Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sages, Small men and Standers-by.

Halleluya! Yesterday marked the end of my long walk to graduation... and what a journey this has been! As I walked down the aisle to pick up my graduation certificate, something in me leapt and screamed, “ is finished!”

The crowning moment of the graduation ceremony was when a Wits alumnus, (with the presence of those filthy-rich and powerful matriarchs cast in the South American soaps. You know... the kind that run companies whose turnovers could run a small third-world economy and have change to spare...) took to the stage to deliver her low-toned speech. Anyway, by the time Maria Theresa Heinz-Kerry, (Head of the Heinz Endowments, a trust that has given over $57 million to charity)was done speaking, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as she dropped gem after gem of her wisdom and experience, “as a fellow traveller in the journey of life”.

Jo, when I grow up I want to be her speech-writer!

She said two types of people made history in the world: the sages and the small men. The 'sages' are the Mandelas of this world (and other ordinary folk), who are persuaded by the power of their own convictions to stand for up for something. This lot is willing to put their lives on the line to see change in society. On the flip side, there are the 'small men' (still ordinary folk), who are driven by self-interest or at best, are perpetuators of the status quo at the expense of others.

Then, she pointed out that there is a third category of people. These pitiable souls are the 'by-standers', - regular folk, who, consumed by indifference and/or ignorance, watch as events unfold and do nothing. This sorry lot does not even make it on the pages of history.

In short, we have a choice as to which side of the divide we will stand.

By the time she was done speaking, I was panting... not so much from my earnest fast-tracked scribbling, but from the soul-searching gymnastics that were bringing to my full view the glaring gaps in my own life that need fixing, fast!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Retracing my steps to the blogging-fold

I wandered off from the blissful world of blogging nearly three months ago, and like a repentant sinner, I have been up to loads of stuff and a little mischief too...

I never intended to deal my beloved blog a fatal blow or burn my blog-bridges through my on-again and off-again relationship with my blog. We are back... (until the next time, anyway). I am aware that this kind of behaviour can bring blog-traffic to a screeching halt, when you, my fellow blogee, in sheer frustration, decide to de-blog me from your blog-consciousness...

All this blog-talk is making me 'bloggy'... Over-compensating perhaps?

Anyway, let me bring you up to speed with what I have been up to:
a) I have put on a solid 10 pounds since my last blog post (I can still hear Beauty screaming in pure horror when she saw me after three months. She nearly shocked me into dieting...).
b) I have since finished my three-month internship at AICC, and been granted an extension until December, thankfully.

My spell away from the blog-hood has taken me on a serious learning curve.
Lesson learnt and worth sharing:
There is truth in the pidgin wisdom: “The world is go buy you the way you sell yourself” (sic!). Jo, people, there is this former staff member (pioneer WoWer), who left AICC to pursue his MBA in the U.K. Upon his return to S.A, Nkosi Ndlovu has become hot property, with some seriously attractive job offers throwing themselves at the brother.

Picture this: No sooner had the guy recovered from his jet-lag last week, than it was time to sign on the dotted line of a very lucrative contract the AICC had carefully drawn up for him.

Possible question: Are the Laws of Attraction (as in Rhonda Byrne's bestseller, The Secret) at work here or is it simply that the world loves a confident and skilled professional?
Is it perhaps that his qualifications now affect how the world sees him or does his education affect how he sees (and sells) himself, and therefore changing the way we see him?

Positive vibe: I have since come to the conclusion that there is a domino effect and relationship between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Yes, we can appreciate in value. If we change the lens through which we see ourselves, the world around us will follow suit... most probably.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Skills-infested NGO environment

It has been a fortnight since my internship started, and what an incredible two weeks it has been! During this time, I have been assigned three main tasks, and these have called for some seriously out-of the box thinking and time management skills. One of the tasks required that I draft a proposal to the media. And so, I did. Many hours later, I presented my “labour-of-love" to my supervisor.

He worked his magic all over my original draft by re-wording and re-packaging it in sheer brilliance that when the final document finally emerged, it just blew me away. This episode reminds me that I still have a long way to go before I can get a handle on this skill.

Another thing that I have observed at AICC is the value of team work. When someone is handling a project and there are deadlines to beat, it is amazing the swiftness with which the staff rally around each other. Terms like ‘organisational fit’ and ‘team-player’ begin to make sense when you are part of a small outfit (less than 10 members of staff on board) like ours (did I say ours?).

