‘Powerful beyond measure’

By Maheerah Gamieldien-Mohamed Success is ephemeral. I think it spurs one on more than fulfilling the actual desire for it. I do not believe that one can really help someone else to become more successful but through sharing, another can be motivated to do take action or to do better by seeing someone else succeed under similar circumstances or overcoming similar obstacles. In her book ‘How to run your Page | 1 business like a girl’ Elizabeth Baskin says that, ‘Success is a destination reached by an endless number of paths.’ Also, the concept or idea of success means different things to different people. This is not a pearl of wisdom but merely an observation that when people achieve success they realise that along with success they have achieved much more. So the question remains: what is success, what does it mean and why is it so important? As a mother I realise that if I limit myself in any way then I am also limiting my family and most particularly I will subject my children to unquestioningly accept the same prejudices that we live under today without having said a word or lifted a finger to change anything. Some of the skills that I learnt as a development have served me well and with the passing of time they have been refined and used more effectively. Although I have mainly worked in the government and not for profit sector, I do not think that the benefits of the methodologies that I describe are limited to these sectors. Skill or opportunity has no currency or colour and is needed in everywhere. I feel that a permanent milestone on the road to success is not only being prepared for opportunity but also creating the enabling environment for opportunity to grow and flourish. Two of the methodologies that I have used to help me along my career path have been volunteering and collaborative networking. Be bold – Always volunteer When you believe that you have the ability to make a change and improve your own situation or that of others, be bold – volunteer to do the job. Do not doubt yourself. Determination, passion and confidence in your abilities will see you through. As a new employee at the Robben Island Museum in 1996, not only was I fresh out of University but I was also on a steep learning curve and lacking in experience. Having just graduated I moved back home with the full intention of contributing whatever energy and ideas I had to building a new South Africa. The Robben Island Museum became a perfect vehicle for my aspirations. It was not a museum in the traditional sense but a key national project showcasing amongst other things, the ‘triumph of the human spirit over adversity’. My enthusiasm was by no means an anomaly at the Robben Island Museum. Most of the staff were political activists, academics and development professionals with many years of political activism under their belts. I came armed with a degree in political science and a childhood lived outside of South Africa. However, when there was a call for volunteers for the new staff union, I immediately volunteered to be part of the group who were tasked with researching and writing the planned staff agreement after negotiations between the staff and the board. We had the most unique board comprising senior parliamentarians, CEOs of the biggest parastatals in the country and at its head was Mr Ahmed Kathrada who was also the special advisor to President Mandela. Kathrada, or Kathy as he was affectionately known, was not only the special advisor to Madiba but he had also had the honour of being a fellow inmate during Madiba’s incarceration on Robben Island. I, as many other people around the world, held these people in high esteem. Not least because they were national heroes but because they had given up their most treasured possessions, their youth and their family, in the pursuit of the universal human right of freedom. Imagine my awe and pleasure when I ended up being a member of the final team to negotiate the actual staff agreement opposite Mr Kathrada himself! I could hardly believe it myself, I was negotiating for staff benefits opposite a man who had fought for freedom and negotiated freedom for millions of oppressed in South Africa. Each little gain that we as staff

made in those negotiations, I treated as a major achievement because of the calibre of those we were negotiating with. Needless to say, I earned recognition and respect for my role in the staff committee. Notes on making networking work for you One thing that I missed when I went on a career break with my second child was what I would term, the incidental meeting of minds. That is really how I saw networking. Yes, there are Page | 2 sometimes the interminable but unavoidable cocktail evenings that one has to rush to after work and suffer through, if the company is awful or the crowd is not really your cup of tea but what makes some cocktail evenings, book launches and receptions all worth it is if you meet someone who is really passionate about the same things you are. It is not just enough to attend events to say that you have been there, because really that is not what the event is about. It is to meet like minded people that you can share ideas with and collaborate with on new projects or use to stimulate stale initiatives. If you think that you can work with a person that you have just met or you have an idea for a project that they can contribute to or collaborate on then do not hesitate. Begin cultivating the relationship immediately. This could mean a follow up email or a call to meet up for coffee. I was appointed to three of my last jobs through networking and I have only had 4 jobs. I had always had an interest in political history and cultural heritage, probably the consequence of coming from a family of ’travelling Wilbury’s’ with multicultural roots. The side effect, to the utter irritation of my siblings, was that I was always to be found at museum and exhibition openings, book launches and specialist talks at various venues around the city. The irritating part was that I always tried to drag one of them with me for their cultural enlightenment. At one event, a welcome to the new Consul-General of the USA to Cape Town, I made quite a few impassioned comments. The Consul-General was talking about his career path and his history. It was interesting to hear about he saw his posting to South Africa and I asked so many questions that I ended up almost having a one on one interview with him! Needless to say my questions were not all easy to answer and there were a few awkward moments. In hindsight, I am appalled at my presumptuousness and audacity but we spoke after his talk and he was, I think, amused and amazed by my questions and comments! The long and the short of it is that my relationship with the US embassy, though contentious was interesting. One of the outcomes was that they nominated me to represent South Africa as part of a dynamic group of eight women from all parts of Africa. The objective of the 3 week visit was to look at poverty alleviation and job creation initiatives of the US State Department and civil society; this ranged from dinners with Congresswomen to volunteering at homeless shelters. Networking and volunteering are just two skills that I have used to enhance my ability to identify and take up opportunities that present themselves. A large part of developing and deepening one’s skills set is giving yourself the space and also the chance to practice what you know. If opportunities do not readily present themselves then you need to create an enabling environment within which you let people know that you are interested and keen to collaborate. You also need to ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, i.e. you should be quite open about your causes and interests. Sometimes this is scary, putting yourself and ideas out there always is. As Goethe said, Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Wordcount: 1409

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