I have to admit that I came to South Africa as a recent graduate, strong at heart, but confused about my direction post-college and I naively thought that my adventure to here would bring unprecedented clarity to this constant dilemma I face. I still am unsure of my direction, but I now understand not only that this is what’s realistic, but that the true value actually comes in what you learn from the experiences you have along the way.
Though some days I sit in the Reciprocity office in Cape Town staring at spread sheets, enslaved by my inbox, and fueled only by coffee and the knowledge that my work is contributing to a greater purpose, (well and that I can leave for Yoga at 5:30) I have to say every single second is worth it because of the experiences that I have been able to have when I get to step out of my office and my shell that is behind a computer screen. When I get to step out of Cape Town where I am just another CT resident, to the townships of the Western Cape and Alexandra where I am now very clearly the minority. A mlungu (xhosa for white person) amongst the vibrant, fascinating, and complex low income communities of South Africa.
Two projects that I am currently working on for Reciprocity bring me into the townships regularly and have been great learning experiences both in the office and the field.
1) London Business School
On December 3, 100 MBA students from LBS will arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa and will be spending the week working in Alexandra, the largest and most historical township in South Africa. Students will be split into groups of 5 or 6 and paired with a navigator and local micro-entrepreneur. Their objective is to learn first-hand about the realities of doing business at the bottom of pyramid, and then structure their expertise into recommendations for the entrepreneur, which will ideally help the entrepreneur to improve their turnover, profit, and general economic stability. My role has been to help identify, interview and select the navigators and entrepreneurs from Alex that are reliable and enthusiastic enough to participate in the program. Lots of logisitcal coordination is needed in order for us to be able to pull this program off so in addition to multiple phone calls, text messages, and emails a day, on site visits have been particularly important in structuring the right team. Though working in impoverished communities is always challenging logistically and emotionally, I am continually inspired by the ambition and enthusiasm showcased by the people of Alex. In their opinion, apartheid is over, Alex is their home, and it is their duty to empower, support, and better their community. Next week I will be returning to Alex
2) Micro-enterprise entrepreneur database