He grew up in challenging circumstances and failed to get the university place he dreamt of. But today he’s managing 120 people, living a life of purpose and says South Africa has so many positives! Meet CALVIN BOARD, who our very own NANINE STEENKAMP got to know while interviewing members of the public on Rondebosch Common one day. We thought you’d like to hear his story and what he considers essential to the mentoring process 🙂

Calvin Board: ‘I’m optimistic about South Africa. We focus on the negatives but there are so many positives!’  |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

WATCH THIS VIDEO AND FEEL THE ENERGY! ‘I want to make people see what they can accomplish in life,’says Calvin

Calvin (26) grew up in Athlone, Cape Town, and studied at Alexander Sinton High School. Today he’s the Western Cape regional manager of youth development programme Naspers Labs, managing 120 people daily. He lives in Manenberg

MY CHILDHOOD HOME WAS A CARAVAN, shared with my mother, brother and niece. I was surrounded by poverty, with my mother doing her best to give me the most amazing childhood. My brother was my role model as I grew up, he always helped me with homework. He was a top achiever at school, but became involved in substance abuse. He’s still battling this but seeking help to recover and get his life back on track.

My mother’s an industrial factory worker and my father works at a construction company. They never married, and my father never lived with us. I spent every second weekend living with him in an informal settlement with my three younger brothers and sister from his other family.

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Calvin: ‘I knew early on that becoming a gangster wasn’t for me.’
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SA living: like many South Africans, Calvin didn’t grow up in a house. He lived in one for the first time as an adult  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

Most people around me worked in shops or became truck drivers, construction workers or gangsters. Although I had opportunities to do the same, I knew early on it wasn’t for me.

During my childhood, my mom and I attended church where I participated in many Sunday school activities. This was the start of my relationship with God, but it all felt hazy until one day I heard the verse John 3 v 16 about how much God loves the world. It really resonated with me. I started feeling joy and happiness, and knew this was what I had always been seeking. I started practically loving friends and working at the way I related to people, aiming at a better life with positive relationships.


I applied to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to study architecture or marine biology. I wasn’t accepted and was disappointed that I’d miss out on a campus experience. I decided: whatever comes my way, I’ll give it 100%.

In 2013, my pastor told me about an opportunity to join a six-month programme at NPO RLabs (Reconstructed Living Labs) which was offering digital, entrepreneurship and leadership skills in collaboration with a Get Smarter programme from the University of Cape Town. I applied and was accepted on the programme, which was called Grow Leadership Academy (GLA),  and achieved 80% which qualified me to learn web design.

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‘I was disappointed not to get a place at university but I decided, whatever comes my way, I’ll give it 100%,’ says Calvin

It was the most beautiful experience I had in terms of learning: entrepreneurship, leadership, and digital skills. We were all paired up with other students in our classes as peer coaches to each other: we had to keep one another accountable. So I got my campus experience! Classes were only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the week I worked at a catering company to pay for my transport costs, and I also took a photography course on Saturdays.

It took me out of my comfort zone to get to know more things about the world of work. The barriers in my mind started disappearing as I no longer believed there was an obstacle to me being employed. I felt hopeful and empowered to become a provider for my family.

This was a normal day during lunch time, as the manager I interact with the team team and hear and listen how classes are going and get their spirit ups for the remainder of the day. Because they are Gen Y and Gen Z, selfies and acting crazy and foolish is a sign of joy and happiness, so I'm constantly challenged to come out of my comfort zone and go into a crazy zone to inspire my team. I enjoy spending time with the team as a manager, more like a leader, but constantly inspiring them on level that they understand but can elevate them. I would like to believe, this way my inspiration flows through them and they inspire the students of Naspers Labs.

I enjoy interacting with the team to show them that we are all leaders just on different levels. I am always challenged to go out of my comfort zone and act like clown yes lol
Calvin with team members of Naspers Labs, which offers skills and opportunities to combat unemployment. ‘I enjoy the mentoring so much because I see people grow into who they need to be,’ he says. ‘It’s important to get to the point where people can accept positive criticism.’

