On July 18 – Nelson Mandela’s birthday – we recognize Nelson Mandela Day. It is a day to reflect on the accomplishments of one of the greatest philanthropists and human rights activists in modern history. Mandela is remembered for his nonviolent anti-apartheid activism (which led to his imprisonment for 27 years) and for becoming the first elected black president of South Africa. In 1993 Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – along with Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last president to serve under the apartheid system – for his work in ending apartheid.

Nelson Mandela was also a great champion of education, believing that it’s power could change the world. His passion for education was a result of his own experiences growing up, and later struggling against, the inequality faced by blacks in South Africa under apartheid. One of his legacies is the founding of the Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development. The institute was set up to help provide quality education for children in impoverished rural areas where infrastructure does not support it. The institute works with communities to refurbish schools and train teachers.

After his time as president – he stepped down in 1999 – Mandela founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation and partnered with UNICEF to create Schools for Africa, a campaign to support education initiatives in 13 African countries. The partnership builds schools, provides supplies to teachers and students, trains teachers, and facilitates access to schools to disadvantaged children. Since it started in 2005, Schools for Africa has helped over 30 million children receive a better education.

Nelson Mandela Day means many things to many people. At the BNI Foundation we honor his commitment and contributions which continue to strengthen the role of education in disadvantaged areas around the world. His work and life are an inspiration to our own mission.

Nelson Mandela on Education in His Own Words

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education. Those who do not believe this have small imaginations.

A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.

No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.

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