Frank Magwegwe moved from unemployment and homelessness in his twenties to become segment chief executive at Momentum Retail and the founder of Inspire Belief, a non-profit organisation dedicated to enriching the educational opportunities in disadvantaged communities in South Africa.
He believes that employment provides dignity, and education is the only way to fight the challenges in SA. Today he is an entrepreneur and runs the Frankly Speaking Group, a group of companies striving to help people flourish through better management of their finances or achieving their full potential in life.
Speaking at a Henley Business School Africa mini conference, Mr Magwegwe’s story begins as a barman at the age of 20 in a small town in the Eastern Cape. In an effort to escape poverty and fulfil his dream of going to university he decided to relocate to Johannesburg in search of opportunities.
He struggled to find a job and became homeless in Johannesburg’s Park Station for about seven months. This was until he started selling vegetables on the streets. Later, through spending time reading in public libraries, he met a lady who recommended that he apply to Wits University to study and also apply for a bursary with the South African Institute of Race Relations.
He later received a full bursary which started his journey to his successful career. After completing the Advanced Management Programme at the Harvard Business School in 2013, he felt it was time to give back to society through his own not-for-profit and started Inspire Belief.
Discussing his experiences as a homeless person and his subsequent career in business, Mr Magwegwe believes that in any leadership development programme there is a difference between learning and development. “Development only happens when there is a change within you. You take it on yourself to change, otherwise you are just learning,” he says.
“When l was homeless, on the streets, they were difficult times and l learned much about myself. Learning about myself made me a better person. Very often, when we are employed and things are going well, we tend not to appreciate how fortunate we are, and this can sometimes stifle our growth.”
“How we respond to obstacles is important. There will always be obstacles in life, but we have choices on how we respond to obstacles, whether we are leaders, entrepreneurs, unemployed or homeless. One thing we have power over are our choices, irrespective of how tough life is. Our life is a summary of the choices we have made until now. We have the power to choose our attitude which impacts our life and set of beliefs.”
Mr Magwegwe’s philosophy is ‘If you can find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn’t lead anywhere’. He adds: “Looking at life’s road ahead, we shouldn’t develop the road for the people, but the people for the road.”
“My moving out of poverty and from homelessness has been based on a series of choices and a belief that l was not destined to be homeless all my life.”
“One of the choices was not to take a job as a farm labourer. l saw how these people were destined to work in the same job all their lives, doing the same work. I wanted something better, even though l was jobless and needed to earn a living.”
“When you are homeless there is the desire to give up on your dreams and life when things become tough. Many homeless people do give up. I made the decision not to give up and hold on to my dreams.”
“In business, we often have similar choices. The answer is never to give up, to try to make positive choices, see your future as positive and keep a good attitude.”