On Thursday, 27 July, an extraordinary adventure will commence as Keith Boyd, a 57-year-old retired telecoms entrepreneur, embarks on a daring journey across the length of Africa. He will traverse the continent on foot, starting from the iconic cityscape of Cape Town and culminating in the ancient landscapes of Cairo. His goal? To light a fire of change in the hearts of South Africa’s youth, inspiring them to understand the importance of voting and being agents of change in the country.
Born in Scotland, Keith moved to South Africa with his family when he was four. His father was a gritty blue collar worker and qualified refrigeration mechanic. From these humble beginnings, Keith had a challenging academic journey at Plumstead High School in Cape Town. Like many South Africans Matric results saw him unable to pursue university studies, but that did not stop him from nurturing an indomitable spirit.
Despite his academic results, Keith managed to secure a job at Old Mutual. Here, he dealt with complex policy changes and the emerging wave of technology during the digital revolution in the mid-80s. During this time, Keith was conscripted to national service and went to the army for two years.
Upon the completion of his military duties, he launched his first business that was focused on furniture restoration and manufacturing. Unfortunately, like many with big dreams of entrepreneurship, the business failed after three years.
“I soon discovered that running a business is one of the toughest things a person can do in life. While I was working incredibly hard, it taught me that you can do the right thing at the wrong time and it simply will not make a difference,” says Boyd.
Boyd decided to get back into the technology space and become a computer programmer after rejoining Old Mutual. He enjoyed working with people and started focusing on technical sales. He soon learned that a university degree was not the only way to enter the technology industry, and so set about gaining real-world practical experience.
“I followed a channel of skills all the way through to telecoms where I started my second business which owned and operated cell phone towers which we rented out to telecom operators in South Africa,” he says.
His tenacity and drive saw the business grow to such an extent that he eventually sold it to American Tower Corporation, a NYSE listed business with a market capitalisation of $120 billion. He stayed on at the business for another four years facilitating further investment and job creation into Africa.
And yet, Boyd’s journey is not just defined by his entrepreneurial triumphs; it is also deeply marked by personal tragedies and the harsh reality of life in South Africa. In 1992, Boyd confronted an unthinkable loss when his sister was brutally raped and murdered. Together with his challenging army experience, these events served as catalysts, hardening his resolve and sparking his commitment to enact change in South Africa.
According to Boyd, “there are two types of people: those with results and those with excuses”. And he has chosen to be the former. Now, he is turning his trials into triumph by channelling his hard-won lessons on resilience and determination into an inspirational cause: the ‘Rainbow Leaders’ initiative.
Rainbow Leaders is an independent NGO that aims to educate South Africa’s youth about their vital role in democracy. “We have a problem in SA – unemployment, poverty, inequality. These are money problems leading to socio-economic issues. The only way to solve this is through finances – we have to grow the economy to fix this,” Boyd explains. He believes that empowering youth to vote is a powerful catalyst for change and growth.
With a target of raising R50 million, the Rainbow Leaders initiative aspires to increase democratic participation among young people, especially targeting the 30% voter turnout among the population. Boyd believes that a surge in voter participation to 40-50% among the youth could signal a transformative shift in South Africa’s socio-political landscape.
Boyd’s expedition is set to launch at noon from the historic Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront. This journey is about more than just the kilometres and potentially etching his name in the Guinness World Records. It is a monumental mission to rally South Africa’s youth, ignite their political consciousness, and bring about enduring change.
This odyssey echoes a deeper narrative, a tale of an individual’s struggle and eventual triumph over adversity. Keith Boyd’s story inspires us all to remember that despite hardship and trials, change is always within our grasp. And in his case, it starts with one step forward, both metaphorically and literally.