Social Innovation4 min

Want to change the world? Siya Kolisi knows a thing or two

The Springboks’ star is changing the game in communities as well as on the rugby pitch.
Written by Trish MedalenPublished on
Siya Kolisi not only overcame adversity to become the World Cup-winning captain of South Africa’s national rugby team, but he has also founded the Kolisi Foundation, which uses social innovation to help the less fortunate. Ahead of the entry deadline for the Red Bull Basement student innovator programme, he shares insights on how to spark future change.

1. Believe change is possible

Coming from a disadvantaged background, Kolisi had to beat the odds every step of the way to becoming the Springboks’ captain, starting with learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.
“One of the biggest motivations for me is my community,” he says. “Every time I put on a jersey, I play for them. I play for anybody else who's been in my circumstances or even worse. You can't just give up on your dreams and goals because of the circumstance – you've got to fight with everything you have to be where you are.”

2. Find what moves you

Kolisi led the Springboks to the World Cup title in 2019 and he's a role model for kids in South Africa who realise that if he can achieve, they can, too. What drives him is his goal to see a level playing field not only in sport, but throughout all aspects of life. Equality for everyone.
“The most important: know what you’re doing it for,” Kolisi declares. “Find something that means something for you. Then you'll stand firm and stand strong, because you have a conviction. It comes from inside.”

3. Build an inclusive team environment

The mantra of the Kolisi Foundation is to remember “the one.” Each person in the community is important and one by one they can make an impact. Nurturing that mindset starts internally within the foundation’s staff.
Kolisi explains, “Here in the office we all are different. We’ve got to make sure everybody feels valued and comfortable and can be who they are, because that's the only way you can be at your best. Make sure everybody knows that whatever they are doing, that job is important.”
Siya Kolisi is seen during a training session in Cape Town, South Africa on September 7, 2020.
Siya Kolisi drives positive change through his foundation

4. Connect and collaborate

One of the aspects of Red Bull Basement that excites Kolisi is the programme’s opportunity for global collaboration and mentorship.
“It's important to have a platform where you can express your ideas. That's a powerful thing,” he says. “You can’t change the world alone. Sometimes someone is good at something that you’re not, [or] maybe you’re missing something in the idea and they add it up. You help each other out.”

5. Always communicate

Kolisi sees a similarity between what he’s learned from rugby and how Red Bull Basement helps students bring out the best in each other. He thinks having such an opportunity is “huge.”
“You have to understand each other’s stories. What inspires them, what they're playing for,” Kolisi asserts. “I think the most important thing in our team is we speak about things, our feelings. Whether you have 100 games or one game, you could be saying something that we need at that moment and you must feel free and safe to express yourself.”
Siya Kolisi tackles a bag during Stormers' pre-season training in Cape Town, South Africa on September 7, 2020.
Siya Kolisi gives it his all in training

6. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start

Kolisi began playing rugby as a child and was already giving back to his community as a teenager before he started the foundation with his wife, Rachel, in March of this year.
“You don't have to be in a [certain] position – you can make a difference in your own community. And it doesn't matter how big or small as long as you're making a change, and you're fighting for something that you believe in.”

7. Understand your value

Growing up, Kolisi’s mind was focused simply on survival, so when he achieved success in rugby, it took him a while to truly believe that others saw him as a leader. His advice? Be humble, but don’t downplay your skills. And when compliments come, accept them!
“You deserve to be where you are because you worked to be where you are,” he says. “Don’t sell yourself short. Be firm, be strong and make sure to own it.”
Calling all student change-makers: Find out how you can innovate at university today and disrupt the world tomorrow with Red Bull Basement. Application deadline is Sunday, October 25, 2020.