This week, a small group of Waggener Edstrom (WE) colleagues volunteered at the Neighborhood House food pantry. WE also supported the project with a financial contribution that will provide meals for 190 people. Neighborhood House has been bringing the community together to help neighbors in need since 1905. It’s an example of one of the many thousands of nonprofit organizations on the frontline of fighting hunger in the US and one of millions of charitable organizations in the world. Charity has been a virtue recognized and fostered throughout human history and I like to say that Neighborhood House and every nonprofit organization represents the heartbeat of social change because they are the ones that truly make things happen. Without them, society would be lost.
I was recently chatting with a friend who works for a nonprofit about the constraints and challenges associated with partnerships between commercial and nonprofits that want to leverage their areas of expertise to work together and achieve broader impact. There are numerous examples of positive, sophisticated public –private partnerships that extend beyond volunteer projects like the example I shared with Neighborhood House. For example, text4baby.org (National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition/HMHB, CTIA Foundation, Johnson & Johnson) and We Can Be Heroes (DC Entertainment and Mercy Corps. Disclosure: Mercy Corps is a WE Pro-Bono Client). As the number of public-private relationship increase, it is important, especially for those who hold the purse strings, to listen to nonprofits and be mindful of their needs and the tensions that may exist, e.g. business success can be pit against achievement of social goals or joint programs may not meet development goals. My point is; we have so much to learn from the nonprofits and have a responsibility to actively listen to them.
This is what I had in mind when my team signed up for the 2012 Volunteer Manager’s Summit organized by the City of Bellevue (February 24). The summit is free, casual but serious about civic engagements and will involve a variety of workshops brainstorming/idea sharing forums. More than three-quarters of the 300 attendees will represent the nonprofitsector. The main reason why WE’s corporate citizenship team have chosen to invest the time to attend is because of our desire to build relationships and learn from nonprofits. Shelly Shellabarger, Volunteer Program Coordinator, City of Bellevue asked WE to participate in a Corporate Connections panel discussion, with representatives from Puget Sound Energy, Microsoft, Banner Bank and others. I hope the session will be informative for the audience; however, I have greater hope that my fellow participants on the panel will be as intrigued and curious about asking nonprofits about their perspective about how corporations can be better partners too.
Every year, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) commits 1 percent of its total fee revenue to make a difference in the world. In 2011, WE exceeded this goal and donated $1.2 million to nonprofit organizations. As with every goal at the agency, it starts and ends with our employees. Their passion is immeasurable and the collective power of many can be so impactful!
The 1-percent contribution is based on cash contributions, pro-bono work and employee volunteering. In 2011, 605 employees used a portion of their WE volunteer hours benefit (up to 16 hours of paid time, per employee). WE rallied around several key pro-bono clients and supported a number of wonderful organizations including NetHope, Mercy Corps, NetImpact, Junior Achievement, Give Love and GBC Health, among others.
Dollar amounts are always impressive. However, for the past three years, there is increasing interest in how volunteer and pro-bono hours and financial donations spur social change, which is a real challenge to determine because the data is not readily available, and organizations are not tracking on the individual level. WE supported more than 200 organizations in 2011 through individual and team volunteer events alone. It is no easy feat to figure out how 605 employees created measurable social change via volunteering. That said, in 2011, the WE Citizenship team started to embrace the challenge, and here’s a snapshot of the difference that employees made.
Employees in China provided interactive communications activities for 35 students affected by AIDS to help them complete their education.
London-based employees taught 60+ inner-city kids how to cook healthy.
Munich-based employees helped assemble basic needs packets for more than 81,000 poor children in Germany and Eastern Europe.
Johannesburg employees mentored 11 university students to develop the skills they need to be successful communications consultants.
U.S. employees helped 15 local food banks feed more than 8,500 people.
Portland- and Seattle-based employees pulled half an acre of invasive plant species to preserve urban forests.
