most children do not consider reading books as a hobby, even more so for children with deprived backgrounds who cannot relate to the current published material. The Fundza Literacy Trust is an NGO that seeks out and commissions good relevant stories and poems for short books with accessible English which reflects the lives and issues of these previously disadvantaged teenagers and young adults. By publishing interesting content through accessible channels such as Mxit (a free social network on mobile phones), they have up to 1.3m page views a month and 55,000 unique visitors.

It is fair to say that Fundza has created a reading revolution, in which 20,000 people each week are identifying with characters and relating to stories. Readers have (fictional) role models to aspire to and often share their own experiences by leaving up to 800 comments daily on the various stories.

Fundza has generated its own ‘blue ocean strategy’ and entered a market space that most business leaders would have otherwise walked away from due to its complexities, lack of information and questionable viability. Given South Africa’s history and the importance of developing the black youth, the Fundza books provide a unique way of dealing with social issues, facilitating education and engaging conversations of meaning. The stories are powerful; provide insight, awareness and hope.

With multiple media articles and interviews, there are no signs of Fundza slowing down in the future as they expand towards developing more South African writers and improving the back-end of the mobi-library technology experience. It is no wonder that they were named as one of the top 10 most innovative global companies in Education for 2013 by Fast Company.

One of her greatest challenges while working on the Fundza project was during the start-up phase gathering sponsorships and giving up a personal salary for almost a year. For Mignon, the way to overcome such a challenge is to focus on the end optimistic goal and know that there will always be a plan to make things work.

As a business leader, Mignon lives by the Nelson Mandela quote, ‘the time is always ripe to do right’. This explains her decision to change career paths, endure challenges and be a co-founder of a project that continuously gives back to the community. It is uncommon to hear someone say that coming to work is the best part of their day and actually believing them.

From my experience in meeting Mignon Hardie and her team, there is no doubt in my mind that she is a true Jim Collins’ Level 5 leader where she serves others first before she serves herself. The organisation has a flat structure where each individual has the opportunity to grow, engage and empower themselves and others. They are all Fundza brand ambassadors with a shared goal and emotional connection, a relaxed and non-competitive environment that Mignon has created for her team. I have never laughed (and nearly cried) as much during a meeting before and one of Mignon’s colleagues even said, ‘it is awesome to have a boss who is the giggliest of all’.

I left that meeting with tears in my eyes. A united team, giving back to the community, working together across all age and racial divides with the purpose of developing teens and young adults to enhance our nation’s development – that is a rare find!

This article was first published in The Independent (UK) on South African Women’s Day Friday 9 August 2013 and won an international award for the writer Brigitte Roediger. 

Brigitte Roediger is brand manager at Spier Wine Farm and an MBA student at University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa. She is also an AMBA Global AMBAssador. Brigitte won the Global AMBAssadors Challenge with this article examining a successful social business story and will participate in the PRME Summit in Slovenia, between 25 and 27 September 2013

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