Inspiring Stories: Social Entrepreneur Uses Education As Poverty Escape Route

Marlon Parker’s determination to become a qualified businessman triumphed over his disadvantaged background. As the founder of R-labs and Jamiix, Parker is an innovative entrepreneur using South Africa’s IT industry for social development.

In 2007, few people would have given Marlon Parker a second look. Coming from an impoverished background on the Cape Flats, he pushed trolleys at the airport for an income. Today, he is completing his PhD in Information Technology, works as a lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and is the founder of three companies, including the celebrated RLabs non-profit organisation.

RLabs empowers communities to enhance their skills through various technology programmes. RLabs’s efforts are supported by organisations, such as Mxit, Vodacom and CPUT. He is also the founder of Jamiix which uses social media to provide counselling and support services to individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

In February 2012, he added RLabs Innovation Incubator and Accelerator (InnovIA) to his name. InnovIA is a social enterprises incubator offering social programmes the expertise and organisational skills needed to grow. These programmes include, ‘She’s a Geek’, which aims to empower vulnerable women with digital and entrepreneurial skills, and Uusi, a jobs social network that boast more than 40, 000 registered users.

Parker lived with his mother, grandmother and siblings on the Cape Flats; all together eight people in a small two-bedroom home, surviving off his grandmother’s state pension. There were few professionally employed people in his community, but young Parker envisioned himself one day wearing a shirt and tie to work. These were symbols of status in his mind, proclaiming that he has arrived. He started to push trollies at the airport in order to save up for his tertiary studies. In two years, he had saved US $120, enough to register to study for a course.

An acquaintance at the airport told him to study IT, which he did, despite not knowing what it entailed. Things almost didn’t go as planned, because after six months he had failed all his subjects, except statistics and accounting. He had also started cutting class to play football. An accident on the football field, a broken ankle, brought everything back into perspective and helped him to refocus, Parker shared in an interview with the Daily Maverick.

Parker is an entrepreneur who overcame his social hardship though a tenacious desire to qualify and uplift himself. The fact that he is also applying his time and energy to offer his old community members the same opportunities is admirable. His triumphs and successes proclaim that he has truly arrived.

Source: Louis Nel for


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