When I finished the programme, I decided to volunteer with another RLabs programme and in 2014 I was offered a job in its first youth development café with a brief to focus on digital skills, entrepreneurship and leadership training.

In 2017, RLabs established a partnership with multinational company Naspers and in 2018 opened Naspers Labs, offering local youth high-end digital skills and training in job readiness. I became the programme manager of the first collaborative lab in Delft and in 2019 I was made the Western Cape regional lead for Naspers Labs, overseeing all Cape Town-based programmes in communities with challenges such as Philippi and Delft.

I enjoy supporting others

I consider it a privilege to be able to support young people, to motivate them to have aspirations in life. It’s about showing up every day and genuinely being there for them whenever they need a role model.

Clayton Jardine (23) is one of the young people I’ve been fortunate enough to influence in a positive way. When we first met, he had no plan for his life. He had a broken relationship with his siblings and was concerned about a family member. Despite working several part-time jobs, he was experiencing financial struggles.

I encouraged Clayton, telling him each of those part-time jobs was an opportunity giving him valuable experiences. Now he’s in his final year, studying a business course at TSIBA Business School. Sometimes he calls me in the middle of the night when he needs someone to listen. He’s seen my personal struggles such as growing up in challenging environments and having a father who’s not fully present. It inspires him to see that you can nonetheless decide to make a difference,  and even be the key that brings difference to your family first.

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Calvin’s mentee CLAYTON JARDINE: ‘Whether it’s a listening ear on a late-night call from me or some constructive criticism, Calvin has influenced my life productively. It’s truly a gift to have one of your role models as a facilitator, a mentor and a friend. He’s inspired me hugely to strive for success.’
CALVIN: ‘Mentoring is about genuinely being there for someone, being transparent and enabling people to discover things for themselves.

I believe the important thing in mentoring is your character, transparency and realness. I use my own challenges as an example and I am also big on people discovering things for themselves. Sometimes it requires me to not give feedback so they can work it out on their own.

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Calvin: ‘Realness and transparency are important in mentoring. I’m also big on people discovering things for themselves.’ |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

It’s important for people to believe in themselves. They become confident in the way you respond to them. It’s not that easy to give feedback if they’re still in the emotional stage. The important thing is to get to the point where they can accept positive criticism. I work with them to a point of support where they can trust me. But I am also firm around the fact that I can’t be the only person they rely on.

My vision for South Africa’s young people is for them to become a creative, unique generation with the drive to start businesses to grow the economy and be respectful members of society. They need to think about the legacy they leave behind for the next generation. If you haven’t been exposed to opportunities, ask yourself what you want from life, and what do you like doing. Work with what you have. Build relationships.

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‘The moment you identify who you are and what your purpose is, you can live into that future,’ says Calvin. ‘I pray, then need to practise patience to allow God to move!’  |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

I’m so thankful for all these pieces of my life coming together in shaping who I am though, as I can relate to other people. Before I got a job with RLabs, I’d never lived in a house. I understand what they go through. I too questioned my purpose. However, the moment you identify who you are and what your purpose is, you can live into that future. Communicating and consulting with God is important for me, in bad times and in good times. And when I pray, I need to practise patience to allow God to move!

What keeps me going is serving others, wanting to give my family a better life and hoping to create a good lifestyle for my family when I’m married one day. I’m optimistic about South Africa. Too many times we focus on the negative but there are so many positives to start looking at in our country!’

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‘What keeps me going is serving others,’ says Calvin  |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

RLabs was started by South African Marlon Parker in 2009 to tackle unemployment via digital skills training and mentorship. The model has now touched the lives of over 15 million people in 23 countries on five continents

Naspers Labs is a youth development programme aimed at historically disadvantaged communities that addresses the skills and training needs of South Africa’s youth. Its aim is to help them be productive participants in the economy as it becomes more digitally driven

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