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Classes Under Rain Clouds And Trees




It’s a rainy afternoon when we arrive at Nkomo Primary School, in Mnqobokazi, a small village within Hluhluwe town in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa.

The school’s 51-year-old principal, Nomusa Zikhali, approaches us with a smile and a gentle handshake as she welcomes us to her office in a school she first started for a handful of students under four hulking trees.

Zikhali was born and bred in this dry corner of Mnqobokazi. Teaching was always her passion.

“When I was young, I used to play school with my friends and I was always the headmaster. I used to love being a teacher or I’d be a social worker because I loved working with people,” she says.

Zikhali had it tough growing up. She ran away from home, as her father wanted to marry her off at the age of 16.

“I left school in standard eight because my father believed I was old enough to get married. He wanted 11 cows, so I was supposed to get married to a man with five wives,” she says.

Her older brother suggested she relocate to big city: Johannesburg.

“He also didn’t like the idea of me being married at a young age, so he wanted me to go and stay with him and his girlfriend, who worked as a domestic worker in Johannesburg,” says Zikhali.

“I was scared and confused; I didn’t think I would survive. I didn’t even have an ID or passport, so I had to hide at the house where my brother’s girlfriend worked. I sometimes felt lonely and intimidated by the huge buildings, big city lights and busy lifestyle.”

Even here, life was not easy but she managed to survive for two years.

Zikhali and her brother’s girlfriend sold street food – fat cakes and polony – in Ellis Park, commuting by train every morning. Her R500 ($37) profit bought her a ticket to return home. It also brought her face-to-face with her future husband. He benevolently offered to pay for the 11 cows her father wanted.

“On my way home I met my future husband on the bus; when I told him about my story, he offered to pay for the cows.”

At 18, she got married but personal tragedy was in store. Tears well up in her eyes as she relates the story of her two-year-old son’s death in 1994.

“He was burning, I went to the clinic and the nurses told me that they only treated emergencies on weekends. I was turned away and at night he got worse, he had a fit and died on a Monday morning before I could return to the clinic. I couldn’t accept his death, I almost went crazy,” she says.

She channelled the pain into completing matric. She couldn’t go to university because she had to take care of her mother-in-law who had had a stroke.

Because of her love for mathematics, she volunteered at a school as a teacher for seven years without pay.

“I decided to register part-time at the Rand Afrikaans University for a teaching course through correspondence,” she says.

She noticed that the nearest school was 20 kilometers by foot, so she wanted to build a school nearer, and approached the education department, which approved her proposal, but didn’t have enough money to fund it.

“I started the school alone in a hard-to-reach area where I was supposed to walk and cross a flooded river with a handmade boat with 35 children every day.”

She had to move to a rondavel [an African-style hut] on the other side of the bank for two months.

This made teaching difficult as nature continued to conspire against her.

The floods worsened, and the number of students in her school shrank from 60 to 25.

Zikhali was forced to look for a better, safer location. The site she finally settled on only had trees but no brick-and-mortar infrastructure, whatsoever. But under those four majestic trees, she set tables, wooden mats and a stove where she cooked meals for the children.

“I decided to make one of the trees my office; whenever you came to the school you would wait for me in my office; and I used the others for grade 1, 2 and 3. I was the only teacher and had to teach the different grades at the same time,” she says.

Zikhali asked the Africa Foundation, an independent non-profit organization, for classrooms; they built two.

Sixteen years later, the school has 20 classrooms, 860 children and 26 teachers. Zikhali also opened a center for orphaned and vulnerable children.

“I decided to do some home visits after school and saw that the situations at their homes were not alright. There are some children who have bad mannerisms; I don’t push them away, because it’s their way of crying out for help, there’s usually a story behind a child’s behavior.”

Khumbulani Ngwane, a 30-year-old plumber and electrician who was taught by Zikhali, recalls how learning under the trees taught him perseverance.

“The situation was difficult, especially on rainy days; sometimes we’d bring planks and used them as chairs and others would sit on dirt. But that whole experience taught us to never give up in life. As much as we were learning from text books, we were also trained on how to handle life problems.”

Ngwane’s parents died when he was young; his mother was shot by robbers and his father passed away following an illness. Zikhali took him as her own.

“She’s an amazing person,” says Ngwane. “She basically raised me and opened so many doors for me and others in the community without expecting anything in return.”

Zikhali plans to retire in 2020 and continue with her community projects.

Hopefully by then, her rain cloud will have a silver lining and her children a roof over their heads.

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Current Affairs

Roadmap For African Startups



Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.

Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?

There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.

A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.

There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.

In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.

There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?

After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.

At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.

Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Picture: Supplied

The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment  mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices. 

In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?

The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.

From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.

While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.

READ MORE | Why Now Is The Time To Invest In African E-commerce

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Current Affairs

Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future




With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

READ MORE | The Most Sustainable Companies In 2019

Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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Current Affairs

Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’





Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.

A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.

In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.

“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.” 

While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.

Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.

READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year. 

Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.

She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.

“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.” 

She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.

READ MORE | Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.

Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).

One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.

The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.

Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.

“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.

Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment. 

This story is developing.

-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes

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