James Urdang, Social Entrepreneur and Humanitarian, is the CEO and Founder of Education Africa. His tireless energy and ability to make things happen have resulted in a number of dynamic projects which have made a huge impact on various communities within South Africa. Just in the past ten years alone the reach of Education Africa’s projects has impacted tens-of-thousands of learners directly and well over a million learners indirectly through educator training and support.
James was mentored by the late Walter Sisulu and was asked to speak at the funeral service of the late Chris Hani. James was also the first person in the non-profit sector to lead President Nelson Mandela following his inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected President and had the honour of presenting him the Golden Doves of Peace Award. He also worked and interacted with Nelson Mandela on a number of projects, most notably the No Easy Walk to Freedom video; two series of Nelson Mandela Presidential Medallions; as well as the Presidential and Premier Education Awards which Education Africa hosted over a period of several years and which Nelson Mandela personally attended whilst holding office.
Other great leaders and prominent figures James engaged with along the way include Thabo Mbeki, Helen Suzman, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Cyril Ramphosa, Sir Bob Geldof and many others.
Those who work with James are extremely motivated by his leadership skills; his ability to earn trust among high-ranking officials; his will to succeed and his willingness to make personal sacrifices to do just that, for the betterment of others. Throughout his presentation, James will reflect on the many highs and lows he encountered along the way, and the many challenges he faced over the years. These vary from his own educational challenges; the ongoing uphill battle to secure funding for Education Africa’s projects to ensure their sustainability; and the sheer grit and determination required to ensure that innovative projects become a reality.
James was also faced with the challenge of an attempted hostile take-over of Education Africa by a leading international financial institution (it failed) and the associated haemorrhage experienced as a result (it went on for a few years as James focused on rebuilding Education Africa back into a leading NPO). Equally, a self-serving educator managed to wrest control of Masibambane College in Orange Farm for a few years and in that time – through chronic mismanagement – nearly forced the school into financial disaster. Education Africa is now back in the driving seat as a full partner of the school it founded and built, and Masibambane College today is a high-performance school.
James has never given up on his dreams. Not even the global COVID-19 pandemic could dampen his spirits. The enforced lockdowns meant that Education Africa under James’ leadership had yet another massive mountain to climb as it was necessary to pull out all the stops to introduce innovative ways of training and teaching using technology-based platforms to ensure that Education Africa’s students and beneficiaries would be able to continue their studies, and that its projects – and indeed the organisation as a whole – would be able to keep running.
James’ presentation will be an honest account of his journey of over 3 decades. As someone who speaks from the heart, James will expand on what it’s really like to pursue a life goal to help the poorest, to promote social cohesion and to take every opportunity that life presents.
He was named as one of the winners of the Swiss international 2018 Klaus J. Jacobs Awards honouring social innovation and change-making in the field of child and youth development. In 2019, the Premier of Gauteng presented James with a bronze leadership award for his service to the province.
More recently GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Sciences) has written a business case study on Education Africa using James as the protagonist. This is in the process of been published by Ivy Business Publisher (Ivy Business School) in Canada and will be made available globally through Harvard Business Publishing
- Leadership In A Crisis
- Turning Chaos Into Opportunities
- A Lesson in Resilience
- Navigating Change