Building Homes and Bridging Divides in Cape Town

Tyler NolandTyler Noland became interested in Habitat for Humanity through the NAIOP Pittsburgh chapter after he and other Developing Leaders (DLs) decided to take on a philanthropic activity. The group decided on Habitat for Humanity and volunteer for the organization together twice each year. Through that volunteer experience, Tyler became passionate about Habitat and their mission and decided to join an upcoming build in South Africa. We asked Tyler about his 11-day trip and how it changed his personal and professional perspective.

How did your NAIOP Pittsburgh chapter support you in your decision to participate in this build?

NAIOP introduced me to Habitat for Humanity, for which I’m very grateful. Nothing bonds a group of people together like volunteer work, and I enjoy volunteer days with my fellow DLs tremendously. Beyond just the introduction, my NAIOP chapter generously donated two laptops to the community I was helping to build. Seeing an organization I’m so involved with respond so kindly and generously was truly humbling.

What surprised you about Cape Town or the way homes and communities there are built/organized?

Habitat for HumanityHaving an understanding of recent South African history, I expected some segregation, but it’s still a bit shocking to see how segregated the communities are in terms of race. Most black South Africans in Cape Town live in areas called “townships,” areas where tribal men used to live together as they would travel from villages to cities to work in factories. Once apartheid ended, families joined the men in these “townships,” but, based on my understanding, the residents remain almost exclusively black while whites populate the more affluent communities. The community where we built is one of the first racially integrated communities in Cape Town, although it too remains almost exclusively black.

How does your experience with Habitat for Humanity inform your perspective as it relates to commercial real estate development?

Habitat for Humanity groupThat’s a good question. The teachings of Nelson Mandela have had the greatest influence on my life and career since returning. After reading his book and visiting Robben Island where he was imprisoned, it’s impossible not to feel a great sense of humanity. President Mandela endured over 30 years of torture and, when granted his freedom, he sought to unify his people and his captors rather than seek revenge. In commercial real estate and just about any business, you run in to difficult people along the way. Instead of reacting negatively, this lesson has taught me to evaluate the situation and the system potentially causing the friction. If the system is broken, advocate for change. But above all else, believe in the goodness of humanity. If a man imprisoned for 30 years can do it, I hope I can too!

What was your favorite part of the trip?

The people! Being on a job site has a way of bridging cultural, economic, racial and social divides. I worked with Americans like myself and Northern Irish and Palestinians and South Africans, some of whom battled apartheid and had been waiting 28 years for a decent place to live. I developed a common bond with each and every person I met while I was there, and I had a blast with all of them!

 Tyler Noland is the Director of Underwriting for PenTrust Real Estate Advisory Services. He is a member of the Developing Leader Executive Committee and board member at NAIOP Pittsburgh, where the chapter hosts a “Night at the Fight” boxing-themed fundraiser each year to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

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