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The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university in the Western Cape of South Africa. It was founded in 1829 and is the oldest university in the country. It enrolls more than 25,000 students each year and is currently the highest-ranked university in Africa, according to various rankings.

Through its civic engagement efforts, UCT seeks to help the “born-free” generation, youth born in the year of the country’s first free elections in 1994 and are now coming of age in an era still plagued with inequality and unemployment. One particular socially responsible program at UCT is not centered on enrolled students, but on those in the margins of the university’s reach. The Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development (RAA), hosted at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, offers disadvantaged youth a chance to develop their skills and make a difference in their communities.

RAA’s young people are usually excluded from higher education because of social, academic, or financial constraints. Once enrolled, they undergo a 6-month program in entrepreneurial development that includes classroom learning, practical projects and lectures from guest speakers.  RAA is run twice per year and involves an average of 180 students each year, with about two thirds of participants coming from the Soweto area.

Through its participation in the Talloires Network’s Youth Economic Participation Initiative (YEPI), UCT will grow its Graduate Entrepreneur Support Service (GESS). This initiative, started in 2013, aids RAA graduates in their efforts to establish small businesses upon the completion of the program. The program seeks to support at least ten budding entrepreneurs each year, as they put their ideas into action. They will benefit from incubation, mentorship, training, and alumni advice. Peer group sessions will encourage active learning and support among GESS participants.

The work of the RAA will help provide a better future for hundreds of South Africa’s youth. To date, 793 have graduated from the program. Many more are sure to benefit as the Graduate School of Business expands, opening an 18,000 square feet warehouse incubator modeled after MIT’s Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It will include a space for GESS entrepreneurs to be hosted for six months.

Their participation in the six-month program gives them a step up in an otherwise difficult employment market. Approximately 80% of RAA graduates are already working, studying or running a business; and more than 75% rate their overall experience in the RAA as “excellent”. Through RAA, UCT is making a positive difference in young people’s lives in South Africa.