Looking forward to 2012, WE is focused on boosting its pro-bono program. We know there is a high-demand for professional services among nonprofits. The gross mismatch in the supply and demand of pro-bono services is highlighted by the results of a 2011 Deloitte study in which 95 percent of nonprofit leaders indicate a need for more pro-bono support. Pro-bono projects provide employees with opportunities to develop skills outside of those they exercise on a day-today basis, while having hands-on opportunities to follow their personal passion to have a measurable impact in the communities. This is a win-win opportunity and we’re excited!
Posted on January 12, 2012 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
Rhian Rotz, Manager, WE Citizenship — Interview with Devon McGill, WE-Seattle
Devon McGill is a human resource benefits analyst at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) in Seattle, Wash. She is pursuing her MBA from the University of Washington and recently, as part of her course, she visited India to carry out a project with a nonprofit organization called Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). In December, Devon took advantage of WE’s 16 volunteer hours benefit and used her personal leave to explore cultural gems such as the Taj Mahal and fell in love with Indian food, chai and the head bobble! I interviewed Devon to learn more about the trip.
Can you summarize your trip to India in 140 characters or less? 18 days: glimpse into a salt farmer’s life, soaking in the Taj Mahal, learning about carbon markets and inspired by the work of SEWA.
Before we move onto the important stuff, what is a head bobble? The head bobble is an important communication tool in India. It can be used to convey understanding or happiness or to say “it’s no problem.” Basically it’s the most infectious and endearing part of the Indian culture. Spend a couple of days in India and you’ll find yourself involuntarily performing the head bobble.
What struck you most about the people and culture in India? That they can be so happy with so little. The salt farm workers we visited uproot their lives for eight months out of the year to live in a straw hut with no running water or electricity so they can make a meager living for their family. The entire family, including the children, must work to produce the salt. The family we visited with had a little girl who was helping to build a well, and the entire time she was running around with a smile on her face. Her parents expressed how hard it was for them to make a living this way, but how grateful they were to be able to take care of their family.
Working with SEWA was a focus of your trip. What is SEWA’s mission? The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA, http://www.sewa.org) is an organization of 1.3 million self-employed farmers, laborers and entrepreneurs based in Gujarat, India. SEWA has designed a solar- powered lantern and a clean energy cook stove that will extend the workday of its members — most of whom do not have electricity — to ensure them safe, energy-efficient cooking. These products are currently in the testing phase, and now SEWA needs a strategy for financing the sustainable production and distribution of tens of thousands of these products to be sold at a low price through the use of microfinance and carbon trading.
How much progress did you make on the project with SEWA during your visit? I spent a good portion of my time at the SEWA offices working with its partner organization Grassroots Trading Network (GTN, http://grassnet.org/). GTN is tasked with the logistical challenge of delivering a solar lantern and energy efficient cook stove to the homes of all 1.3 million members over the next two years. SEWA has secured financing that will allow it to issue the products on credit to the members, and the women will make monthly payments for a year to pay for the cost of the products (plus interest). They have successfully piloted the products in the village of Manpura and are looking to expand as soon as possible to the many villages where they have members. While in India we were able to conduct on-site research to help us understand the problems the women are facing and the ways that these products can help. The information we gained there will help us create a much better solution for SEWA.
What is the next step in the SEWA project? Will you be returning to India anytime soon? Over the next three months my team will provide SEWA with our recommended process strategy, social metrics and methodology and carbon market strategy for the project. My main focus on the project is to determine what the social impact of the solar lanterns and cook stoves will be and to define the quantitative measures of success for the project. I will also provide SEWA with a methodology for collecting the data from the members. We have a lot of hard work in front of us, but are motivated by the chance to make a small difference in the lives of the SEWA members. No future trips are planned yet. We will provide SEWA with biweekly updates and a final presentation via Skype. The wonders of technology!
Do you plan to publish the results of your MBA project with SEWA? This project is the first of its kind at the University of Washington, so we are still looking at options for publishing the project. We have a blog where we posted pictures from the trip and will continue to post updates on the progress.
What was the highlight of your trip? Other than the food (and yummy chai), I really enjoyed our village visit to Manpura. We were able to see the cook stoves and lanterns in action and talk to the women about how the products impacted their lives. We got to experience what life is really like for the SEWA members, and their stories brought our project to life.
