We lead by example and are proving that while we may be employed and have our own lives, we are still able to make a positive impact --Kgomotso Mokoena
Six years ago, a group of friends and young professionals decided to pay it forward, and that marked the birth of Spread Luv, a non-profit organisation that hosts unconventional career expos at township high schools in Gauteng.
Led by Mokoena, as a co-founder and CEO, they soon found that to be taken seriously and make a real impact, they had to run the organisation like a professional body – and that meant making sacrifices.
Nurturing their own careers and staying in full-time employment was part of the strategy for the founders of Spread Luv, which depends on fundraising to collect money for their various progammes.
“As directors of Spread Luv, we are all in full-time employment and don’t have full-time office staff except for a social media intern. Being in full-time employment is also a strategy that we use when we recruit professionals to put aside a few hours a month and attend school expos that change young people’s lives. We lead by example and are proving that while we may be employed and have our own lives, we are still able to make a positive impact and speak to young people about our careers with the aim of positively influencing them. When our volunteers learn that we work full time in the corporate world and also run Spread Luv, it gives them a new perspective,” she explains.
Over the past five years, Spread Luv has been operating during lunch breaks, in the evenings and on weekends, mainly via WhatsApp, emails and various meetings. However, it wasn’t always easy. With a budding law career as an associate attorney specialising in labour and media law at Cheadle Thompson Haysom Inc, Mokoena needed to put in long hours to attend work meetings and still had to make extra time to attend to Spread Luv’s business. As CEO, herrole includes coordinating career days at schools, building partnerships with corporations as well as raising funds.
“There were times when I’d run out of my work meetings to the bathroom to respond to urgent Spread Luv matters. When I got home, the evenings – between 8pm and 11pm were fully dedicated to running Spread Luv from my laptop and I loved every moment. It’s been truly fulfilling. I work with a great team and everyone is on board and tries their best to make it work,” she explains.
Despite all the good intentions, the early days of the organisation were mired with challenges, and the team had to constantly revisit their strategies in order to make a success of what they had started.
“We experienced a lot of teething problems, that’s why it took so long for us to grow. In the beginning we were also very disorganised and were running helter skelter, which put people off. We didn’t know what kind of business to register and how to get started, but we’ve slowly found our footing over the years. We worked hard on our processes to ensure that we attract more volunteers who add value to the career days we host,” says Mokoena.
To further empower herself for her role at Spread Luv, Mokoena enrolled for the year-long Social Entrepreneur programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science last year and also made career changes at the beginning of the year.
“As the organisation grew, I wanted a job that would be more flexible and allow me more time to run Spread Luv full-time. Being a lecturer gives me that flexibility and the university is very excited about Spread Luv. It’s a win-win situation for all of us, and mostly the kids,” she explains.
Her adjustments paid off, earning her the Inyathelo Award for Youth Philanthropy in 2014.
To coincide with her new academic career, the organisation is currently piloting a project called Conversations at Wits University, which interrogates the high drop-out rate of university students.
“The Conversations project is not focused on academics or career guidance, but rather we are trying to get a grip on social issues that lead to students dropping out of university. The university graduation rate is 15% and this is not because these students aren’t smart, but somehow life catches up with them and we are trying to find out what kind of support system they require at that level, and how can we assist them,” explains Mokoena.