|6 Dec 2022
|2021 Finalists Global Student Prize
Obakeng Leseyane is a 23-year-old education activist from Rustenburg, South Africa. As the son of a teenage single mother who had to drop out of school to provide for him, repaying her sacrifice has been one of his biggest inspirations to study, win scholarships to good schools, and give back to society. Inspired by the power of education as an equaliser of economic disparity, Obakeng began running workshops and information sessions in his village to help others access the same opportunities he had. Collaborating with partners across Southern Africa to promote educational access for underserved communities, Obakeng has staged events and digital campaigns that to date have encouraged 300+ students to enrol in high school or university.
Obakeng’s activism is underpinned by the desire to boost South Africans’ quality of life, particularly for those in poverty. Currently, he co-runs a campaign to fund scholarships for the African Leadership Academy (the most selective high school in Africa), and serves on the advisory board of a non-profit that mentors boys without fathers. In 2019, he conceptualised and implemented a digital civic education campaign aimed at mobilising young people to register as first-time voters. He also advocates for policy reforms in education, and most recently was involved as a researcher in a programme aimed at deploying ICTs for 5000+ multigrade schools.
As a result of his academic achievements and contributions to education, Obakeng has received considerable recognition – from his first high school scholarship in 2012, to the Wharton Leadership in the Business World scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 and the Jakes Gerwel Fellowship at the University of Witwatersrand in 2021. In 2019, he won the Doha Debates on Water Scarcity, which were televised and viewed by two million people worldwide. In the same year, Obakeng’s activism led him to be chosen as the Inaugural Public Service Fellow for Southern Africa. In 2020, he was a finalist in the Mail and Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans awards. Most recently, he has authored a journal article on the experience of first-time voters in South Africa.
In the future, Obakeng wants to serve in government as a minister for education, and, in 2024, he intends to run as a member of parliament. If he wins the Global Student Prize, he will use the funds to provide children in his village with a new school uniform and shoes, as those from poorer backgrounds do not necessarily have good clothes for school and this can affect their social confidence. He would also invest in a civic education campaign focusing on the stories of first-time voters, and settle his outstanding tuition at the university to graduate debt-free in June 2022.