Do you have any advice for individuals contemplating an international volunteering experience? If you get the chance, do it! It was an amazing experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Posted on November 23, 2011 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
Holly Roe, Account Coordinator (and Rhian Rotz, Manager WE Citizenship)
This year, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) partnered with Net Impact, a nonprofit organization that inspires a new generation of leaders to use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest problems, to support its annual conference in Portland, Ore., with pro-bono services. Net Impact believes it’s possible to make a net impact that benefits not just the bottom line but people and planet too. I found this truly inspiring and wanted to share some wisdom that resonated with me throughout the conference:
1) Occupy Wall Street From the Inside: In a keynote kicking off the conference, Liz Maw, executive director of Net Impact, challenged everyone to “occupy Wall Street from the inside” by leveraging their careers to drive real change.
2) Overcome Cynicism: Lord Hastings, KPMG‘s global head of Citizenship and Diversity, shared that the single most effective way to change the world is overcoming cynicism — not a product or a business model, but by changing an attitude.
3) Take the First Step: Speaker Vail Horton, CEO of Keen Mobility and chairman of Incight Foundation, was born with improper bone growth in his arms and without legs but lives a life defined by his passion to make the world a better place — not his disability. He stressed the importance of taking the first step and “staying pleasantly persistent” no matter the task.
Elisia Choi, Amy Dunn, Rachel Coussens, Anna Friedges and I had the privilege of representing WE as volunteer reporters at the conference, covering sessions on topics ranging from sustainability and microfinance to healthcare reform. As communications professionals, it isn’t every day that we receive a press badge (which was definitely an exciting perk) and asked to report stories, but it definitely made for a unique opportunity and allowed us to experience our jobs from the other side of our industry. This experience reinforced the fact that although anyone has the ability to tell a story, by truly listening to your audience and understanding the reason for telling the story, we can help others strengthen their business in new and creative ways. Read our coverage here.
My colleagues Erica Hubby and Katy Hagert, members of the WE Studio D® and Insight & Analytics teams, also brought their expertise to bear after the conference. They delivered a report to Net Impact designed to provide analysis of the key influencers, online discussions and themes about the Net Impact conference using some of the coolest tools and services that we offer. Check it out!
Being able to take a step back from my day-to-day activities and apply my professional skills to benefit a nonprofit was truly rewarding. I look forward to participating in similar events in the future.
Posted on November 3, 2011 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
Guest Post by Zamafuze Ngcobo – South African delegate and student at the University of Johannesburg. WE was honored to sponsor Zama’s attendance to the annual One Young World (OYW) Summit, Switzerland (Sept. 1-4, 2011). This blog post is the summary andfinal intheseries about Zama’s journey to the OYW summit.
It has been almost five months since WE Johannesburg made the decision to sponsor me to attend the OYW summit held in Zurich a week ago. On August 31st, the big day finally arrived and I flew out to Zurich, Switzerland.
On my first day in Zurich I had to pinch myself several times to remind myself that this was really happening. The calibre of young people and leaders that I found myself amongst was incredible. From all walks of life each of them was passionate and driven, from as young as fifteen years of age to twenty seven. Between the several plenary sessions during the day and the night life the city had to offer, there was just no way that I could afford to waste time on sleep. I wanted to get to know each person, hear their stories and to share in their valuable knowledge and experiences. It almost felt like I was visiting over 150 countries in three days through the stories of 1200 young leaders from every corner of the world.
Each day was dedicated to at least three of the following resolutions, namely: global health, global business, environment, leadership, interfaith dialogue and media with informative plenary sessions. Counselled by world leaders such as Sir Bob Geldof, James Chau, Fatima Bhutto and HRH Crown Princess of Norway, there was so much to learn and meditate upon.
My personal favourites included Doug Richards on his “School for startups”, Mark Lovell on CSR and Fatima Bhutto who spoke candidly on women and gender issues. There were so many key takeaways from each of these speakers. I was moved to tears when Doug Richards introduced us to some of the people who had changed their lives by starting small businesses. This made me think of the many young people in South Africa who are despondent, unemployed and spend every day kicking the curb. Hearing the real stories that Richards presented made me realise that we cannot change people no matter how hard our efforts – people change themselves only when they want to. I guess the trick is: we need the type of leadership that does not force people to just do things but rather inspires them to WANT to change their lives; a challenge in South Africa, where some still feel entitled and constantly wait for government to save them.