But, it is not all desk work at the AICC (yup!) We had a two-day breather when we hosted a multi-stakeholder round table meeting (that is NGO-speak for you. I picked up another term as well, ‘beneficiation’). These people! Anyway, this event was held at the South African Human Rights Commission where I met a whole range of these NGO-types who are involved in tailoring a South African self-assessment tool on human rights for businesses. I actually got the opportunity to witness some high level brain-storming session in action... Yo, I tell you, there are some seriously brilliant minds out there.

Whether it is contagious or not, I am determined to catch (or learn) as many skills as I can from these skills-crammed individuals.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

My ship finally docks

When Paul Kapelus, CEO of the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) made his presentation on mentorship at the Growing Tomorrow's Leaders workshop in June, he said that interns at his organisation were thrown to the deep-end of the business and they were expected to learn the ropes and swim to shore... quickly.

Fast Forward... 30 days later... and believe me, Paul meant business...

This week marks a new dawn in my career. The first day was a time of induction into the organisation. I spent a good chunk of my time hoping from desk to desk interacting with my colleagues and getting the low-down on the on-going projects. On the second day, I was assigned the task of drafting AICC’s Communication Policy along with a more seasoned colleague. I am still getting my head around this task.

In an organization this tight, there is no falling through the cracks!

Something else:
It is possible that I took to AICC like a duck to water because of its family-like bond (you should have seen the reception the 6-month old baby of a colleague got yesterday from the staff... yo! Did I mention our happy faces and merry chatting that fills the boardroom over lunch?) or perhaps it is because the AICC canoe is paddled by half-a-dozen Wits alumni... (mostly WoW-graduates, if I may add).

Something in my heart tells me that I am in the right place. The truth is, I have mixed feelings - a part of me is excited immensely and yet another is intimidated by the challenge ahead...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Bursted bubbles

When the sun finally set upon the one-month info-packed internship programme, we the interns were ready to be unleashed upon the workplace. I felt like all my ducks were in a row, and that I was ready to plunge into the world of work, head first.

Sure enough, things fell into place quite nicely. The following week, I had three interviews lined up. In fact, my schedule to meet prospective employers was so tight; two of these interviews were scheduled on the same day. Yes, I took it all in my stride and marched into the future with a bit of a spring in my walk... things were coming together quite nicely...

By the end of that week, I spared some time and thought to consider the feelings of the two employers whose hearts I might have to 'devastate' by turning down their job offers. (Laughable!) With great compassion, I drafted a generic “corporate” Dear John letter - in my mind. I was going to let them down… gently.

But alas! By the end of the following week, my prospective employers beat me to it and completely burst my bubble. They sent me not one, not two, but three “Thank you for your interest in our company, but regret to inform you that…” sorry messages. Grrhhh!!

But all was not lost. You see, the prospective employers were gracious enough to point out areas where I was completely out of my depth and their constructive criticisms will help me improve and better prepare for my next interview. (... have I acquired a taste for limonade or what?)

Fellow intern, be fore-armed with a thick skin to survive the interview process and its possible outcomes.

Tip: Your job has your name on it. If you do not succeed to bag the job after the first, second, third… interviews, don't despair! Stop. Breathe. Focus and march on to the next interview... the pot (job)at the end of your rainbow beckons!

Behold, an idea is born!

Breaking News:
It is now official; the ‘Book project’ was born over the weekend.
This news was divulged at the Wits Alumni Club, where the proud parents, the “Fabulous-12”, aka the WoW-2007 interns met to share their joy with the world at a media briefing today.

The '007' family has agreed to nurture to maturity, this publication that will assist in preparing South Africa’s future workforce for the world of work. This noble idea will involve processing the knowledge the interns gleaned at the month-long WoW internship programme through the eyes of an intern and presenting the results in a ‘fresh-graduate’ friendly publication.

This is the first joint venture for the interns, in what they hope will be the dawn of a creative phase in their union. There was boundless enthusiasm at the meeting, as the team fired ideas across the table.

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof that these interns are ready for the world of work is in the execution of this idea.

South Africa awaits to receive this pet project – the internship publication by interns and for interns.

Susan Mwangi,
WoW-TV reporting.

