What I’ve Learned Since Returning to South Africa.

Exciting Opportunities
February 2015

This is a guest post by Jessica Newmark.

15 months have passed since I wrote the blog post: ‘My Search for Meaning’, where I described the personal journey I had been on in order to pursue a more purposeful career. Escape the City and its members had provided me with a lot of inspiration and encouragement and it was through their Twitter feed that I first came to know about the Amani Institute.

It’s now January 2015 and I am currently employed by LifeCo UnLtd South Africa (LCU-SA)

Returning to South Africa…

After completing the Amani Institute’s Social Innovation Management (SIM) Program and returning to South Africa in December 2013, little had changed apart from me. The few months I spent in Nairobi had given me a new found confidence, knowledge and a different way of seeing things. I felt out of place and unsettled for a few weeks – missed the people I had met, the East African culture, sense of freedom and experiences I’d had. I was still filled with energy and excitement from the programme and I needed to start planning how best to direct my efforts.

My first introduction to Life College Group (LCG) was through Ashoka East Africa, when I was asked to do some research on the Southern African fellows. When I read about Pat Pillai (the founder of LCG) and the objectives of the organisation I genuinely wished that I had had the opportunity to develop important life skills such as critical thinking, effective communication, leadership and emotional intelligence, as well as an understanding of how to align my values with the university course and career choice I would ultimately make.

Making a Connection…

In early 2014 Roshan Paul, from the Amani Institute connected me with Pat Pillai. LCG had exciting opportunities based at their Johannesburg Campus and the organisation was in the process of merging with UnLtd South Africa, a non-profit organisation that identifies and supports social and environmental entrepreneurs (SEE) who are building sustainable social enterprises in South Africa. Being based in Durban I was unable to apply for any of the roles but decided to keep in contact with the organisation who had ambitions to expand their reach and impact across the country. In May 2014 LCG became LifeCo UnLtd South Africa (LCU-SA), joined by a single vision:
‘Sustainable Social Change for a Nation of Champions’.

In the meantime I became involved with social development research projects through two Durban based companies, The Scribe Services and Next Level Outcomes and continued to conduct personal research with my Amani mentor, Shona McDonald, into optimising the waste collection and recycling processes in Durban and Cape Town, through job creation. The projects took me to remote parts of South Africa and provided me with great exposure to some of the many challenges being faced by the majority of citizens in our country.

ECape (3)

Elliot (23)

NACOSA Research Project 2014, Elliot, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

The New Opportunity…

Towards the end of 2014 I received a call from LCU-SA informing me of their intention to set up an SEE Incubator Office in Durban. I felt elated by the prospect but also apprehensive as I had invested a lot of time into stepping out of my comfort zone and connecting with various people in my province, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). After short contemplation I realised that the role would provide me with the opportunity to work within a fantastic team of people with shared values, a passion for our beautiful country and the desire to make positive change through supporting and enabling extraordinary people to achieve their dreams. With the support of the LCU-SA team we plan to develop, find, fund, support and invest in emerging SEE in KZN and in due course, the rest of the country.


Santa Maria, Mozambique 2014

If I had not taken the leap of faith and believed in the dream of Amani’s founders Roshan Paul and Ilaina Rabbat, I would not have had the opportunity to work with Ashoka East Africa, develop vital skills and knowledge through the SIM Program whilst working with inspiring entrepreneurs, and on my return to South Africa being connected with Pat Pillai and  LCU-SA.

The Amani experience helped reaffirm my decision to enter the Social Sector and the opportunity has enabled me to connect with individuals and organisations that were unattainable, had I tried to do it alone. Although there is a long road ahead on my journey, my experience thus far reminded me of another famous quote by Steve Jobs:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path; and that will make all the difference.”

Lessons Learned…

  1. Your network is extremely valuable and it is very important to nurture it.
  2. Do not compare yourself to other people, we all have our own path to follow (this is a difficult one).
  3. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.
  4. Some of the greatest lessons are learnt just outside our comfort zones.
  5. Always be open to learning.


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