An Honest Ode


By Nizenande Machi


I’ve been back and forth in my mind about how to write an Ode to Emzingo that acknowledges the role the organisation has played in my life for the past two-and-a-half years, but also allows me to maintain my integrity as I continue to grow and change as a young, black South African female. But, such a significant experience as this need not be too complicated, so I will be sincere and write honestly.

In the Beginning

After a relatively gruelling two-month hiring process, I joined Emzingo as their South Africa Program Manager in December 2013. January 2014 marked the start of my official work, where I worked hand-in-hand with Chris, the South Africa Country Manager and only other SA site consultant. Orientating myself with the work was challenging, but Chris was patient in showing me the ropes as we went. By the end of that year, my areas of responsibility had increased and I was quite confident to independently run the upcoming 2015 programs, which I did from then until my departure from the organisation this year. Although I can attribute this growth to my insatiable thirst for learning, I must also recognise the person who was an integral part of my success…

Chris – you and I, unlike other Emzingo staff all over the world, had the luxury of working closely together. Thank you for being an involved and authentic person, who always tries to foster a culture of mutual success. We got a few things wrong, especially during the high-pressure times, but we got a lot more right, largely because of your leadership. All the best with the next chapter of your life, both as a father and your career ventures; I have no doubt you will be impactful wherever you go.

When Discomfort Set In

For the longest time I thought I was a global citizen, whose aspirations were to become well versed in the economics and politics of the world. So Emzingo was the perfect opportunity to do this – having students coming to South Africa from various parts of the world gave me glimpses of countries such as Colombia, Azerbaijan, Peru, Romania and many others. What added to the excitement were the Emzingo retreats in Europe and South America. Excited as I was, there was a nagging question at the back of mind I was struggling to answer: “Why do you want to be a global citizen – to what end?”

What added to the weight of this question were all the changes that were taking place in South Africa, and within my circles. The student protests, xenophobic attacks and racial tension in the nation finally bubbling over deepened my interest in the nation and the broader African context. I started being more passionate about being part of the solution. As this change was taking place, I was lucky to have one of Emzingo’s co-founders – Ramon – as my coach. He became one of the sounding boards against which I could voice some of these reflections, and begin to make sense of the internal conflict.

Ramon – Thank you for everything, especially your patience and compassion as my coach/mentor. You’re so well versed in many things, and the depth of your experience makes you such a powerful thought leader. It has been so meaningful learning from you and growing through your guidance and input – you’re a great asset to Emzingo!

The Wheels of Change Churn

After acknowledging and accepting that I’m the one who is undergoing an internal change process, the death of my father at the end of 2015 made all the pieces fall into place. I realised that life is unpredictable, and that I need to make sure that I pursue the things on my heart with no reserve.

“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – no fear!” – Nina Simone

Transitioning out of Emzingo and going back into business full-time has been a big leap of faith, of shedding fear and pursuing freedom. Yes, my own freedom, but also in an effort to contribute toward South African nation building and contributing towards the African Renaissance. Many conversations with the Emzingo team helped me make this decision, and I must acknowledge each of them.

IMG_1610Cristina, Laura and Maryem – the ladies of Emzingo, thank you for being so graceful in your work. Your easy-going personalities are what made it so easy to relate at various levels. Cristina, your passion and boisterous personality are encouraging, and your hard work admirable. Laura, your heart and sincerity have made for some authentic experiences with you. Maryem, you’re a gem – your smiles and bubbles brighten up the room!

To the partners, Drew, Pablo and Daniel – all I can think to do is laugh at my experiences with each of you. You are hilarious, in your own unique ways! Your pursuit of the greater societal good is reflected in how you build the organisation. I know Emzingo can grow and prosper under your leadership, and I hope that it will do so.

The Emzingo journey has been unique in that the experience was not limited to the team, but to all our other stakeholders who made the work a success.

To the field partners – thank you for being enablers to Emzingo’s success. You and the organisations you are building were such great ambassadors for the country and the work we do. Not only did you welcome our fellows with grace and warmth, you enshrined integrity, pride and honour in your partnership with Emzingo. I hope your reach grows through your work, and that you continue to positively impact many people and communities through your respective organisations.

To the alumni fellows – each and every single cohort was different, yet value-adding to me in it’s own way. Many of you have said this experience changed your lives; I want you to know that you’ve all changed mine. From creating the spaces for me to tell you about my country, to experiencing it for yourselves, I’ve taken each of you with me in my pocket over the years. I enjoyed the bungee jumping in Soweto, the [excessive] wine drinking, going out, dancing and talking all things music. I really hope you will become the responsible leaders you wish to be, and that you’ll do it with a glass of South African wine in hand!

Although I am excited about this new phase of my life, I will miss Emzingo. I will miss the team, the weekly meetings, the banter, and the arguments. I will miss the rush of the high-pressure times, and the flexibility of the planning periods. It has played a pivotal role in the person I am becoming, and so will hold a dear place in my life.

It has been an honour and a privilege to work for such a visionary organisation as you, Emzingo, and it is my heartfelt hope that you will grow from strength to strength.


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