Another session that etched a mark in my heart was centred on global dignity, where we each were posed with this question; “What have you done and what will you do for the next year to strengthen someone’s dignity?” The stories that came out of this question were moving and made me realise that what may not be important to me, may actually mean the world to someone else. Simple things like providing sanitary towels to women in rural communities or even a word of encouragement to a stranger.
A theme that seemed to be threaded throughout the summit was the role of CSR and its relevance and legitimacy in contemporary society. The views that came out of the various discussions throughout the summit were very critical of this term, which caught my attention as my dissertation topic for this year is focused on positively encouraging CSR initiatives by business, particularly in the fight against HIV/Aids in South Africa. This forced me to step back and critically challenge the efficacy and legitimate function of CSR programmes within business. Mark Lovell spoke unequivocally on this topic and shared insights on how the social and commercial purposes of business should not be mutually exclusive but rather be integrated into operations as both a profit and a cost. I have been since making changes to my dissertation after this insightful talk.
On the last day of the summit, my nerves shot through the roof with excitement and anticipation for the speech that I had been nominated to deliver on a resolution for Global Health. In a lot of ways, I was more privileged than most to have a great mentor in attendance: WE General Manager, Marcus Sorour. When I was overwhelmed and anxious, Marcus was there to put things in to perspective for me. And so by the time I had to deliver my resolution on Global Health, I had the confidence and mind-set that I needed to stand in front of over 1200 young leaders. Frightening indeed!
Extending from the CSR debate and also based on the research that I am currently undertaking at university, the resolution that I proposed was a challenge to corporates to start investing in the health of the people living within the environments where they operate. This includes workers, their families and immediate communities – an initiative that has already been used by companies such as Anglo-American and BHP Billiton; who provide free HIV/Aids treatment to their workers and families in South Africa.
In between the summit sessions, there was never a dull moment; I had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many young bright minds. However, one of the biggest actions that I took from this experience came from the Grameen Creative Lab Founder Hans Reitz who spoke on social innovation. His key points that I have now made a part of my own personal manifesto were; “plan for financial sustainability, be excellent, be innovative, don’t do it alone, measure your results and do it with joy”.
Although it only lasted three days, my experience at One Young World has been a tipping point in my life. It has inspired me to come back home and answer two questions; how can we motivate our people to WANT to change their lives for the better and what business model can I work on that will solve community problems. It’s a work in progress. I am thankful to WE Johannesburg for influencing and enabling me with the invaluable tools and knowledge that I need to get up, start something and impact my community.
Posted on October 27, 2011 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
This week, 10 Waggener Edstrom Worldwide employees are gearing up for a one-of-a-kind volunteer opportunity to support Net Impact, an amazing, international nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, educate and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world. This topic is at the heart of WE’s sweet spot and is a passion for many employees at our company. This year’s Net Impact Conference will be in Portland, Ore., home to one of our largest offices. WE is donating time and in-kind services to the organization. The enthusiastic team of volunteers will be gathering content and reporting on behalf of Net Impact from the conference sessions.
I’m particularly excited about the Portland Impact sessions. These are workshops in which attendees will serve as business consultants to a group of Portland-area nonprofits and social innovators. I envision this as a scenario that brings out the best of speed dating and crowd sourcing in a spirit of open innovation. Organizations under the spotlight include The Bus Project, Focus the Nation and GO Box, a new service providing reusable to-go containers for food carts and their customers. In Portland, food carts are monumental symbols of the city’s cuisine culture.
Portland will welcome more than 2,500 Net Impact visitors from across the U.S. and overseas. The conference will feature more than 300 leading speakers, 100 sessions and four keynote speakers including Sally Jewell, president and CEO of REI, and Hannah Jones, vice president of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike. The program covers a wide variety of topics, including corporate impact, energy and clean tech, environment and natural resources, social innovation, international development, finance and investing, and career and professional development.
