“The whole idea is to create a generation of socially responsible citizens who always care and who are always thinking, ‘What can I do for my country?’” says Dalumuzi H. Mhlanga as he describes Lead Us Today, the non-profit he started in Zimbabwe the summer after freshman year. The organization’s mission is to inspire high school students from his home country through leadership and entrepreneurship training. Mhlanga emphasizes the support he and his initiatives have received at Harvard.
In the summer of 2010, Mhlanga recruited a small team of young people to develop a curriculum and worked around the clock to get Lead Us Today off the ground. Starting with just 64 students, the organization had enrolled 200 by the end of the summer.
Now, Lead Us Today is active in eight high schools in Zimbabwe and has trained over 500 students who have started over 20 community development projects. These include a community recycling program which is now partnering with the city council and may be replicated in other Zimbabwean communities.
Mhlanga won the 2011 College Social Innovator Contest (a collaboration between the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative and the “Common Good” column at Forbes.com) for his efforts to empower students to create change regardless of socioeconomic factors.
He describes the loneliness and insecurity he felt growing up in a middle class community with less resources than his peers at school. Mhlanga ultimately decided that he would define himself not by the materials with which he was born, but by what he could contribute instead.
That forward-looking mindset also characterizes his life at Harvard. Mhlanga is a social studies concentrator, which, he says, “is abstract stuff some of the time, but I’m always thinking, okay, cool, let me relate this to Lead Us Today and to Zimbabwe.
”Mhlanga strongly believes that the positive feedback he has gotten—from awards such as being named one of the ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Zimbabwe’ to Facebook messages of encouragement from friends—contributes to the success of his project.
“It’s so encouraging and so inspiring, and it keeps me going in a lot of ways. It’s been amazing to have that support and know that people all over the world can believe in an idea and motivate and inspire you.”