The mind of a mentor: Insights from SA’s leading innovators

The Mentorship Challenge, with Marc Wainer connects people across geographical, cultural and industrial boundaries. And this is all thanks to the time, talent and wisdom of the mentors featured on the show and online. We wanted to unpack their insights more fully than the television show allows. Because ultimately, it’s all about the meetings, moments, milestones – and mistakes! – that led them to the leaders they are today.

And those leaders don’t come much bolder than Miles Kubheka. Miles built his brand on ‘Vuyo’, the fictional rags-to-riches character in a TV ad, and from there, this trailblazer in traditional SA food has become a foodie force. Like all visionaries, he’s travelled an interesting road: from WITS graduate in IT to a global role at Microsoft, to going back to his roots – through his brand of community-based, comfort food.

With Vuyo’s opening on Vilakazi Street, the brand has become truly iconic. But he’s not just a purveyor of good food; this gastronomist and guest speaker believes that doing good is simply good business.

We sat him down and asked him to answer a few choice questions.

What does the term ‘mentorship’ mean to you?

Mentorship is all about someone who has been around the block, and is willing to share their wisdom and what they have learned from personal experience.

What, in your view, is required to forge a successful mentoring relationship?

You need trust and a deeply authentic relationship.

Tell us about the earliest memories of mentorship in your life – with specific reference to the people who had the greatest influence on your development.

My mother was my earliest mentor. She didn’t teach me, though. I just learned by watching her. It was a natural, effortless process. My first boss was another great mentor who told me to focus on my strengths – if I focused on my weaknesses, all I would have is really strong weaknesses.

Looking back on your life, what changes would you make and what would you do differently? What would you say to your younger self?

I would be more comfortable with making mistakes and accepting that failure is inevitable. It’s going to happen. I would definitely remind my younger self that success is simply the other side of failure. And you have to be prepared for both in life.

If you could pick anyone in the world to mentor you today, who would that ‘fantasy’ mentor be?

Elon Musk.

What legacy would you like to leave in your lifetime?

My mom always said to me, ‘don’t be an also-ran in life. Go out and change the world. Stand for something.’ I would like to be able to say that I changed the world for the better.

What does it take to develop an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset?

You need to cultivate the ability to start anything, any time. It takes a certain kind of fearlessness.

What changes would you like to see in our education system (pre-primary through to post-matric) to make it more supportive of disruptive, entrepreneurial thinking?

Kids need to be taught that failure happens, but so does success; both are part of life. Kids must also be taught how to start things, how to initiate, how to become self-starters. Unfortunately, school teaches the opposite: passivity and conformity.

What role can corporates, SMEs and NGOs play in rebuilding South Africa, and how can they make a meaningful impact in the communities that need this most?

I think my food accelerator is a perfect example of what can be done through purposeful partnerships: it’s the ideal combination of private sector and public sector creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What advice would you give a passionate young person who wants to start their own business in today’s economic climate?

START! NOW!

We’re hoping these mentoring dialogues will deliver some meaningful food for thought for you to digest, and that they’ll inspire both mentors and mentees to join the challenge.

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