Follow and engage in lively conversations via Twitter #NI11, and follow the Waggener Edstrom team @WE_Citizen. Let us know if you’re planning to attend!
This month, four students joined Waggener Edstrom employees in the Portland office to learn life skills and gain valuable work experience as part of De La Salle High School Corporate Internship Program. Through participation in the work-study program, which offers first exposure to a professional environment, the students will receive academic credit, earn a portion of the cost of their education and gain valuable real-world experience that will equip them for life.
Work Experience at WE
The four high school students are employed to fill one full-time entry-level position for a year on a rotation basis. Each student will work one day every week, two days every four weeks. The students will work with mentors across a variety of teams between September and June. They will each receive on-the-job training and independently take on tasks and responsibilities. The students will be exposed to be a variety of administrational, operational and technical tasks.
Supporting Innovation in Education
De La Salle was founded in 2001, and De La Salle North (Portland) was the first school in the U.S. modeled after Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. The Cristo Rey Network of 24 schools was established for students in communities that have limited access to private education. Within the network, 95 percent of the students are of a racial minority, and 96 percent of graduates are accepted into a two- or four-year college or university. De La Salle Portland offers a college preparatory education to students from families with limited economic means and does not turn away anyone due to inability to pay. The school’s educational approach provides each student with the opportunity to succeed through small classes, high expectations and active participation in the Corporate Internship Program. Watch De La Salle North students describe how the corporate internship program can make an impact: Video 1 and Video 2.
Believing in the Power of Collaboration
This special partnership with De La Salle is the result of shared passion, commitment and cross-agency collaboration between multiple teams and spearheaded by People Services and WE Corporate Citizenship. WE is making a strategic investment in supporting its goal of investing in people, creating a diverse workforce and helping create a brighter future for local students. WE is proud to join a long list of Portland-area nonprofits and corporate organizations who support the program. If the program is successful in our Portland office, WE has the opportunity to expand its participation in its Boston, New York and D.C. offices. PHOTOS: courtesy http://www.delasallenorth.org/
Posted on September 19, 2011 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) proudly published its third consecutive corporate citizenship report today. This milestone is more than a personal celebration; it is a major accomplishment across the company, which represents the collective energy and dedication of our everyday work at WE. Since our benchmark issue in 2008, our methodology continues to follow the Global Reporting Initiative’s reporting guidelines. Here are a couple of highlights in the 2010 corporate citizenship report:
$1.1 million in pro-bono services, employee volunteering and charitable cash contributions. In 2010, WE employees dedicated more than 5,000 hours of volunteer time (using their 16-hour volunteer benefit during work hours).
On the environmental front, WE achieved a 7.9 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions from its 2008 baseline and saw a reduction in commuting-related emissions of 13 percent from the 2008 baseline.
There are at least two sides to every story. Just like other companies that publicly report their corporate citizenship results in a disciplined way, WE’s story is a learning journey. Some of our 2010 environmental goals were ambitious and out of our reach. You’ll see that we’ve held off on setting revised environmental goals for 2011 until we’ve reevaluated how to balance business growth and needs with our ambition and commitment to make a difference.
Another small change is that WE chose to call this report a corporate citizenship report instead of a corporate responsibility report. This is a subtle change, but we believe corporate citizenship better describes WE’s role, commitments and voluntary contributions. It reflects more than the things deemed as responsibilities toward society. WE’s vision is to help our clients make a difference in the world by giving voice to their innovations. Corporate citizenship represents how we aggregate our commitment to making a positive and sustainable social, environmental and economic impact through our services, employees, management of operations and contributions to society. Like every business, we’re shaped by the world around us — we recognize where we support and where we lead, taking credit and responsibility for positive impacts and implications of our business’s effect on society’s well-being.
As you’ll testify in the report (when you compare it with the 2008 and 2009 reports), WE is moving along the strategic continuum and is increasingly focused on integrating corporate citizenship into how the company does business. Behavioral changes are at the heart of progress, and this takes deep commitment across the company, patience and time. Our mission to embrace social, environmental and economic sustainability is clear, but we’re still figuring out how we’re going to achieve it. Progress and innovation never stands still.
