Last week, Shayan Nahrvar, co-founder of Raise5, traveled to South Africa, where he met Richard Branson and had the chance to see some of Branson's local philanthropic activities. Nahrvar got a free trip to South Africa after his company won Virgin Unite's Screw Business as Usual competition, which sought to find entrepreneurs who are changing the world for the better. Earlier, Nahvar described his first day in South Africa. Below, he recounts the remainder of his trip.
Community Building in Ulusaba
It’s amazing what you can experience in just five days, especially when you sleep four hours a night. I arrived in South Africa on March 1, and immediately we took off on a private eight-seater plane from Johannesburg to Richard's game reserve in Ulusaba, where I spent the next three days. There, we spent many hours roaming the jungle in search of the incredible animals that inhabit it, including the elusive leopard, which we managed to spot on the second day.
When we weren’t exploring the natural beauty of Ulusaba with Richard, we spent our time visiting the local villages. On one such visit, we went to a school that was recently built by Virgin Unite’s partner organization, Pride 'n Purpose. We spent many hours there playing with the kids. We sang songs together, painted flowers on the school walls, and skipped rope. It was a reminder of the simple pleasures of life.
The Ulusaba leg of the trip came to an end with an outdoor dinner, a grand display of South African dance and music around a blazing bonfire. I had a great conversation with Richard, his son Sam, and his daughter Holly. We even indulged in some music ourselves, playing the guitar and singing together.
Leadership Lessons in Johannesburg
The next morning, we flew back to Johannesburg. There, I got front-row seats to the Global Success Summit, where Richard was interviewed in front of a large audience. He spoke in great detail about his successes with Virgin Atlantic and many of the other amazing ventures that he's been a part of, but also his failures, too, such as Virgin Cola. What was most refreshing to me, though, was his opposition to the war on drugs, which he strongly asserts has been a trillion-dollar failure lasting over 60 years. He believes, as I do, that drug use should not be a criminal issue, but rather a public health issue. I admire him for using his platform to influence public opinion and policy on this important issue.
After the summit, we spent our time interacting with South African entrepreneurs who are part of the Branson Entrepreneurship Centre. I had the honor of being a judge in an event called A Minute To Spin It. Basically, the entrepreneurs had exactly 60 seconds to sell their idea to investors and their peers. It wasn't a really competition but an informal opportunity for them to get feedback on their ideas and presentation skills. The ideas ranged from beanbag seats with built-in speakers to South African beauty products made from all-natural ingredients.
Our last stop was to the University of the Witwatersrand, where I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Lee Berger, the paleoanthropologist who discovered the remains of Karabo, an early human ancestor called Australopithecus sediba. Karabo is the most complete fossil of an early human ancestor ever discovered, so it was a pleasure to talk with Berger. I even had a chance to see Karabo for myself: he's about four feet tall and 2 million years old.
The Final Takeaway
I took so much away from my trip to South Africa, both professionally and personally. At my company, I have often been very hard on myself and my team, even to the point of micromanaging. Richard taught me that a great leader helps inspire his team so that he can delegate work and know that it will be taken care of. I also realized that I should be more adventurous in my life. Whatever I do, I should always strive to have fun and let my passion guide me.