Letter of Gratitude
At the end of this month, I am leaving Emzingo after 4.5 incredible years building and managing our site in South Africa, an experience that has been challenging, exhilarating and inspiring. I will cherish my memories of all of you, of our collaboration together, and I will carry the lessons I’ve learned from this unforgettable period of my life with me on all of my next adventures.
The African proverb many of you have often heard me repeat is You can only understand where you are going if you first understand where you are coming from.
As you all know, this is true for South Africa’s story, and also for each of us as individuals.
Too often in life, we are so consumed with looking ahead that we fail to be fully conscious of the present moment, or to acknowledge the moments that have just passed. So, I want to take this moment to acknowledge properly my time with Emzingo, the time spent learning, exploring and creating with all of you—my wonderful, courageous and inspiring Emzingo friends, both in South Africa and abroad.
I have already written on the lessons I’ve learned in my time here in South Africa. This note is a thank you; it is an acknowledgment of the people and experiences that have made this adventure a privilege to be a part of.
First and foremost, I want to thank our South African partners for believing in Emzingo, and in the audacity of what we are trying to do. You either had to “get” what we are doing or at the very least, you had to believe in me and bet that we were worth taking a chance on.
The contemporary business/social context has a short attention span and a self-centred “what have you done for me lately” attitude that underpins the daily grind of deal-making. But you were all willing to take the time listen to our story, to collaborate and to find a new way of doing things.
This is easy to do when your company is reputable, has a strong brand, and has money to spend. But when we were still a relative nobody here in South Africa, we needed your trust and your faith in me and in our experiment. Without that leap of faith, Emzingo South Africa probably would not exist today. So, thank you!
I have written previously about the palpable sense of possibility that pervades the hustle, bustle, drama and tragedy that we witness daily here in Johannesburg. In many ways, this sprawling metropolis , and perhaps this vast and diverse country is the embodiment of the fierce and resourceful human spirit.
You all embody that relentless commitment to progress and innovation. You are such obvious sources of inspiration that it has been easy to showcase you to our fellows (and sometimes my family and friends), and to have them collaborate with you on various projects.
Everytime I visit the Kliptown Youth Program and see what Thulani, Sipho, and Thando have been able to accomplish in their community, I leave humbled and inspired. Their incentivized afterschool support program has led to a higher graduation rate amongst their youth than in most other communities across South Africa, despite the very obvious challenges they have to deal with on a daily basis. Their gumboot dance brings tears to my eyes everytime I go to see them, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before. It has been an honour to work alongside Ma Sibongile, whose personal resilience in the face of what she’s seen HIV and AIDS do to her community and the drive she has had to inform, educate, empower and support the Dlamini community through her organization Nanga Vhutshilo. It has been so easy to get excited about companies like Bean There whose social responsible business model as a single source, fair trade, eco-friendly African coffee company is the epitome of where we (Emzingo) believe capitalism is moving.
I have too many more stories with each of you to give more individual shout-outs in this letter, but I want you to know that I have always left our visits feeling humbled by seeing what you are doing, inspired by learning how you are doing it, and grateful for having had the opportunity to connect with you.
To the participants who have come my way, I have thoroughly enjoyed our authentic conversations, our moments of shared laughter and awe and finally, those moments of vulnerable reflection.
Those “aha” moments in life — where we have completely genuine interactions with others and with ourselves — are hard to come by in our day-to-day life. But these moments teach us not only how to solve problems, but also to think about who we are, where is our place in this world, and to leave us asking ourselves what role do we really want to play? It takes courage to explore these questions, to consider doing something that strays from the beaten trail, to explore the unknown. Kudos to all of you for embracing the process.
In the last 4.5 years I have sent out 13,725 emails, had 217 individuals come to South Africa for programs and Emzingo South Africa has completed 107 projects with 43 new field partners during that period. It’s a track record I can be proud of -except maybe the emails ;-) and one that I hope has contributed to some sort of ripple effect across South Africa and in the lives of our alumni.
As I step off the figurative trail and pass the torch to the next set of hands, I leave inspired to continue working for change and ready to forge another new path. But I remain ever grateful for the opportunity to know all of you. What we have done together is a testament to the power of collaboration across industries, borders, and cultures. It has been a honour.
Thank you all. Ngiyabonga.
Stay curious my friends.