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Hands That Care



It is very rare that altruism and art find a common meeting place.

We find both on the 22nd floor of a Sandton skyscraper, where businesswoman and philanthropist Saloni Wahi is hard at work.

There’s aesthetics everywhere in her bright, beautifully-appointed home – the paintings on the walls, the handcrafted pottery in the foyer, even the orange fruit basket she has made with clay.

Unflattering balls of clay turn into ebullient masterpieces in her hands. At this moment, by the kitchen counter, she is moulding what looks like a golf hat, “inspired by a Saturday game of golf”.

This yen to seek inspiration in everyday objects, tapping into her talents, be it pottery or golf, to create “templates” for her work, is perhaps what makes Saloni the purposeful aesthete she is – giving her all to art, and giving her art to all.

Over the last decade since she first became a “potter by chance” in Johannesburg – and it went from pastime to passion – she has made over 70 pieces of an eclectic range of ceramics she calls The Collective that are “often whimsical and light, identifiable by their intricate patterns and fusion of color”.

These contemporary creations will all be part of her exhibitions coming up – on November 9 in Dubai and January 8-9 at the Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi.

All proceeds from the sale will go to fund another passion Saloni holds dear to her heart – the ABN Education Trust set up in 2011 by her husband, Rakesh Wahi, the co-founder of the hugely-successful CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA brands.

As the Trust’s patron, Saloni has tirelessly worked to help the lives of the less privileged. And every pot she makes, no matter how arduous the process of creation, is for them.

In the living room of her home, she shows us Effervescence, a glazed work of art inspired by a paper cup, which took her a tenacious 15 hours to craft. She was at the gym one day holding a paper cup after a workout session when the idea hit her: why not translate it into ceramic?

“When the clay is not talking to you, you cannot make something that satisfies you,” she says, of her intuitive art. “It’s like doing yoga. Pottery stills your mind and is almost like meditation.”

Effervescence, Wahis work inspired by a paper cup, that took 15 hours to create. (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

The pieces are like her babies, she says.

“Except you don’t give your babies away, but for me, rather than possessing the piece, it’s the actual process of creating it, and sharing it that makes me happy. I am very passionate about the Trust, and pottery is my second passion, and it was sometime earlier this year that I said ‘why don’t I just combine these two passions’?”

Thus, the concept of “ceramics that care” was born.

“God has been kind to us, so I don’t want to create money from my art, but if I can create funds and use it for my other cause, then I would consider my mission successful,” says Saloni.

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It is something she truly enjoys, as you hear her speak of the chemistry and science – and the infinite patience – that goes into each creation. No piece is like the other.

“I am very adventurous as far as clay is concerned. Pottery is a very loose word for what I create; some of my pieces have minute holes, almost 500-600 holes a piece.

“In fact, I stretch the clay, and push it to its limits. And very often my first teacher Charmaine, and Denise, my second teacher in Parktown North, would always keep a watchful eye on me as they knew that Saloni would always be up to something dangerous with the clay. So I find it works, and there have been instances where I have spent a minimum of four hours on a piece and after making it, it completely collapses but for some strange reason, it’s never put me down. I just start all over again… It makes you resilient towards life in a strange, bizarre way.”

Saloni Wahi at work. (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

When not in Johannesburg, Saloni continues her work in Dubai, where she has been based since 1989.

Originally from Delhi in India, Saloni moved to Johannesburg in 2007 after her husband, Rakesh, along with Zafar Siddiqi, set up the ABN Group, of which CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA are a part.

CNBC Africa is celebrating its 10th year, and Saloni has had a stellar role in its success, supporting Rakesh and the business in every way.

Living between their homes in Delhi, Dubai and Johannesburg, Saloni is always on the move.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to experience three different lives in one lifetime. And the three lives are so diverse – our life in India is completely in contrast to the life we live in Dubai, which is again completely different to the life in Johannesburg.”

Whenever she is in South Africa, her first ports of call usually are the orphanages the Trust supports.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in India or Africa, children are the same everywhere. To me, giving back is integral to my being,” says Saloni.

Despite being a small business, and very conscious of its corporate social responsibilities, the ABN Group has participated in several charitable causes in sub-Saharan Africa since 2007.

The Trust gets its funding from the Wahi family, the ABN Group companies, Trans National Academic Group and through the efforts of Saloni. The Group’s Managing Director Roberta Naicker, along with other trustees, have worked hard to raise funds through various initiatives including ladies events, golf days, auctions and appeals to corporates and individuals who help the needy.

