While most people put their plans on hold as COVID-19 swept across the world earlier this year, some used this time to completely change their area of focus. This was certainly the case for Siya Kolisi.

Following his incredibly successful year in 2019, winning not only rugby’s most coveted title but also many personal accolades, Siya continued this momentum into 2020, co-founding the Kolisi Foundation with his wife Rachel in March. Shortly afterwards, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in South Africa, and realising the Foundation could be of service, the couple immediately sprang into action, with the support of management agency Roc Nation Sports.

Siya explains, “We were still celebrating the success of 2019 and had all these goals we wanted to achieve in the year, and then the pandemic hit. It’s been tough to see the struggles that are going on in our communities. It’s opened my eyes as to what the country is going through and how people are struggling.”

Being ready to make a difference

Siya and Rachel established the Foundation to alleviate extreme poverty, mentor underprivileged youth and promote equality. Since the start of the pandemic, the Foundation has fed more than 25,000 families in South Africa and supported thousands of healthcare workers with vital supplies.

Volunteers from the Kolisi Foundation bring supplies to communities in South Africa during coronavirus pandemic, donation, volunteering, Kolisi Foundation, South Africa
Getting aid to communities in need was the priority at the start of the pandemic. ©Chris Joubert/Black Bean Productions
“There’s nothing you can do about something you can’t control.”
Siya Kolisi, South Africa's national rugby captain and co-founder of the Kolisi Foundation

“Starting the Foundation has kept me strong during the pandemic; it’s kept my mind going. I’ve been thinking a lot about others during this time. It gives me so much drive and motivation to play well, to play for the change I want to create.”

The rugby pioneer turned to his experiences on the pitch to help him deal with the lockdown. “There’s nothing you can do about something you can’t control. Just stay focused on what you can control, and don’t think too far ahead. Take things day by day. Look after today and what’s happening right now, and the rest will fall into place.”

“I always say you’ve got to prepare yourself for the opportunity. You train and prepare for an opportunity, but you don’t know when it’s going to come. You’ve got to be ready for the opportunity because if the opportunity comes and you’re not ready, you’ll regret it.”

Rachel and Siya Kolisi holding bags of carrots for communities in South Africa during coronarvirus pandemic, volunteering, donation, help. South Africa, Kolisi Foundation
Rachel and Siya focused on what they could control and what they could help with. ©Gary van Wyk/Black Bean Productions
Rachel Kolisi putting a mask on a child in South Africa during coronavirus pandemic, volunteering, help. donation, Kolisi Foundation, South Africa
From early April, the Foundation started to deliver food parcels and meals to early childhood development centers, primary school children, single mothers, orphans and homes for survivors of gender-based violence. ©Chris Jourbert/Black Bean Productions
Piles of supplies given to communities in South Africa by the Kolisi Foundation during the coronavirus pandemic, food, help. donation, supplies, Kolisi Foundation, South Africa
25,000 families have benefited from the Kolisi Foundation meals program in recent months. ©Alexander Oelofse/Black Bean Productions
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Continuing the business of creating hope and change

Siya had a tough upbringing in a poverty-stricken township but took the opportunities sport gave him to a whole other level.

It’s important not to lose hope. Once that happens, you’re in trouble. I try to create hope for kids who are in hopeless situations. I want people who grew up the same way I did, or even worse, to know that it is possible. Someone like me has to create hope by giving back so that kids know there’s someone they can relate to – who’s been in the same situation as them, and who’s fighting to make sure that they don’t suffer like I did.”

“I’m using my platform and my voice to address inequality and gender-based violence in South Africa.”
Siya Kolisi, South Africa's national rugby captain and co-founder of the Kolisi Foundation

I don’t want women to wake up afraid. It’s something I feel strongly about because I witnessed violence growing up. There was nothing I could do as a kid, but now I can. I’ve got a platform now and I can make a difference. Ultimately, I want to be remembered as someone who changed lives both on and off the rugby field.”

Siya’s return to sport won’t reduce his commitment to the Kolisi Foundation, instead it’s further motivation to do well in rugby. “There’s so much work I want to achieve, and hopefully encourage and inspire others. In order to do this important work, I have to do well on the rugby field. People look up to those who are doing well in their field. I’m so grateful we started the Foundation while I’m playing because it gives me so much drive and motivation to play well. I’m able to play for the change that I want to create.”

Visit the Kolisi Foundation to learn more about their work and follow them on Instagram.

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