(The team loading up the Lapdesks for our trip – up from the left: Shane, Tara, Renee, Tshiamo and Hendrick, front Jacob and Sam)
I feel truly privileged. The trip to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) last week was in many ways a personal enrichment journey . The type of journey that inspired me to revisit my fundamental values and plans for the future. Spending time with the school children was incredibly touching. Bringing a smile to their young faces will remain with me forever.
Whatever expectations I had when Shane and I headed to KZN for the handover ceremonies and client meetings did not prepare me for what was in store.
Before coming to Johannesburg I knew that Lapdesk was more than just a kidney-bean shaped ergonomic desk. What I didn’t realise is that this is a company interested in not just improving school infrastructure, but also in raising Africa’s human capital. Starting with South Africa, Lapdesk aims to address skill shortages and stimulate children’s physical development.
Pupils at King Zwelithini primary school
“So what is it that you do at Lapdesk?” my friend Paul asked me one evening. “Well,” I started explaining, “it varies every day – that’s the beauty of working for a small entrepreneurial company”. My goal coming here was to avoid being a cog in a system. I hoped to have my imagination stretched, my assumptions challenged and my newly-minted MBA skills employed to the fullest. And they have been.
Recently, the front page of one of South Africa’s largest newspapers, The Star, ran a lead story, “Gauteng Online slammed as R3bn flop – ($385m/£226m). The project – to make all of Gauteng’s public schools wired to the Internet through special computer labs – has been beset by problems. The labs have been slow to be built and deadlines have not been met.
School children learning without desks
“How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?” – I get this question all the time from my friends and classmates. And I want to have a good answer. An actionable, simple answer such as: “Go to our website, choose a school from the database and buy a Lapdesk for them.”
So how can our company make this happen? One of my main goals this summer is to launch an online initiative and to develop a plan for scaling it up – creating a home for individual donors who will become “Lapdesk friends”.
While our current website www.lapdesk.co.za is functional and rich in information, I want to take it to the next level: to turn it into a dynamic communications platform connecting Lapdesk’s partners, sponsors and beneficiaries. I want to enable individuals to donate Lapdesks to a school of their choice and to track our progress – all online.
Imagine: You are nine years old. You go to school. It’s winter. You enter the unheated classroom and sit in your chair or on the floor. And then you start your daily lessons… But wait – you don’t have anything to write on. You don’t have a desk…
Today, I had a life altering experience. I helped with a Lapdesk handover ceremony in King Zwelithini Primary School in Soweto (a Johannesburg township only 20 minutes away from the city’s glossy financial district). The students, wearing tidy green uniforms, were waiting for us with such excitement on their faces, singing and dancing to greet us.
A warm welcome by the school choir
Our client and the Lapdesk team unveiled the surprise – 385 colourful, new Lapdesks stacked in neat piles, waiting to find an owner. For many of the children, this will be the first new thing they’ve ever owned. Theirs to take home and do homework, theirs to use at school every day.
Jacob Ramaru, Lapdesk’s National Field Operations Manager, led the ceremony. He is a master at that – the kids were laughing and reciting after him in four different languages – incredibly inspiring to watch! The dreams and energy warmed up the classroom – future lawyers, doctors, accountants and presidents shared aspirations in one voice! (Engineers were not as numerous…)
Jacob talking to the students
Now, what exactly is a handover ceremony?