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Change the world

19/10/2022

“The dream team is from South Africa, trained in our country, in our universities, in our schools, with our products.” – Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

A rockstar humanitarian who speaks in “the language of the heart” may seem an unlikely choice for a university’s business faculty lecture.

But Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman – who holds an honorary doctorate from Nelson Mandela University – is no ordinary guest.

Dr Sooliman gave a public lecture “I am Because of Others” at the Business School Auditorium of Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha on Tuesday, 18 October 2022.

Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences Executive Dean Professor Hendrik Lloyd welcomed the humanitarian icon as part of the five-year anniversary marking the name change from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to Nelson Mandela University.

Sooliman has often been honoured for the work of Gift of the Givers, and is The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizen of the Year 2022 in the civil society category.

Certainly, the four cellphones in front of Sooliman while he spoke showed how in demand he is, as did the queue of guests waiting after for a chance to chat or a “selfie” moment.

However, Sooliman is refreshingly down to earth and shared anecdotes with a cheeky yet gentle twinkle in his eye.

Many were heartbreaking, others were humorous, all were uplifting.

Engagement in action

The University public lecture drew academics, students and many members of the public – just as it aimed to do.

Public lectures, said Prof Lloyd, played a critical engagement role in bringing together the university and surrounding community.

He highlighted the common values held by the University and Gift of the Givers, such as ubuntu, and serving society without colour, creed or culture discrimination.

Management Practice department head Dr Paul Tai-Hing had opened the lecture with the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, “everyone can be great because everyone can serve”.

Tai-Hing also noted how relevant the University’s tagline of “change the world” was, inasmuch as both aimed to create change, one person at a time.

For the past 30 years the Gift of the Givers has helped millions of people in need across 45 countries, many on the continent of Africa.

It started when a Sufi master in Turkey gave Sooliman a spiritual calling he could not refuse. 

Since then, the organisation has given comprehensive disaster aid across regions devastated by wars, earthquakes, famine, drought, tsunami and floods.

‘I am because of others’

Over this time, what have he and his team learnt? His passionate address, accompanied by expressive hand gestures, included nuggets such as:

  • I am because of others;
  • Mankind is one single nation;
  • We (the Gift of the Givers) do not judge anyone – no man can read the intention of the soul of another;
  • The work is done through us, not by us;
  • Be the best not because of ego, but because this country needs the best;
  • Religion is not the cause of conflict, moving away from it is;
  • “The dream team is from South Africa, trained in our country, in our universities, in our schools, with our products.”

Despite international fame, it was the Knysna fires of 2017 that brought its operations into the public eye in South Africa.

Then, over the COVID-19 years of 2020 and 2021, Gift of the Givers was called to be everywhere, stepping into 210 hospitals and offering medical and other aid.

At the height of the pandemic when hospital beds were full and no more ventilators were available, Sooliman said, “money, status, connections meant nothing”.

However, the poorest of the poor faced the worst of the pandemic. There were – and in 2022 still are – many people starving in the Eastern Cape, he said, citing a mother in Peddie who told Gift of the Givers her children had only eaten plants from the veld due to extreme poverty.

The organisation delivered 1.4-million food parcels to South Africa over COVID-19, and continues to go wherever it is called today.

Mandela’s values

Sooliman had strong words for those who brought conflict instead of building up, calling them traitors and anti-patriots, but also warned against labelling entire institutions as good or bad.

“No matter how many faults people have, always look for the good inside.

“When we make everything negative, we destroy spirituality – we need to hold hands with the good people in government.

“If you are a civil servant, you have an allegiance to the people – not to a political party.”

This was also why, despite the patience and resilience of South Africans, ubuntu was essential.

“This country will fall apart if people lose their dignity, when you are totally humiliated. There's no limit to what you can do when there is no hope and no consequences because you have nothing to lose.”

This is indeed a man who understands the language of the heart.

As Faculty Deputy Dean Prof Michelle May said in closing the public lecture, “thank you for energising us, and for putting action to your vision”.

“Nelson Mandela said a good head and a good heart is a formidable combination. And we see that in you and your team.”

Watch Dr Sooliman’s address “I am Because of Others” online at the faculty’s YouTube channel. Search for: Mandela Uni: Faculty of Business and Economics.

 

CELEBRATING UBUNTU: Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences Executive Dean Professor Hendrik Lloyd, left, welcomed Dr Imtiaz Sooliman to Nelson Mandela University this week. Image: MICHAEL SHEEHAN

CELEBRATING UBUNTU: Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences Executive Dean Prof Hendrik Lloyd, left, and Deputy Dean Prof Michelle Mey welcomed Dr Imtiaz Sooliman to Nelson Mandela University this week. Image: MICHAEL SHEEHAN

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za