No such thing as ‘Can’t’

Kevin Chaplin

Kevin Chaplin was due to launch his book recently, but Covid-19 put an end to that. However, he believes the book could not have come at a better time.

Can Do! Making the impossible possible! has been seven years in the making, but Mr Chaplin says he stopped for two years to build the Amy Foundation and SA Ubuntu Foundation, which he says are both a big part of the book.

Mr Chaplin says his mother was a great inspiration in his life. It was through her and how he came to save a life that the book came about.

Mr Chaplin explains that it was around 2003 when his branch manager at First National Bank asked him for advice. An ultrasound scan on the man’s pregnant wife showed the baby had suspected spina bifida. The doctor advised them to consider aborting the pregnancy.

“I told them the story of my mother’s experience living with spina bifida. Of how doctors said she would not live beyond 7 years, and then 14 years, and yet she survived and went on to marry and produce three children.”

His colleague’s daughter was born healthy. This gave him pause for thought that maybe he could save more lives. At that time, he was keynote speaker at conferences and business breakfasts.

He says people often asked for more information on what he had been speaking about. At one of the breakfasts, he met ghost writer Toby Shenker who suggested he write a book.

Mr Chaplin says there’s something for every reader in Can Do! The story goes through his childhood growing up during apartheid, his troubled relationship with his dad, and his journey from 26 years in the banking industry to his move to Cape Town and going it alone.

It also includes anecdotes from his travels around the world.

Mr Chaplin has many icons, one of them is Raymond Ackerman. “I asked him to be my mentor. Mr Ackerman said, ‘really!’ And he has continued to be my mentor for 30 years.”

In 2006, at the age of 42, he took stock of his life and made a heartfelt decision to leave banking. He applied for jobs and was turned down. Finally he made the decision to go it alone, leading to the second chapter of his life.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu taught him the importance of ubuntu, he says.

“This concept was to become a seminal theme that would underpin the soul work of my life and ultimately determine my destiny.”

That’s when he founded the SA Ubuntu Foundation, an NPO that runs business networking breakfasts, workshops and music and food festivals. Meanwhile, Amy Biehl’s mother asked him to take over the Amy Biehl Foundation which was on the brink of bankruptcy. He agreed to take the helm, on the proviso that he would still keep the SA Ubuntu Foundation going.

Amy Biehl was an American Stanford graduate student who arrived in South Africa in 1993, aged 25, on a one-year exchange programme at the community law centre at UWC.

On the verge of returning home, she was stabbed and stoned to death in Gugulethu.

In 1997, her parents established the foundation and started programmes to develop and empower impoverished youth. The Amy Foundation (it was renamed in 2013), now offers after school programmes for 5 to 18 year olds and a youth skills training programme for 18 to 35 year olds.

He came to Cape Town in 2000 and bought a plot in Plattekloof, where he lives with wife Robyn. They have two daughters, Sarah, 28, and Kirsty, 24.