Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Lessons for Creating Social Impact with Thandi Tutu-Gxashe

By Prabha Dublish, Undergraduate student at Babson College and Undergraduate Scholar at The Lewis Institute.

This past Friday, we had Thandi Tutu-Gxashe, the founder of Tutudesks and Desmond Tutu’s eldest daughter, come speak about her passion for education. (If you are wondering how to pronounce her name it’s Thandi like Gandhi not Thandi like candy as she so aptly pointed out to us). Thandi was an inspirational speaker who was able to fill the room with an infectious positive energy.

Thandi’s non profit is based on the idea there are two parts to the literacy equation: reading and writing. While students can learn to read anywhere, they need a desk to learn how to write. Often times in developing countries, students do not have desks because they are too expensive, or people chop down the desks for firewood. So they have developed a simple hand-held “Tutudesk”, which they have already provided to more than 1 million children, with a goal of distributing 20 million Tutudesks to 20 million children by 2020. This is something that we often take for granted. I couldn’t imagine going to school and not having a desk. Thandi made me appreciate the resources that are given to us at school here, and how important it is to support organizations like Tutudesks.

The most intriguing part about this solution is that it provides no value to anyone but the children. One of the most common solutions to rural issues normally centers on technology, which. Thandi specifically cited an example of an organization that tried handing out iPads to their children to stimulate learning. The first thing that happened was that these children were being accosted for their technology so people could sell them on the black market. This is because in the context of a developing country where many people struggle to put food on the table, education through technology comes as a secondary priority to having food.

This example is indicative of a cultural knowledge-gap that often happens in the social change space. There needs to be a deep understanding for the context of the population you are trying to help. In fact, by understanding this, Thandi was able to create a product that was both low cost and effective. These desks are often the first things that these children own, so they have a sense of pride and responsibility.

As someone who is hoping to create long lasting social change, the reinforcement that simple solutions are often the most effective resonated with me and I found Thandi’s conversation with us very powerful. Be sure to check out her non profit here, view the video below, and join us for the next Good Business Friday for more fascinating conversations!