JJ van de Vyver




South Africa


Management Consulting



By JJ van de Vyver

A story about gifts

On the 22nd of June the Saïd Foundation held their Annual Dinner in London, celebrating the work of the foundation in its ambitious investments in education opportunities. Mr and Mrs Saïd invited current year scholarship recipients to attend, alongside other scholars, alumni, partners, stakeholders, friends and family. Numerous current MBAs, as well as Saïd Business School staff members and Dean Peter Tufano, made their way to the spectacular occasion.

I had the honour of giving an address at the dinner about my experience as a Saïd Foundation scholarship student, and what follows are my speaking notes from the evening. It also happened to be my birthday – and a marvellous way to celebrate a really beautiful year.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, honoured hosts, honoured guests.

This story is one of incredible gifts. As I reflect back on my journey, there are moments that I remember distinctly.

I remember receiving the news that I’d been offered a place at Saïd Business School in the University of Oxford, a business school that only exists because of the generosity in this room.

I remember hearing that the Saïd Foundation would support me to study in pursuit of my dreams – a future that was not possible just a moment before.

I remember stepping out of the train station for the first time to the ziggurat of the business school – the copper, stepped tower resembling the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in the Persian empire – my first welcome in the city of reaching spires.

As I look around the room filled with similar stories, it feels important to ask, what exactly is it that we’ve been given? I believe it is three things:

  1. The gift of education – to quote the beloved Nelson Mandela – “…the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
  2. The gift of hope – that we, the youth, might shine a light in the spaces where there is darkness.
  3. The gift of service – the possibility of adding value to others through the privilege, power and perspective that has been afforded to us.

The world is changing rapidly:

  • Our children are taking to the streets asking why they should stay in school if politicians will not listen to the world’s top climate scientists;
  • Citizens who have been excluded from the economic story are finding a voice through political upheaval.

In these growing environmental and social crises, new questions are being asked:

  • The role of companies is being questioned as the cost of business-as-usual to people and planet come into view;
  • The role of government is being questioned as global power shifts towards alternative models of development;
  • The role of elite institutions is being questioned: places like Oxford produce thinkers and leaders, but are they wise thinkers and responsible leaders?

This is the context of our gifts. We are the generation that will determine whether global warming can be curbed, whether social inequality can continue, whether the next ten years to 2030 – in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals and the IPCC Report – is a period that we will define, or a period that will define us. All of these questions come down to whether we choose to use our gifts for ourselves or for others.

Tonight is a celebration of the incredible efforts and successes of those in this room. But we do not celebrate alone. Behind every person here is a mother and father, brothers and sisters, family and guardians, teachers and mentors, partners and friends – an entire community of hands that helped to get us here. I look around and recognise community from every corner of the Earth – the East, the West, the North and the South. A global community that has placed their trust in our opportunity, in our care, and in our gifts.

I  speak for all of scholars here tonight when I thank the Saïd Foundation for its tremendous commitment to improving the lives of young people through education and for the   generosity it has provided so many through its scholarships. . You have given us so much, and it is now our turn to create value and to honour the trust you have in us scholars.

I would like to close with a quotation. It is said that “the purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

I thank you.

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