It is 1983. South Africa was in the midst of a recession, caused by many factors, but driven mainly by the fall of the gold price and the subsequent collapse of the Rand against other currencies.
This "situation" which lasted for a number of years; affected most industries, businesses, households and impacted negatively on livelihoods. Its ripples where felt everywhere ... from Soweto to Sandton, from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
As a social and human rights activist, I saw first hand some of the effects on women and children. I saw the impact on informal traders and small business owners, on contractors, sub-contractors and on large organisations.
There was a dramatic rise in the number of retrenchments and layoffs. There was economic chaos, as well as rising political and social instability.
It was at this stage, that I really took action and questioned the status quo, and I asked myself:
- What is wrong with this world?
- What can be changed?
- How can it be changed?
- Who/what will be the change drivers?
Until this moment, I had volunteered on various projects, I was involved with some NGOs and civic organisations ... but now I was on a mission.
I was to spend the next couple of years just reading about world events, I followed up on all types of research, on socio- economic-political trends, analysis and forecasts. I joined various organisations just looking for a home where I could fulfil my mission in life.
I tested new concepts and ideas ... always looking for solutions. I met thousands of individuals in the process, many developed into life long friendships, others just wasted away.
Now I'm going to share some of the highlights experienced during this stage of my life ...
Last Updated on Sunday, 05 June 2011 23:16
On a Mission
Where to from here?
Although I had been involved with civic organisations since I was 15, I woke up one morning and realised that I was being driven to act within a different civic context, but I did not have a clue were to start or what it would entail.
At the time, I was a design engineer and technical consultant, but I was also a young mother and the wife of an up and coming corporate executive, who's sole purpose and apparent role in life, was to be totally supportive of her husband and his career. I was expected to be focused on his corporate growth as a director of a leading Afrikaans organisation, instead of having my own life and interests.
Never mind the fact that I was already heavily involved with a sector of civic society that was frowned upon not only by my ex-husband family and friends but also by his staunch Afrikaans employers.
But I had my own mind, and other ideas in my head.
Against all odds, and "my own society circle" objections, I was involved with a few human rights organisations, and many children and women rights focused NGOs.
Although I liked what they all did, I saw that they were constantly struggling for funding, and that that struggle prevented them from maximising their effectiveness and have greater impact on their social missions. They were mainly driven to address the needs of black women and black children issues, they were looking for ways to assist them overcome extreme poverty and to be self-sustainable.
It pained me to see the struggle that many of those women faced, at the same time I was humbled by their commitment and belief systems which was led by the drive to create a better life for themselves and for their own children, while managing at the same time to remain aware and respectful of other communities and its members needs. Inspired my many of them, I also wanted change, so that we could all live in a better world ... but the question on my own mind at the time ... was ... what can I do? what are the alternatives? Are there any alternatives to affect the change that is so needed in this world?
One of the civic organisations that I was involved with was the South African Self-Employed Women's Union. A group of approximately 4000 black women that were trying to break their life of poverty by creating micro businesses to support themselves and their children.
During this period, two very distinct things happened that were to shape my life and led to who and what I am today and to the eventual creation of Empowerment Gateway. Since then, I have been on a path to uncover the perfect legal structure to house our organisation, and have gone through many wrong roads searching for the "right" vehicle through which to live my life purpose.
Coming face-to-face with the Law and its impact on the Micro Business sector
The South African Self-Employed Women Union, was a network of black women that sold their goods, food or other items in informal settlements, villages and town centres.
It was when I, participated as a volunteer and a member of a group of civic activists that were fighting for the rights of poor black women to be self-employed and to be able to sell their goods as hawkers in the streets of Johannesburg, that I had my first hands-on experience of unfair legislation affecting survivalist micro business owners.
That experience is one of the key foundation stones of our organisation, and one of the reasons why we created Empowerment Gateway.
The Johannesburg city council had created a set of municipal by-laws that prevented any hawker from trading inside the city centre for longer than 30 minutes at a time. This law was passed in an endeavour to prevent black street hawkers from selling on a permanent or semi-permanent basis inside the town centre, or in any public space.
What this law did not state in its statures was how far a hawker had to move every 30 minutes. All it said was that it had to move.
During that time, many black women saw their wares confiscated by city officials and by the police. They were constantly harassed, and were in fact prevented from earning a honest living. When one of their leaders, who was also one of my friends, was arrested, I decided that the time had come to take a more proactive approach to this situation that resulted in people being prevented from earning a honest living.
So I consulted with some attorneys friends, and after taking legal advice, myself and a group of my white women friends joined the "black women" hawkers in the city centre of Johannesburg.
Together with them, we set-up some tables, put their wares on the tables ... and waited for customers to buy their products ... at the same time, we wrote on the pavement the start time of this exercise and made some lines on the pavement showing the precise position of the goods on sale.
Every 30 minutes, we moved the tables by +- 30 cms to one meter, and duly recorded on the pavement the new time and the new position. As you can well imagine, this action did not go down well with city officials.
Cutting a long story short, that simple action led to major changes to municipal by-laws, and today many black hawkers are allowed to sell their wares in the streets of Johannesburg in designated areas.
What that episode highlighted for me, was the fact that many laws are detrimental to the creation of jobs and the creation of self-employment initiatives. This factor has motivated many of my endeavours since then.
My life-long relationship with the Internet and Computers - a way of life.
The second occurrence that was to shape my life, happened in my professional life.
At the age of 28, I was put in charge of a multi-million Rand engineering project as its Project Manager reporting directly to the board of directors of a very large organisation. I was given a team of +- 200 people, mostly man, comprising engineers, designers, draughtsman, etc, to work with.
When I took over my post, I was confronted with major resistance. Many of the men in the team, did not want to work for a women. On top of that I was not only a foreigner but also seen as being too young and inexperienced.
Being confronted with above situation on this project. I only had a solution at hand. Putting my foot down and being hard-ass with the guys. I took a few days off to cool down and plan how I would deal with this issue.
By then, I was already playing on the Web (Internet) with BBS's (Bulletin Boards) ... and already had my first laptop (something resembling a big suitcase :-)) ... and I also had created my very first database.
The path I followed was to get the backing of the board first, and then I got on the phone and searched through my own network for people that I could reach if I needed to replace my entire team.
I wrote a simple program with the assistance of a computer friend in the USA, so that I could keep all the data at my fingertips.
When, I started to get information on who was or was not available I created mini-profiles of everyone with up-to-date information.
This little exercise saw me building records of over 1000 highly qualified technical individuals ...
then, I went back to the office, called a staff meeting and gave everyone an ultimatum - either we all work together to get the project on track and completed on schedule or whoever felt that they didn't work with a women, could leave and pick up their pay cheque on the way out.
A few took up the offer to leave ... and because I had done my homework, I could immediately replace them by using this "new type" of technology. "Portable / Desktop Computers"
Doing this little exercise, showed me the potential that computers could have on my daily work life, and showcased to me, the power of communication over the Internet. Without computers and without the Internet, I would not have reached my objectives, nor would I been able to do the work that I was commissioned to do, in the time-frame that I had and within my project budget.
It also led to my love-hate relationship with computers and the Internet as a means to an end, as a very powerful management tool to achieve results.
My little exercise become part of the urban legends of Johannesburg.
Last Updated on Sunday, 05 June 2011 23:26