By Uyanda Ntloko, student at the School of Journalism and Media Studies
In a series of leadership conversations, the Alumni Relations Office of Rhodes University, the President of the Council of Student Representatives, Mr. Botlhale Modisaotsile, and the Vice-President, Ms. Tinashe Hlako, have held an inaugural conversation on Young Alumni Leadership with Mr. Charles Faul and Ms. Palesa Mcimbi to celebrate Freedom Month.
Intended to be the first event on the Academic Freedom Month calendar, the event aimed to celebrate and showcase the achievements of young Old Rhodians who are emerging as formidable business leaders and entrepreneurs, forging successful careers and bringing a positive impact and contribution to society. The conversation under the theme “Navigating the complexities of the business environment and entrepreneurship in South Africa – lessons from two influential former Rhodians” was held virtually on 28 April 2022.
Mr. Faul is the CEO and founder of Akili Labs. This multi-faceted biotechnology company specializes in the development of low-cost, high-quality laboratory Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions for rapid point-of-care medical diagnostics, field laboratory systems and research equipment to improve scientific research and health care. Mr. Faul also funds biotechnology-related graduate scholarships. As a student, he was a generous supporter of Give5, which supports the Dignity Campaign run by the Student Affairs Division. His company continues to support the fund.
Born and raised in Mthatha, Ms Mcimbi joined Unilever South Africa after completing her Commerce and PDEM degrees in 2014 and quickly moved into middle management, where she held several positions. Currently, she is responsible for treasury and financial controls at Unilever. She also benefited from an international opportunity in the Netherlands as part of the Unilever Future Leaders program. Ms. Mcimbi is passionate about women’s empowerment, transformation and community engagement. As a devout Christian, she runs her own YouTube channel which focuses on faith and lifestyle.
Ms. Hlako welcomed all participants with a quote. “When I think of freedom, I think of a quote from Kofi Annan who states, “Education is a human right with immense transformative power. On its foundations rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.’”
After introducing the panelists, Mr. Modisaotsile quoted Michael Phelps: “There will be obstacles. There will be doubts. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.
On becoming a leader and an engaged citizen, Faul advised, “Don’t be discouraged by seeing successful people who have accomplished certain things, because the majority started from scratch.
Mr. Faul’s discussion of this was based on his experience at Rhodes University, in the biotechnology department where he received his biotechnology honors in 2015. One of the questions Mr. Faul is, “Did you inherit your business from your parents? ?’
He said the answer was no, which shocked people as it is common to inherit a business this way. “Starting from scratch means taking a wealth of interdisciplinary information and combining it to be resourceful,” Faul said.
Ms Mcimbi said she met some extremely competitive people at Unilever, which weighed heavily on her confidence. She quickly shrugged this off as she relied heavily on her own strength, which put her firmly ahead of the pack.
“The background and experience you bring influences how you present yourself. It weighed heavily on me, as I was entering a new space, and I needed to be employed and to make something of myself,” Ms Mcimbi said.
On the importance of transformation and diversity in the workplace, Ms. Mcimbi shared with participants her background in the organization she works for and the role she plays.
She said: “In July 2020, South Africa was recognized and needs to be inclusive and diverse in the space I work in – doing consumer goods for Unilever. It is important that diversity and representation of people from all groups is part of our work,” Ms. Mcimbi said.
On the value of mentorship and coaching, Mr. Faul highlighted how at Rhodes University one has the opportunity to be valuable to others through mentorship programs.
Ms Mcimbi agrees: “There are a lot of opportunities at Rhodes University and most people I know are involved in more than one thing outside of their degree, and those things help you do interviews, applying for graduate programs and employment activities.
Mr. Faul recognized the importance of being an engaged citizen and giving back. “When I was in the United States, as an exchange student, we had to give back to the community through the Nelson Mandela Washington program. We helped food pantries that provided food for people, as well than soup kitchens,” Faul said.
The two panelists shared their experiences and strengths in hopes of equipping students with their guidance. Both panelists engaged critically and meaningfully in talking points that included: starting from scratch, creating a lasting first impression, the importance of transformation and diversity in the workplace, the value of mentorship and supervision, as well as the importance of being a citizen and paying it forward.
Mr Modisaotsile thanked the two influential former Rhodians for their insightful contribution to helping students navigate the complexities of the business environment and entrepreneurship in South Africa.
In conclusion, Mr. Luyanda Bheyile, Head of Alumni Relations and Stakeholder Engagement, thanked all the panelists and stressed the importance of strengthening the relationship between the University and its alumni and invited those who would like to suggest speakers or topics for future conversations to inform the Alumni Relations Unit at [email protected]