In April 2014, South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal (ex University of Natal) honorary graduands included social entrepreneur and inventor and CEO of e’Pap. Basil Kransdorff was also invited to address the university’s College of Health Sciences.

The honorary doctorate is in recognition of Kransdorff’s work as an industrial chemist, social entrepreneur whose innovative and low-cost nutritional product – e’Pap Technologies – is aimed at redressing micro-nutrient deficiencies in marginalised and poorer populations.

Graduation Speech

11 April 2014

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Faculty Members, lecturers, distinguished guests, parents and graduates:

How time flies and how times have changed. Yes – it was only yesterday – 45 years ago that I began my journey – the same journey that you are about to begin. I remember clearly my own graduation at this University and the excitement and belief that the world was our oyster.

As students – we did not toyi-toyi. We negotiated our protests with the Mountain Club to abseil a string of bed sheets off the top of Howard College with graffiti declaring our displeasure at the quality of food in residence. Hilariously, for us, the mountain club’s skill at abseiling was the only available resource the University authorities could call on to remove the offending graffiti. I also remember clearly, that day in September 1966, while peering down a theodolite during a “survey practical”, hearing the news that Apartheid architect Doctor Verwoerd had been assassinated in Parliament – and so our world started to change.

Today, as I look at the enormous changes in society, technology development, global warming, economic and health challenges, new imperialism and greed, I can safely say – your journey ahead will be both challenging and exciting. The skills and knowledge this University has equipped you with are going to be critical in helping us all find the necessary multi-disciplinary, holistic and connected solutions we have so little time left to implement.

You’ve grown up free with open uncensored access to information and ideas, through TV, social media, the internet and cell phones. You are better equipped for rapid change than we were.

By all the indications, the changes in the next 5 years are going to be as great, if not greater, than what has taken place over the past 100 years.

Africa is home to a billion souls and just imagine – this will double to two billion in the next 30-years – a period, less than the span of your up-and-coming careers. The magnitude of the implications for us all means that we have little time to find workable, practical and affordable solutions to problems of health, poverty and sustainable development in thriving societies. Be reminded – our species is at risk and will destroy itself if we continue to use unsustainable, past paradigms and systems.

Your world at this prestigious University has provided a cocoon for your learning. Now get ready to meet the reality of communities living in extreme poverty across our continent and especially in your own back yard here in Kwazulu Natal.

In my patch of work in making communities nutrient replete, I can tell you that most of the food we eat lacks the necessary nutrients for health and well-being. Modern “state of the art farming” and “food processing techniques” have focused only on mass production. This quantity-not-quality approach has removed many of the essential nutrients, leaving us with food that is contributing to hidden hunger and health challenges. And when we try to supplement food, it is done with refined chemicals, much of which cannot be biologically absorbed. Consider those at the bottom of the food chain. Poor diets, devoid of nutrients, compound the health challenges of malnourished people. How should poor, malnourished people living on refined sterile food address the health consequences this creates?

The 2012 Global Hunger Index estimates that 25% of South African infants are BORN stunted. To put a hard number on the problem, South Africa loses about US$1.1 billion every year in GDP arising from malnutrition. This wreaks havoc with our economy.

I’ve just returned from rural Benin. Amongst the heroic, daily actions of the doctors at the clinics in Tanguieta, Togo, Burkino Fasso and here in villages in Kwazulu – Ngwavuma, Nqutu and Naledi, images linger of malnourished mothers who can only offer nutrient depleted breast milk to their babies. The infants desperately suck but don’t get the nutrients their bodies need to grow and breath. My frustration with this is that we have affordable solutions and resources to address the problem – and we just don’t deliver.

If children are the future, then that is where we must focus – with pregnant mothers. The health and poverty cycle starts at conception and the first 1,000 days. Fetal malnutrition creates irreparable damage that the medical health system cannot fix. The consequences stay with society for the rest of their lives.

So, as you now prepare to engage with life’s challenges, what lessons can I share with you from my journey?

As social entrepreneurs, over a period of 14 years, we have been able to move over 150 million nutrient dense food portions into the mouths of malnourished people across our continent. My greatest learning has been – there is no problem out there that we cannot address. Yes – we CAN address poverty and yes we CAN find affordable solutions to health issues.

But there are in fact, several Buts.

Appropriate and sustainable solutions will only be found in going back to basics. What this means is – we must be courageous enough to question “common practice” and of course the “experts”. Remember, there was a time when the experts believed that the earth was flat and that washing one’s hands before and after surgery was a lunatic notion.

Your education must not stop here. You have to make it a priority to keep on learning. Develop your empathy skills with self-reflection. This will keep you learning from the wisdom of others, from communities, from nature, your grandparents, parents and our collective past.

I draw on the observation and wisdom of the English novelist J. L. Carr. Embedded in one of his narratives is the following conversation. “You have not had thirty years’ experience. You have had one year’s experience 30 times.” I recall this just to remind you what can happen if we don’t carry on learning. That is your job. And that is exactly what your university has taught you to do.

The reality is, to identify real solutions and implement systemic change, you will confront common practice; whole industries; government bureaucracies that are both blind and deaf; the entrenched agendas of powerful and well-resourced industries and yes, even academia. This all too often results in opposition from “officials and experts” comfortable in infective and unsustainable “common practice”.

Be alert and streetwise – there are egos, corruption and greed out there. There is international donor aid and commercial agendas quite unrelated to the solutions we need. But, always remember – life is beautiful.

Finally, thank you to UKZN for this prestigious award in recognition of a dedicated team of people who have joined us in supporting our passion to help make all our communities nutrient replete.

Also, a public acknowledgement and thank you to my lovely wife Rose, our 12-year-old son and self-appointed marketing manager Daniel, the e’Pap Team and all our friends and networks that stretch across Africa and the World.

And – in the spirit of confidence that our future is in your capable hands – congratulations to you all who have graduated today.

Be brave and walk your path with passion and fearless integrity.

Basil Kransdorff