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Changing the World One Person at a Time: Shai Reshef

The founder of the University of the People believes that education can change the world.

Nadine Todd




I spent 20 years building a for-profit education model.

When we launched the first online university outside of the US, we were able to provide students from around the world with access to a European-grade education. It was a great success.

When I sold the business however, I realised I needed to really evaluate what I wanted to still achieve in my life. We had created something great, but for so many students around the world, access to an excellent tertiary education is just wishful thinking. I wanted to change that.

Related: How Social Entrepreneur Richard Mabaso is Keeping Girls in School

Once I realised I wanted to give back instead of just retiring,

I started thinking about what we could do. How could we achieve a real impact on the world? I believe that if you educate a person, you change a life. But if you educate many, you can change the world. This needed to be our aim.

How could we make tertiary education available and free?

The answer lay in open source technology, open resources, and the entrenchment of a culture of sharing. This would work if everyone – from our professors to our students – believed in sharing their knowledge, skills and time.

The University of the People was born…

based on this dedication to opening the gates to higher learning, particularly for individuals from disadvantaged communities.

We focus on business development and computer sciences, as we believe these degrees are the most likely to assist our students in their careers, and our professors are all retired or still working but able to donate their time and skills to our cause.

Only our admin staff earns a salary. We’ve kept the model as cost-effective as possible, but we do still rely on corporate funding to make it work. For example, we’ve just signed a deal with Microsoft in South Africa to support our programme.

The ultimate goal is to create world peace.

That might sound far-fetched, but I truly believe that if people are given the chance to converse with each other, and to see that we are all essentially the same, tomorrow’s leaders might have a very different agenda from today’s leaders.

Our students must have a high school diploma and be proficient in English. And they must be willing to work hard and learn from each other.

In order for this to work, we do need to attract the right people however.

We have stringent criteria for getting in. Students must be focused on their own social responsibility, and they must be willing to work hard. We want future leaders, and that doesn’t come easily.

Yes, we’re providing an opportunity, but you need to really want it. This is why although the tuition is free, exams are not. Each student pays $100 per exam. If you really can’t afford it, we do have corporate scholarships, so no-one is left behind, but this isn’t simply a hand-out.

Our students leave the programme highly sought-after with excellent resumés, and we attract corporate sponsorships as a result as well, but we support those who believe in our mission. That’s how you change the world.


Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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