June 2007 | Shubha Madhukar

More power to dreams

Tata Africa Holdings' scholarship programme in South Africa is giving new meaning and direction to the lives of students with plenty of potential but not the means to realise it

Inside the high walls of the beautiful campus of the University of Witswatersrand in the heart of Johannesburg, South Africa, the scene is much the same as at any campus the world over: groups of students rushing around purposefully, some chatting animatedly, others sitting quietly under a tree, reading a book. We meet up with four of them, all recipients of a special scholarship awarded by the Tata Group and are impressed with their cheery outlook on life and the determination to succeed.

The eldest of nine siblings, Thandi Dladla, 23, grew up in the crime-infested and poverty-stricken town of Alexandra, near Johannesburg. With an iron will, Dladla finished school and went on to study further at Johannesburg. Today, she is a role model for her seven brothers and one sister. Babyi Olivia, 26, from a similar background in Rustenberg, also struggled to get to Johannesburg, aspiring for a better future for her sisters and mother, through further studies.

For Olivia and Dladla and eight other students of Witswatersrand University, dreams are on their way to becoming reality, thanks to scholarships awarded by Tata Africa Holdings, under the Tata Scholarships Programme. Today, Olivia has completed her masters in nursing and is ready to work in the government department of health. And Dladla has completed a course in industrial psychology and is doing an internship at MultiChoice, a company which operates the satellite television service. The Tata scholarship covered their university fees, hostel / accommodation expenses and expenditure on books and research work. This was a huge relief because the university financial aid covered only the course fees and they had to supplement their income by working part time, leaving little time and energy for studies.

"The Tata scholarship was an enormous help," acknowledges Eliphas Nolou, "I could buy books and a computer with the money. Since the computer labs are always full, having my own computer really helped me to keep up with my work and not fall behind the class." Nolou, 31, is a student of economic science who hopes to make a career in investment banking. After getting the scholarship, he was able to give up his part-time job as a security guard and concentrate on his studies.

Evans Netshivhanbe, 24, is equally grateful for the scholarship. He says he didn't know where the money would come from when he applied for a course in digital arts at the university. Receiving the scholarship, he says, was a huge relief: "I wasn't stressed anymore. I didn't need to work and could focus on my studies." He is in the process of completing his research papers and all ready to venture into web designing.

These ten students took the first step forward and the Tata Scholarships Programme gave them the boost they needed to reach their goal. The Tata Scholarships Programme aims at disadvantaged students who have proven their potential to excel in their respective disciplines. The selection of scholars is done by the university on the basis of criteria set down by the company.

To give back to society has been the Tata way of doing business and the institution of these scholarships marks the initial steps in the Group's corporate social responsibility programme in South Africa. The Group is committed to the cause of higher education and development of skills in diverse areas. In its second year, the scholarship programme will be extended to more students and universities.

A small step in the area of higher education, the scholarship programme is really a giant leap in terms of the number of lives it has changed. It has also set off a multiplier effect, with these 10 students pledging to spread the good work further. They have promised to return to their school and hometown and educate people on the benefits of education and the opportunities and alternatives available. The Tata spirit of social commitment has rubbed off on them and, in their own small ways, they are all giving back to their community.