I’m born and bred in South Africa. When I started school, there were no black kids in my class, no black kids in my school. I went through a time that a lot of my friends’ parents found very scary. We had a referendum, and they asked if people wanted to change society. And people said yes, this was in the early 90s, and was an important time. People lived according to what they knew, and one day, they decided to vote for change.
This kickstarted quite a scary time, for some, of transition. But it was fascinating growing up learning about it. The interim Constitution came into place, Nelson Mandela was released. And sort of overnight, the Bill of Rights and human rights became supreme.
People were literally sat down and told: “it’s no longer cool and acceptable to treat people differently based on their race.” People had a look at their lives, sitting in their truck, they looked and a dog was sitting next to them and black people, helping and working for them, were sitting in the back of the truck. Overnight, they changed that around.
It was a bizarre time, in some ways, and there were people who were very scared. But it was interesting, especially when you grew up only knowing a certain way. But it was fantastic. Exciting, a lot of hope with Nelson Mandela, he was an absolute saint, the way he dealt with everything, just an incredible, humble person. He wasn’t perfect, but he withstood a lot, and came out with nothing but respect for human dignity in his heart and, and changed the whole country, and in a pretty smooth, relatively speaking, way, compared to what people could have expected. So that was the backdrop of my upbringing, it was an interesting time to live.
I went into law because I enjoyed languages. I didn’t research what the lifestyle was about. So, you know, worked hard, I built a sexy corporate legal career, and it made me miserable. It was unsustainably long hours, it was just basically helping rich people get richer, and then they were absolutely floored by the bill when it arrived. So, it wasn’t rewarding for me. I knew I wanted more.
I’d always been interested in community stuff and volunteering. In particular, I volunteered at a safe house for children in the centre of Johannesburg and Hillbrow. It’s a very, very dangerous place. But these children kind of won me over. I didn’t want to go and play games with children, but I arrived in a place where children wanted to do their homework. And they needed help.
They had nothing, not a toothbrush, not a piece of paper, they had nothing. We went weekly, and we did homework with them, and it blew my mind. I mean, I couldn’t sleep I was so inspired that the difference you can make. We identified kids that were dyslexic and falling through the cracks and you’re able to just change someone’s life if you can identify something like that early.
I was passionate about education, but I went into law and I was miserable. I was stuck. I couldn’t admit defeat, I couldn’t take a step backwards. I really didn’t know what to do. And I was asking everyone else, and I was getting so confused and just miserable. And eventually I decided to travel. I said to myself, no one can argue with that, it doesn’t look like a step back, maybe I can go get away from law and just find myself.
I came to the UK and really struggled to find a different job. I had no varied experience on my CV. I hadn’t diversified at all. I’d just been working, working, working. So, I took a an in-house legal job, but it was a contract role. That was my compromise to myself, to give myself a bit more headspace and eventually I left after two years. I said, “no, seriously, I don’t want to do law.”
I was really lucky, I was invited back, and I ended up running the bank’s social investment programme, which was already incredibly well set up, very strategic. It really appealed to me, because one of the focuses was education, another was entrepreneurship. It was about taking people who are quite time poor, but quite money rich, and my main mandate was to get them involved in community initiatives, in the sense of volunteering. So, get them up, away from the desk, and get them into the community, open people’s eyes as to how other people live, the problems that people are facing.
It was so impactful, because you cannot unsee something like that, once you’ve seen it, it changes your whole approach. People were motivated by different things, but they got involved to varying degrees. It was a fantastic programme, and the impacts were phenomenal, and very well recognised externally.
One of the programmes was about helping NEETs, so, young people, not in education, employment or training, and particularly difficult to reach ones, where people had otherwise written them off, and getting them involved, inviting them into the bank, exposing them to a different definition of what success could look like, to what they’ve seen in their community.
It was really powerful stuff, and by the time I left, these young people that had been on our programme since the age of 14, we’re graduating from university applying to internships and graduate programmes at the bank, and succeeding, competing with other privileged candidates, for sought after roles. So, their whole families are changed by that, they were then referring their younger siblings into the programme. So it was a really transformational step.
I left for a number of reasons and started a family. So, I had my little boy, and since then I’ve been consulting. I have met many amazing connections, and we’ve been working together, on fantastic, exciting, impactful projects. It’s more difficult than my corporate legal career, but it’s massively more fulfilling for me and impactful.
As part of my journey, I’ve continued learning, I hold a Post Graduate Certificate in Business Sustainability Management from Cambridge, in ESG investing from the CFA Institute and MBA Essentials from the LSE. I’ve also become a trained B Leader, I find B Corp to be a robust framework for companies wanting to properly manage their impact – no greenwashing here – but actually to take the practical steps required to be held accountable, to improve year on year.