Karabelo Maloi

Karabelo Maloi – Lesotho

Social entrepreneurship to end poverty and disease

A mountainous country the size of Belgium and completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho, like many African countries, suffered a power vacuum at the end of colonial rule that is still unsettled to this day. In 1998, Karabelo Maloi was four years old when rioting erupted in the capital, Maseru, where he lived, and the country faced civil war. South African peacekeeping forces invaded, and the violence escalated into skirmishes, burning, and looting, heavily damaging the city. All-out war was prevented, but the hostilities remained.

“In my short twenty-three-year lifespan, I have lived through five coup d’etats, two parliamentary dissolutions, and the assassination of scores of senior political figures.” He believes that it is mainly through a regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its threatened intervention and sanctions that civil war has been averted.

“Daily life often meant a heavy military presence on the streets of Maseru and nation-wide curfews for citizens,” Karabelo says. His undamaged home sheltered him, but he says, “I still remember city-wide shutdowns in Maseru, organized by opposition party leaders in protest to our repressive and corrupt government.” Throughout his primary and secondary education, such strikes regularly disrupted transportation systems, so Karabelo and other students couldn’t get to their schools. Despite the hardships, he was already interested in business and traveled to the capital of Swaziland as part of a high school geography and business education trip. Karabelo was also nominated to attend the Global Young Leaders’ Conference at the National University of Lesotho International School.

November is a spring month in southern Africa, and Karabelo began working part time at a concrete brick works for nine months. Then in 2012, he entered the National University of Lesotho in his home city, studying accounting, business, and economics. During his first year, he endured three violent protests by students dissatisfied with government corruption and tyranny. Police responded with teargas, rubber bullets, and police dogs. Karabelo had had enough. “My parents, friends, and extended family all had me grow up wishing to find a way out of the country and onto greener pastures,” he says. And that was his plan.

Maseru is on the northwest border with South Africa, and the highly regarded University of the Free State (UFS) at Bloemfontein was only about seventy-five miles away. In 2014, Karabelo enrolled there, majoring in banking and investment management. “There, I was able to receive quality education in a stable environment for the first time in my life.” He soon joined the Lesotho Students Association (LESA) as a collaborator, and did eighteen hours a month of volunteer work for two years. “It was during my time at UFS when I started to see things differently,” he says. “I met phenomenal young people from all over the world who were doing amazing things in their respective home countries.” Karabelo tells of a young man from Iraq whose family’s home was destroyed by a blast in Baghdad, yet who still held high hopes for his country. As a social entrepreneur, the man ran a tea company that employed disenfranchised Iraqi women. “After this interaction and many more, I was never the same,” he says. Instead of hoping to leave his country, Karabelo resolved to return after graduation and help his homeland.

His university at that time, UFS, had begun its Leadership for Change Program for first year students “to establish layers of new thinking and engagement among students from diverse backgrounds.” Karabelo explains that the program aims to expose its students to positive models of social reform, governance, and social cohesion in an effort to build exceptional leadership among its students and develop “socially conscious and morally inclined graduates.” It gives freshmen students international exposure to top universities throughout the world. In January of 2015, Karabelo left on a two-week trip to New York and Vermont through this program.

In July of that year, he became a UFS official delegate at the Global Leadership Summit and the next month in August, received a Scholastic Achievement Award for Most All-Rounded First Year from ABSA and Golden Key, becoming an honorary member of the Golden Key International Society. Another honor followed in September when he became CEO of Commercio through the Faculty of the Economic and Management Sciences of UFS.

A year later, he became an advisory board member and non-executive director of the South African Student Business Council, which offers an environment on university campuses and activities that support business students and to develop young entrepreneurs. Karabelo also placed as an Allan Gray Achievement Awards 2016 Runner Up through Allan Gray Management.

Becoming a business leader is a prime concern for Karabelo because Lesotho’s “faltering economy has been brought to its knees by the flight of capital as global investors have fled an economy that is largely viewed as a systemic powder keg,” he says. Ongoing crises leave Lesotho “on the brink of expulsion from Sub-Saharan Africa’s most influential regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC).” Instability also risks the country’s being dropped from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives Lesotho access to US trade markets, a catastrophic consequence Karabelo says would result in massive job losses.

Through UFS’s student chapter of Enactus, described as “a global non-profit student community committed to harnessing the power of entrepreneurial initiative and action to transform lives and build a sustainable society,” Karabelo became the treasurer for a project that would provide a future manufacturing income for some of society’s most marginalized people living with disabilities. The chapter is developing a “biomass briquette that will provide a feasible and competitive alternative to charcoal briquettes” and which release far less carbon dioxide emissions.

The promise that technology holds in tackling Lesotho’s challenges fascinates Karabelo, but his “heart lies with entrepreneurship.” He believes that the young entrepreneurs of his country can “leverage the digital economy and all its benefits” to end the country’s long history of poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS. His career goal is to “contribute towards the proliferation of a new culture of innovation and enterprise that will form the basis for a peaceful and stable future through a financial technology startup of my own.”

His launching platform counts on companies in the private sector partnering with foreign counterparts and venturing into foreign markets to foster international cooperation. “My role would be to inspire my region by leading my people into the uncharted territory of fostering international ties and removing any barrier of alienation that may exist between our regions.”

Guided by a strong and positive moral compass, Karabelo has seen the corruption that breeds chaos and misery, and says, “I believe integrity to be one of the highest of virtues. Society cannot function without respect, justice, and equality.” He feels that the responsibility to change his country’s outlook rests firmly on the shoulders of his generation.

“If not us, who?” he asks. “If not now, when?”