• Awarded: 2006
  • Issue Areas: Economic Opportunity · Education · Post-Secondary Education · Youth Job Skills
  • Region: Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    As the pioneers of the ‘Free Tertiary Education’ movement in South Africa, over the last 12 years, Community and Individual Development Association (founded in 1979) and its subsidiary organizations have helped to create five free access institutions of higher learning and have educated 5,500 unemployed youth out of poverty, 90% of whom are employed in long term jobs, earning over US$32 million together in annual salaries. Over the next 40 years they will earn over US$1 billion – money that is going back into the hands of historically disadvantaged families. The organization has a proven track-record of bridging unemployed youth into entrepreneurship, long-term jobs, and into the economy.

    The organization is in the process of scaling up a new initiative, the Maharishi Institute, from 500 students to 1,500 within the next two years and is piloting the use of Impact Sourcing (through social enterprise Invincible Outsourcing and Impact Sourcing Academy) combined with university education as an innovative poverty alleviation strategy and is a recent recipient of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

    The Community and Individual Development Association has worked directly with over 50,000 South Africans, and provided one-week training courses to over 600,000 South Africans.

    Supporters of the work include: Sir Richard Branson, The Dalai Lama, Educating Africa Foundation, Chuma Foundation, Oppenheimer Family, Kellogg Foundation, Skoll Foundation amongst others.

    As South Africa emerges from apartheid, educational opportunity is vital, but out of reach for many.

    CIDA opened South Africa's first free university.

    Taddy Blecher pioneered a new model in which students earn degrees while contributing to the operation of the campus.

    4,500 students earned business degrees at CIDA City Campus, and the model has been replicated worldwide.

    Ambition for Change

    South African students have access to quality, low-cost higher education that empowers them to become citizen leaders, helping to rebuild the country’s economy and society.

    Path to Scale

    Demonstration and Independent Replication

    CIDA actively engaged in sharing its model for replication, as Taddy’s new ventures continue to do

    Business Model

    In-kind and pro-bono services (instruction, administration, equipment, maintenance) complemented by minimal student fees and corporate and philanthropic support.

    Taddy Blecher, a “hardened capitalist and qualified actuary,” had packed all his belongings and was on the verge of emigrating from South Africa when he paused to take a good look around him. “I saw aching poverty but also the greatest and most valuable resource: human potential,” he said. At that moment, he made a life-changing decision to help his country by dedicating himself to a critical pathway out of poverty – higher education. He became CEO of CIDA (the Community and Individual Development Association) and in 1999, he and his colleagues opened CIDA City Campus, South Africa’s first free university, dedicated to providing disadvantaged youth the chance to earn a fully accredited, four-year business degree. He has been a pioneer of the free and affordable education movement in South Africa, serving as Group CEO of CIDA City Campus until 2007. After leaving CIDA, he launched a new urban campus, the Maharishi Institute, and the rural Ezemvelo Eco-Campus. CIDA’s challenge, and its success, was in pioneering the “lowest cost university in the world,” with fees 80% lower than other South African universities, enabled by donated facilities, pro-bono instructions from leading experts and professionals, and student participation and work in every aspect of function and governance. Although CIDA City Campus struggled financially and finally closed its doors at the end of 2014, it educated 5,000 students, and elements of its model have been replicated worldwide.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • 4,500 graduates in jobs collectively earning $168 million (200 million rand) per year.
    • 500,000 people reached through skills development programs.

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