Posted on September 1, 2011 by Rhian Rotz — Comments Off
My Journey to the One Young World Summit Part 2
Guest Post by Zamafuze Ngcobo – South African delegate and student at the University of Johannesburg… WE is honored to sponsor Zama’s attendance to the annual One Young World (OYW) Summit, Switzerland (Sept. 1-4, 2011). This blog post is the second in a series about Zama’s journey to the OYW summit.
Leading up to the start of the 2011 One Young World summit, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my journey thus far. I have learned so much about myself and others over the past few months, and there has never been a dull moment. From meeting First Lady Michelle Obama at her South African welcome breakfast, to attending my benefactor, Nelson Mandela’s birthday dinner in Cape Town – it certainly has been an unpredictable and exciting couple of months.
As a Mandela Rhodes scholar, one of the continent’s most prestigious scholarships awarded to postgraduate students, I have been privileged to attend life-changing leadership workshops this year.
A month ago, in the spirit of Nelson Mandela’s 67 minutes of service campaign, I was privileged to spend the day painting the Khayamnandi learning centre in Cape Town. I also had a chance to spend some time with underprivileged township youth, speaking to them about leadership and the lessons that we as young people can learn from Mandela’s journey. This experience was truly humbling, as I was able to connect, teach and interact with other youth who come from different backgrounds. I especially appreciated hearing their perspectives and ideas about how we can change South Africa, which completely altered my current perception about the change that is required. The youth leaders shared personal stories about how they changed their own lives in order to become examples for other young people around them. They also discussed the importance of service leadership and how it can help change and improve local communities.
Back in Johannesburg, Waggener Edstrom SA had aligned me with a great network of character-building opportunities. By supporting my journey to the summit, they have positioned me for success and exposed me to the most relevant media experiences I have ever had. One of which was a radio interview on SAFM with One Young World co-founder Kate Robertson. At first I was shy to the media exposure, however I have now come to appreciate the media as an invaluable advocacy platform, and a powerful voice to the people who will impact change. As a result I have tried my best to make full use of the opportunities presented by OYW Africa, by contributing to the Mail & Guardian’s blog site Thought Leader and assisting the OYW Africa office to with media outreach across the continent. Together with a week spent interning at WE-SA, the work experience has been incredibly beneficial – I am fast realising that university does not teach you everything you need to know.
With less than a week till the summit, I wake up each morning in anticipation for the 30th of August, when my flight will take off. Apart from the travel experience, I am excited about the calibre of people, ideas and initiatives that I will have access to. Just thinking about the projects that I have initiated and worked on in South Africa, I can’t wait to be inspired for my next big idea. Hence I am looking forward to exchanging ideas and project experiences with other delegates. I’m especially excited to share my experience of two projects I have been involved in. A year ago I directed and facilitated a theatre in education (TIE) programme, as an intervention for sexual abuse awareness amongst elementary school learners in my hometown, Pietermaritzburg. My team and I were able to engage SAPS Child Advocacy Centre (South African Police Service) and NGO CINDI (Children in distress). The programme was well received, mainly because its focus was to offer solutions and guidance to young learners on the measures that they would have to take, if they found themselves in similar situations.
Another initiative I participated in occurred during a proposed media tribunal and the threatening revised ‘Protection of Information Bill’ in our country. Some students and I got together and staged a silent protest in objection to these threats on media freedom. Although it didn’t change much, it was part of a bigger picture to challenge policy makers. Today the decisions on both these threats to media freedom are still pending. Although these projects are in the past, I cannot wait to share ideas with tomorrow’s leaders in Zurich, on how I can make a measurable impact in my community.
Being recently chosen to be the only delegate speaker at the Summit from South Africa, I will be offering ideas on possible resolutions for issues relating to Global Health. This amazing opportunity has challenged me to go outside my world and acquire deeper knowledge and perspective on how we can go about finding ways to secure better health initiatives for our people, specifically those in Africa. The research in itself has been an educational and empowering experience. My hope is that I can bring a unique outlook on solutions that need uniquely African perspectives. Wish me luck and feel free to get in touch by following me on twitter: @ZamaNgcob. I know I would definitely appreciate questions, thoughts and feedback from the greater Waggener Edstrom community.
