As a professional rugby player, UN Ambassador, and co-founder of the Kolisi Foundation, Siya Kolisi often finds himself in high-pressure situations. Yet despite the intensity of living much of his life in the spotlight, he consistently exudes an air of calm. In speaking with him, it became apparent that his sense of purpose is a centering element. Rather than being focused on how he will be perceived, his sights are set on ambitions that reach far beyond himself. He is working tirelessly as an athlete to establish his voice and add it to those actively changing the world.

What motivates his commitment to changing the world

“I will never be okay until we are all okay,” Siya said. This is what drives the work his foundation does. “We want kids to be able to dream the same wherever they live. That means they need fair, equal societies – and freedom.” 

He continues, “The vision I have for my country, South Africa, keeps me going.”

Siya Kolisi speaking with a microphone.
Siya Kolisi is a leader on and off the pitch.

Though he admits the work his foundation does is difficult and that he wishes it wasn’t needed, it does bring him satisfaction. “I like seeing the smiles on people’s faces when we are able to help. I know that when I was young, I’d have been happy to receive the support that we’re able to provide.”

The role of rugby in changing the world

Siya began playing rugby when he was seven. “I love it. It gives me joy and has since I was young.” As he puts it, the game becomes more complicated when it becomes your job. Still, he has managed to bring so much value to and from the game. For one, it was through his hard work and skill as a rugby player that he was offered a scholarship at a reputable boarding school. The game opened up new worlds and vast opportunities for Siya 

Siya Kolisi slides over the try line on a ruby pitch.
Siya slides in for a score. ©Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Siya Kolisi body tackles an opposing player on the rugby pitch.
Siya tackles a member of the opposite team. ©Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Siya Kolisi escapes a tackle from an oncoming rugby player.
Siya breaks free, his elbow ready to clear the way for a run. ©EJ Langner/Gallo Images/Getty Images
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Secondly, his story has inspired people all over the world. We can all draw hope from Siya’s success that comes from doing what he loves, playing rugby. Further, we can find strength in the way he has overcome setbacks in life and on the rugby pitch throughout his career. The way he forges ahead making history can embolden us, too. When he became the first Black captain of the Springboks in their 126-year history, he broke barriers for countless others.  

Additionally, Siya acknowledges that the better he does as a rugby player, the more impact he is able to have in a multitude of ways. “The more I play, the more experience I get, the more I understand myself and my body and what I can do.

Using platforms and partnerships in changing the world

Siya has used his platform as a famous athlete to support and elevate numerous causes. Based on his particular commitment to eliminating gender-based violence, he has been named a Global Advocate for the United Nations. In this role, he spreads awareness around the world about the topic. “If we educate our sons, we won’t have to protect our daughters,” he wrote in his autobiography, Rise. 

Siya and Rachel Kolisi prepare supplies for their foundation.
Siya and Rachel Kolisi prepare supplies for their foundation to distribute to those in need. ©Carli Smith
Siya Kolisi and his wife hold food supplies for their charitable foundation.
Supporting food security is one of the Kolisi Foundation's focus areas, along with preventing gender-based violence, and supporting sports and education development. ©Carli Smith
Siya Kolisi and Rachel Kolisi stand next to each other holding two basketballs ready for a game.
Siya and Rachel Kolisi get ready for a game of basketball. ©Carli Smith
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Besides partnering with the United Nations, Siya identifies the importance of the platform his relationship with adidas provides. In addition to sponsoring Siya as an athlete, adidas supports his foundation. As he points out, “Everyone knows the brand. It has been there and will be long after we are all gone. But the work we do together will remind people that adidas helped build this.”

Siya Kolisi holds and waves a Run for the Oceans flag against a blue sky.
Siya has been an instrumental supporter of initiatives like Run For The Oceans.

The importance of choice in changing the world

Though he is a global figure, he remains committed to connecting with and supporting the lives of those in South Africa. “I was made in South Africa. My dream started here. There’s nothing wrong with people leaving the country, but I love my country and I want to be accessible to the people of South Africa.”

He emphasizes that he wants to ensure that young South Africans have the opportunities they desire – whether they stay in their homeland or move abroad.

“I think people need role models from the same environment as them, experiencing the same kinds of things. Young people need to see examples of what is possible. I want to show them that I made my career here in South Africa and they can, too. 

Siya Kolisi on stage to accepts the 2020 Laureus World Team of the Year
Edwin Moses presents the 2020 Laureus World Team of the Year award to Siya on behalf of his team. ©Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for Laureus

One thing that concerns Siya is when people feel the need to leave home to pursue their dreams. “It isn’t fair when people from some communities don’t have to leave theirs. They expect everyone and everything will come to them. But members of other communities must leave if they want to have many options at all. This is part of why we are committed to bringing more athletic and academic opportunities to more communities.”

We all play a part in changing the world

As Siya points out, “There are enough resources in the world for all of us. And we all have a part to play. We need everyone to thrive if we want our world to work optimally. When everybody gets great opportunities and we are all resourced, we will have so many more bright ideas and greater vision.”  

Springboks rugby team gather together to celebrate their 2019 World Cup victory with the trophy in hand.
Siya and the rest of the Springboks celebrate their 2019 World Cup victory. ©Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Siya has lots of ideas for how we can support each other in reaching our full potential. Some of us have time to share, others have an abundance of resources, or a platform that allows them to be heard 

“We can all donate time or money in our own communities. If there isn’t anything that needs to be done in your community, visit a less advantaged place. Don’t just send money. Go and look, experience the place. See why the people there need help, why they are looking for opportunities.” 

To learn more about Siya’s life story, what has inspired him, challenges he’s faced, and where he draws strength, check out his autobiography, Rise. Information about his foundation is available here

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