A night of song, dance and… some star-struck dudes

Last evening our very own ‘Bulgarian Stallion’ - Valentin treated us (about half a dozen WoW-2007 interns) to a funky night in town. We watched the musical, “The Heart is Round” by the UJ Song and Dance Company at the University of Johannesburg. The story line revolves around people daring to follow their dreams and possibilities in life. There was a good dose of romance, disillusionment, love-found and love-lost. We were also served with a good helping of tragedy, comedy and mysticism. This musical was a buffet for the senses.

The music, the choreography, the circus routines and the overall production of the show were exceptional. It was obvious to me that the students had poured their hearts and energies into the production. I absolutely loved it. (The musical’s refrain, “I am so sorry…” is still playing in my head).

On our way home, we passed via Campus Square, for the ‘post-musical’ analysis over a bite and drink. Well, while there 'Madam Fortuna’, the star of the show, joined our table briefly for a chat… and left some among us quite star-struck (no naming names -as agreed, what happens at Dros stays at Dros)!

This blog-post is my gift (community service) to the 007-WoWers who were missing-in-action, and therefore unable to indulge in the unfolding events of this jolly evening. Big thank you Valentin.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A house divided

No disrespect, but when Kuseni Dlamini of Richard Bay Coal Terminal walked into the seminar room, someone should have warned us that we were on a serious collision path… or better still, sounded a war-cry. This eloquent speaker provoked us, challenged us, and quite frankly, I was taken aback by some of the unexamined views and positions I hold on various global issues.

We discussed globalisation and its impact on business. We also talked about value-driven corporate culture and the need for organisations to unlearn outdated ways of doing business and learn new competitive ways if they plan to thrive in the dynamic global business environment. We agreed that the changing global landscape presented opportunities for business… look at how the Chinese have fong-konged the world.

Anyway, what started out as a discussion on the challenges facing leaders in a rapidly changing business environment turned out to be a heated debate on ‘self interest’ at both the national and personal level.

Of course, no discussion on national self interest can be complete without discussing good ol’ U.S of A. Most of the class wondered in whose name and national interest the U.S had attacked Iraq. We (there I go exposing my biases) felt that the U.S was behaving like a school yard bully controlling the world with an iron fist (and a few bombs).

Two schools of thought emerged in the room. On the one hand, there was the Machiavellian camp who thought that for God and Country, there was no limit to what one could do in the name of national interest. Then there was the ‘other’ (my) group, who thought that if left untamed, self or national interest mutated itself into corruption, exploitation and domination of the weaker by the stronger.

Even though I still hold my position that self interest should not be realised at any price, the thought-provoking discussion forced me to re-examine some of the ideas and assumptions that I peddle around.

Setting the captive free

On my bedroom wall... hangs a priceless Picasso.

Wait a minute, before you dismiss me with a casual “so what?” allow me to tell you how this little beauty found its way into my room...

At the WoW seminars, which is where I have been spending most of my time lately, there is hardly ever a dull moment. You see, we tackle a myriad of topical issues and engage in intellectually stimulating debates most of the times. However, if you had strayed into the Graduate School seminar room last Thursday, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Wits had taken its social responsibility portfolio a notch higher by providing Day Care for the children of the staff members.

The place looked like a kindergarten class. There were crayons, coloured paper, scissors, glue, glitter, wrapping paper… all over the floor. For nearly half an hour, we cut, we pasted, we drew, we glued… Our first production depicted our inner critic. Believe me, the images in the room were non-descript and generally quite boring!

Then, we were commissioned to draw pictures that portrayed our creative side. This was when the masterpieces were born. Our collective creative juices started flowing freely and flamboyantly, we were unstoppable. In fact, there were at least two artists in the room whose illustrations were 3-dimensional. Maxwell took it a step further and spun a complete narrative on his canvas. … I felt like a child gone wild with excitement or perhaps it was more like a prisoner tasting freedom after years of incarceration…

Interesting how believing in oneself, one's abilities as well as a positive attitude can change one's whole perception of life. Roy pointed out that there is a need to break out of the rule-bound thinking, and that playing is fun and a great motivator. For me, there is no looking back. I am now on a journey to re-discover my wildly creative side. Let freedom reign… yipeeee!!!

P.S: For all you art collectors out there (and those who appreciate the finer things in life), this particular masterpiece will not be up for sale any time soon…

Eating an elephant

RIDDLE: How do you eat an elephant?
RESPONSE: Bit by bit

Allow me to draw from the rich reservoir that is the well of age-old African traditional wisdom. (Can you hear quiet echoes from Professor Lovemore Mbigi’s lecture?)

