Tell me about the role you play at Inyathelo.
Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement, is a trust started 15 years ago whose mission is to help build a strong, stable civil society by contributing to the development of sustainable organisations and institutions. We have 17 staff and own the building that we operate from in Woodstock, Cape Town. As the third executive director, my role is to manage the organisation operationally, determine and implement the strategic direction with our board of trustees and be the face of the institute. Being an executive director in an NPO is like being a CEO — you need a range of skills and experience, not limited to the sector, but also the ability to bring in new perspectives, and balance an outward focus and an inward view to manage the business.
What are some of the challenges that nonprofits face?
Mostly funding, which is about attracting support. Companies also have to attract customers, but being profit driven gives a different level of empowerment. Companies are seen as being "headdriven", while NPOs are traditionally seen as "heartdriven", although that has changed in the past 10 years.
How did you end up doing what you do today?
I tried to decide between the fashion industry and law, and was accepted to study both. At the last minute I tossed a coin and fashion won. It was a very exciting career. When I was merchandise director of Polo ladieswear for South Africa, I decided I wanted to expand my skills and explore other opportunities. I started volunteering with Nicro [the crime prevention and offender rehabilitation NPO] in setting up traumacounselling centres at police stations, and working with children with special needs. I realised there was a need for business skills in the nonprofit space, and so my volunteering turned into a career.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I ranged from wanting to be a chef on one day to a princess or a lawyer the next. What stayed with me was the wish to be a lawyer because I thought— and still do — there is fulfilment in being able to champion the underdog and to stop injustice.
What is the best part of your working day?
When we have workshops and the hub is busy with people talking, sharing and engaging. The building comes alive and people are energised. It makes our work come alive and it is real.
What part of your job would readers find most surprising?
How varied it is. It's not just about collaborating in the nonprofit world but also liaising or presenting internationally and taking Inyathelo to a broader audience.
What makes you good at your work?
I bring a broad range of skills and experience. I bring a fresh and varied approach, having been outside of the sector.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
My father said the key to making friendb and getting along with people was learning to change your behaviour — to learn and adapt as you mature by emulating those yot admire. He also said: "You will fail. That's inevitable. It's what you do with it!"