Saloni Wahi with a beneficiary of her Trust. (Photo supplied)

The group’s focus is three principal activities.

The first is to support orphanages and give opportunities to children in desperate situations for no fault of their own. The Trust mandated to support orphanages that were small and rudimentary and didn’t receive any government grant or corporate support.

When Saloni speaks about Thuthuzela in the township of Alexandra, you can tell this is an orphanage close to her heart. Through her diligent efforts, the Trust first gifted it a minibus in 2012 and then in 2014, helped to move it to a permanent home in Kelvin from “their one-room facility at the back of a local factory”.

“It is creditable how the founders and caretakers of the orphanage have worked tirelessly to help children who would otherwise have died or ended up on the street,” says Saloni.

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Over the years, through the Trust, Saloni has committed significant resources for children in need. The Trust is currently assisting Abangani Enkosini, another Day Care Center in Alexandra, and has provided it a daily soup kitchen, freezers, cupboards, clothes and books, and also waterproofed its facilities.

The Trust’s second objective is to provide bursaries to students, particularly women, for tertiary education including but not limited to financial journalism in universities such as University of Johannesburg and University of the Witwatersrand. Over the last six years, it has provided bursaries to over 30 students to complete their graduation, and has also provided support to the children of its own staff through bursaries for their university studies. Similar bursaries have been provided to students in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa.

The Trust’s third aim is providing internship opportunities to young Africans for invaluable work experience within the ABN Group companies. Over the last 10 years, over 250 internships have been disbursed by the group. Christina Mhundwa, a recipient of the ABN bursary, is currently in Germany working as a journalist for a leading news broadcaster.

Saloni’s support for all the work has come from the team at the ABN Group including Nola Mashaba, Celeste Meidecen, Thameshan Sooriah and Sue Gounden.

In addition, the Trust participates in other activities that resonate with the core values of the founders. One such was supporting an organization in Kenya working to get young girls off the streets to re-settle them from an existence of abuse into a dignified life.

“It was at CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards in Rwanda last year that I was introduced to Damaris Too, a successful businesswoman doing amazing work in Kenya. She was one of the contenders for the ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ award. I was so touched by her story – she basically worked with getting young girls off the street. It was very sad to hear that for want of a pretty dress or just a bag, these girls were led astray,” says Saloni.

Back in Dubai, Saloni got to work, creating a WhatsApp group, and mobilizing her friends and their friends to make donations in kind for the girls.

“I was hopeful I would get a few suitcases of assorted clothes and bags and shoes. But lo and behold, thanks to the power of social media, I had almost a container-load of stuff. The entire consignment was sent to Kenya, and since then, we have sent a second load,” says Saloni, proving a kind gesture can go a long way.

Philanthropy is not new for the Wahis. Hailing from an illustrious business family in India, Saloni says she has seen acts of kindness from a young age. Marrying into an equally-philanthropic family has allowed her to continue to do social good all her life.

“My great grandfathers had established charitable trusts in India and I have seen the family’s involvement in schools and hospitals in North India that benefitted children from disadvantaged families. Their work has outlived their time on earth… For me, as a woman, if the work my husband and I are doing is carried forward and built on by our children, I would consider myself blessed. Both children have been involved with the Trust through their own contributions. Sidharth, our son, is a Trustee, while our daughter, Shweta, a young fashion designer, has raised significant funds through her own initiatives,” says Saloni.

Last year, in India, Saloni and Rakesh set up “a corpus for Class 4 employees at the National Defence Academy” and earlier this year, set up “a fund for caddies in Dehradun” (near the Himalayan foothills), as they are both “passionate about golf”.

“We set up a trust in the name of my mother-in-law [Shobhana Wahi], again in Dehradun. Wherever we get an opportunity, we always try and give back.

“You come alone, you leave alone. What you take along with you is your name,” she says.

Saloni’s mission for the next few years is to do as many exhibitions as she can across the cities she travels and lives in.

“I know in South Africa, a lot of people are doing good work, and if anyone has a charity event and is looking for pieces, I would be very happy to give my pottery, so long as I know the funds these pieces generate, are going for the right cause. I have set a very high target for myself,” says Saloni.

As we conclude our meeting, it’s hard not to ask Saloni how she manages to live in so many cities and call each of them home, to which, she laughs: “I have a non-conventional entrepreneurial husband, and just as I create pieces of pottery, his passion is developing people and creating businesses. I mould clay, he moulds people!”


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The Heroes Among Us




Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.


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The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana




Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

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After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

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She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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