Let me blog this mental note before it slips my mind: I should read up on how he incorporates Ubuntu and African culture into the world of business…(oops, that is me thinking aloud).

Before I wade all over the place, let me re-trace my thoughts back to the beginning and allow the elephant back into the room (and discussion). Where I come from, when life throws a curve ball in your direction, and the problem seems insurmountable, we generally say,“things are elephant”. We also understand that resolving a huge problem takes time and it is best tackled in small little steps.

Roy verbalised the problem solving strategy that is implied in this riddle in 4-step process:-
a) Call the problem by its name and prepare the necessary tools and resources needed to resolve it. At this point, it is also important to set deadlines; (GET READY)
b) Randomly identify the various components and possible solutions to the problem; (FIRE)
c) Draw a step-by-step process of how to resolve the problem. Prioritise the process by starting with the easier steps and progressing towards the more difficult steps;( AIM)
d) Implement your plan by effecting the solution outlined in step (c)above; (ACTION).

Chomp, chomp, chomp… and voila, the complete beast is gone!

Friday, April 27, 2007

I create therefore I am

It was with great pleasure that I learnt that there is no such a thing as a “stupid idea” …and what relief! You see, I cannot even begin to count the number of still-birth ideas that I have carried to term in my mind. These thoughts were buried alive because, for some reason, I was too frightened to voice them.

What? there is no way I was going to run the risk of looking like “the foolish kid on the block…" no way!

Well, that was before I met one Roy Blumenthal. I have since buried my inhibitions. After the session on corporate creativity, the scales have fallen off my eyes and now I can see clearly that my creativity is the one true legacy I will bequeath the world... it MUST be unleashed!

On that note, please read my version of the small print on the “Blumenthal Creativity License”©:-
• A stiffled idea could be a solution suppressed!
• If you can think it (an idea), it is not stupid;
• To unleash your creativity (or while brain-storming), fire all the ideas that cross your mind;
• To allow the free flow of ideas, record your ideas pronto!
• Tame the inner critic so that it will not paralyse your ability to explore the labyrinth of your mind;
• Take a dip into the pool of your thoughts and come up with the ideas that are most likely to solve the problem at hand;
• Prioritise the steps you need to take on the journey to reaching your solution;
• Arise and take action!
• Have some fun while you are at it:)

R.I.P: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here (at Ground Zero) to remember all the creative ideas that died before their time. May we never forget the havoc wrecked by fear-bombs!

SCReeeeACH!!! …I will take this as my cue to stop firing any more of my random thoughts and ideas (and the merciless abuse of this license) …until the next time… pax-blogosphere... Was that a sigh?

Monday, April 23, 2007

He preached wine and drank it… by the barrel!

Three and a half hours slipped by unnoticed as Aki Kalliatakis, MD of Leadership Launchpad, delivered his boisterous and passionate talk on customer care. As our eyes followed his every move across the room, you could see that he had cast a spell on every intern [customer] present. And so it must be with any organisation that aims at growing its business; its focus must revolve around meeting the needs of customers as well as captivating their interests.

Because customers are the life blood of business, care must be taken to find them; win them over; and retain them if a business is to thrive in markets characterised by cut-throat competition. As Kalliatakis pointed out, “... in Africa, when the sun comes up, you had better be running".

The video clip on a bunch of highly motivated fishmongers at demonstrated that work does not have to be a dreary affair. For these 12 world-famous guys, a day’s job incorporates fun, games and profits, all rolled into one. Their positive attitude to work transforms even the most mundane task at Seattle's Pikeplace fish market into a fun activity, and not just for them, but also for the prospective customers.

However, when all is said and done, would I plunge back into the wonderful world of Customer Care? … That my friend, is an entirely different kettle of fish….

As I hang on to every word he said, the words written on the cover-sheet of his presentation rang true. “Delight your customers with positively outrageous service”… and delighted with the customer care lecture Kalliatakis delivered, I was!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dance of Conflict

I had no idea that relationships, organisations and societies needed a bit of friction to thrive. Who would have guessed that a reasonable amount of feather-ruffling was required to optimize productivity? The thing is, conflicts, like fire, make good servants but bad masters and both need to be managed properly, according to Bernice De la Croix. Conflicts urge the parties concerned to come up with solutions in order to improve the dynamics of the relationships.

