Last March, Richard Branson announced a competition, Screw Business as Usual (named after his book of the same title), to find entrepreneurs who are changing the world for the better. Out of hundreds of applicants, Raise5, based in Chicago, was chosen as the winner. Raise5, founded last year, operates a website on which people can sell services such as proofreading and design and donate the proceeds to charity. As his prize, co-founder Shayan Nahrvar traveled to South Africa on Friday to meet Branson at Ulusaba, Branson's private game reserve. Below, Nahrvar describes his first day at Ulusaba. Later this week, he will write about the remainder of his trip. 

Day One: The Gift of Hearing

After a long flight, I arrived at Ulusaba at noon. First, we visited the Bhubezi Community Health Centre, where I was able to meet Richard for the first time. The health centre itself is run by Dr. Hugo Templeman, and it is supported heavily by Virgin Unite and Richard Branson. On the day of my visit, Richard and his mother were working with the Starkey Foundation Hearing Mission to provide hearing aids for over 300 South Africans. Some of the people were hearing sounds for the very first time! I had the opportunity to help people put in some hearing aids and give them the gift of hearing. It was an immensely touching experience.

Wildlife and Good Conversation

Later that day, we went on a safari, where I had the opportunity to see elephants, lions, and giraffes in the beautiful nature reserve in Ulusaba. Then, we came back to the lodge to have dinner with Richard, where we shared great food and conversation. During dinner, we spoke about how entrepreneurship can create sustainable change in the world. We agreed that businesses should have a larger role in helping solve the social and environmental issues. There was also a good amount of lightheartedness and joking.

Richard's perspective was insightful, but I learned a lot just from watching how he conducts himself. Richard is kind and humble. He believes that businesses should be a force for good, a force that addresses today’s social and environmental issues in a profitable manner. That's why he likes Raise5’s online fundraising platform.

A True Adventurer

It's also clear that Richard has a zest for life and an unwavering determination to see positive change in the world. When you speak with him, you can tell he’s a true adventurer with a passion for exploration, whether it’s his interest in the greatest depths of the ocean or his project to visit space with his daughter in the following year. (I met Richard’s daughter and son here in Ulusaba, too. They are very intelligent and down to earth.)

So far, this has been an eye-opening experience. I look forward to the days ahead, where I’ll witness the development of a school, have a group dinner in the bush with Richard, and visit Johannesburg to mentor entrepreneurs at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. I will relay these exciting interactions on the next dispatch.

Published on: Mar 6, 2013