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By Nadine Salib

The Raymond Ackerman Academy (RAA) is a post-school academy hosted at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus. The academy, which has operated since 2006, has graduated over 900 participants. RAA’s vision is to produce role model entrepreneurs who inspire and motivate young people between the ages of 18 and 30. RAA is supported by the Youth Economic Participation Initiative since 2013.

Ms. Elli Yiannakaris, Director of the RAA, visited the Talloires Network Secretariat office on May 22, 2015. Elli gave a presentation on the RAA, sharing updates on the many programs and students’ success stories in Cape Town. Elli explained how creative thinking is essential when it comes to business idea generation. She presented some of the ideas the Academy students have generated since learning the techniques to identify gaps in the market. A story from one of Elli’s students who started a mobile medical business has been highlighted in several South African news outlets.

Elli spoke about how the RAA recruits students in the community. She said RAA is focused on helping “youths who have not had the opportunity, due to various socio-economic, academic or financial constraints, to achieve a tertiary education, but have shown entrepreneurial tendencies and display the drive to better themselves and their communities.”

The RAA offers two programs:

  • An innovative six-month, full-time program in entrepreneurial development which runs twice a year and involves around 180 students.
  • A postgraduate support program – the Graduate Entrepreneur Support Service or GESS, geared towards graduates and alumni who have or would like to start a business.

The programs aim to link business ideas to students’ personal vision, provide one-on-one mentorship and personal development sessions, attend to specific field requirements, fund assets and working capital, and ensure exposure to a broader business network.

Elli noted that 470 students have graduated from the Cape Town academy, and 83% of them are economically active (i.e. working, started a business or studying). She added that despite this success, integration of knowledge, skills and personal development into desired entrepreneurial behavior and skills was a long process. Developing monitoring and evaluation systems that track improvement such as social betterment was also difficult but has paid dividends in raising support for the program. The Growth Wheel is one tool they’ve developed to measure the process and development of student’s businesses.