Guest Post by Zamafuze Ngcobo – South African delegate and student at the University of Johannesburg. WE is honored to sponsor Zama’s attendance to the annual One Young World (OYW) Summit, Switzerland (Sept. 1-4, 2011). This blog post is the first in a series about Zama’s journey to the OYW summit. You can read Zama’s second post here.
I was so excited when Waggener Edstrom South Africa selected me to represent South Africa at the One Young World Summit (OYW) in Switzerland this year. I thought to myself: “This is it, the beginning of my journey to mediate the African narrative!”
In case you’re wondering, founded by South African Kate Robertson and David Jones, OYW brings together young leaders across the globe to deliberate and work on a long term vision towards resolving global and local matters. Annually, it offers young leaders an opportunity to interact with one another and exposes delegates to knowledge from world leaders and transformational luminaries, such as Kofi Annan, Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu and Bob Geldof. Hence it has been dubbed by some as the “Junior Davos.” At the second annual meeting this year the counselors will also include: Mo Ibrahim, Fatima Bhutto and Chinese HIV/Aids activist James Chau to name a few. So one can only understand the excitement and privilege I feel from this extraordinary opportunity.
This has been one of the most rewarding affirmations in my decision to specialise in Corporate Communication at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). UJ has the most reputable offering of this programme in the country and I guess it was only fitting that WE(SA) partnered with the department to develop a mentorship programme, targeted at Strategic Communication Honours students. My first achievement was being selected by WE as one of ten students to mentor for the year. This mentorship programme entails numerous workshops, access to information on industry best practices, practical training, a week’s internship per student at the WE Joburg office, and an opportunity for one student to take on a resident internship after study completion. I’ll be the first to say that being a part of the WE mentorship programme has opened up a world of knowledge and has fuelled my passion for the industry, as an aspiring communications influencer and leader.
As part of facilitating our exposure to the industry and opportunities, @WEJoburg informed us [mentees] of their prospect to sponsor one student to take part in the South African delegation to the OYW Summit in Zurich. The class of mentees were asked to each write a motivation on the issues that they felt passionately about– similar to the OYW application process. There was no hesitation considering the things that motivate me on a daily basis: African issues and solutions by Africans, for Africa! Read more about My passions.
Let me take a step back and paint a clearer picture of the South Africa that I live in. With a population of 49,9 million, South Africa’s diversity extends to 11 official languages and a multiplicity of combined cultures. Although it is the most technologically advanced and economically independent country in Africa, its unemployment and HIV/Aids rate is still amongst the highest in Africa. Studies show that 10.9% of South Africans are living with HIV and 8,9% of the youth (15-24 years) is infected. Furthermore, at least 25% of our population is unemployed with the highest rating reflected amongst South African youth. Each year the number of people not economically active continues to rise by 1 million.
My view is that there certainly is an implicit connection between education, unemployment, disease and poverty in our country. A wise man once said: “If you think education is expensive, try illiteracy!”I think you can understand what I mean by this and how it manifests in different facets of life. That being said, we also cannot have striving economies with sick people. People, and not ‘Governments’ are at the core of a nation’s success and failure. My belief is that the challenges that South Africa faces can be faulted to ill psychological conditioning and each individual’s primary upbringing; whether it be through a deprived educational or skills background, abuse, community stigmas and even lack of motivation. There certainly is a vicious cycle of concerns that influence each individual’s narrative and the overarching South African narrative.
But not all is doom and gloom in this rainbow nation. In my next few blog posts, I will highlight things about our country that can be celebrated and appreciated. On my journey to the OYW summit I have two clear goals: things that I hope to learn, and contributions I would like to make. I hope to learn and exchange on projects and ideas that other youth are engaged in, and to forge life-long partnerships and networks that will benefit my vision for my community. Perhaps most importantly, I anticipate learning how communication processes such as the summit, can be strategically used in developing resolutions that appreciate diverse opinion and realities.