Conflict is inevitable in human relationships and it should be used as a catalyst for change. De la Croix pointed out that South Africa’s new political dispensation was birthed out of the conflict and the fight against the oppression under Apartheid. The same is true of Zimbabwe’s political crisis in which the citizens today are agitating for change. In response, the world is turning [albeit slowly] its focus on this southern African country. Conflict triggers change.

Creativity and lateral thinking are required in conflict resolution. As was witnessed at Wits this week, one way of resolving society’s conflict and promoting understanding is through dialogue. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Nadine Gordimer along with Finance Minister Trevor Manuel were hosted by Judge Cameron at the Great Hall, where they discussed the application of economic theories in the production of social justice and development. There was also a Q & A session where the panel fielded various questions [ranging from tax on books to the possibility of reconciling social equality in a capitalistic society,] from the public. The occasion was also graced by South Africa’s first lady, Zanele Mbeki.

Expanding Horizons

When I signed up for the WoW programme, I had some pretty clear ideas about the kind of institutions I wanted to work for. On my short list of prospective employers were media newsrooms and HIV- or development-based research organisations. Well, that was until we had a WoW session with Steve Grudz’s South African Institute of International Affairs(, which opened my eyes to whole new world of possibilities and career options... I feel like a kid in a candy shop…

I am not sure what sparked off the deep unsettling feeling within me. The session provoked me to get off my laurels and act before the rag of underdevelopment completely wipes us off the face of this continent... It is possible that it was Grudz’s passion for Africa that rubbed off on me. It is also not unlikely that the reality of Africa's glaring social, economic and political gaps and issues we discussed stopped me in my tracks and demanded my attention. The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) are Africa’s own home-grown tools and instruments created to address the developmental issues on the continent... some big brother!

Other ‘local’ initiatives that focus on solving Africa’s problems include efforts of people like Anton Gollub of the Johannesburg Housing Company ( These private developers are in the business of building affordable rental houses for the low- to middle-income families.

Gollub interrupted his discussions on the various aspects and challenges of social housing and asked us: “What is your purpose in life? Think about it… it will keep you awake at night”.

Thinking aloud!
I solemnly suggest the possibility that part of my purpose might be realised after my conscription into an army of crusaders who champion the causes of our beloved continent… Something tells me I won’t be getting too much sleep tonight... I will be pondering on this matter of existential proportions …

One thing is for sure though; nothing is cast in stone… least of all, my career interests.

Friday, April 20, 2007


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Be prepared!

“Many interviewers are looking for reasons why they should not employ you, rather than for reasons why they should.”
- Colleen McLintock-Rudnick

One of the common mistakes that internship- and job-seekers make, is to show up for interviews with little or no knowledge of the companies for which they hope to work. This, ill-preparedness, according to Sipho Dayel and Janet Pringle of ECIAfrica is a definite “no – no!”
As Steven Gruzd of SAIIA reminded us, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression!"

These sentiments were echoed by Raj Naran and Eileen Maleka of Wits’ Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU). They said that once a candidate had secured an interview, he must prepare for it by doing an in-depth research on the company, having mock-interviews and familiarizing himself with common interview questions.

In addition, they gave us tips on how to write a winning CV, which, according to Naran, must be given a lot of thought because its content is “used for the elimination rather than the selection of candidates”.

So far, all the speakers seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. The tune? … “You are a product and you need to market yourself!”

Paradigm shift

“Ask not what your country [read employer] can do for you; ask what you can do for your country [again, read employer]”.
John F. Kennedy – Inaugural speech 1961

This was how I was welcomed by Andrew Hoffmeyr to the WoW programme – and what a wake up call! You see, I had previously imagined that my core duty as a prospective employee was to throw out as many applications to as many prospective employers as I could. I figured that my qualifications could “do the talking for me”, but alas!

Hoffmeyr made it abundantly clear that the notion that “good things happen to those who wait” does not apply to candidates who are serious about pursuing careers in their chosen fields. He said employable individuals were those who took the initiative to do research on specific companies, identified threats or opportunities in specific areas and then tailored possible solutions to address these “gaps”. His parting advice (and challenge) to us was, “Go ye therefore and create jobs for yourselves”.

Bottom-line: Employers are interested in solutions and our employability is determined by the value we can add to any organisation!