Monday, October 19, 2015

Day One (and Before)

Having arrived safe and sound in Johannesburg on Sunday morning, I kept Smiley waiting for some time as unfortunately my luggage did not make the journey with me. Not to worry though. After a quick stop at the local drugstore and assurances from Smiley that he was prepared to see me in the same clothes the next morning, we drove to the guest house where I am staying and I had the rest of the day to prepare for Day One. As many of you know, one of the most significant issues faced by everyone in Johannesburg is the relatively high volume of crime, some violent crime. This explains why the guest house sits behind a locked gate and barbed wire (probably electrified) and is monitored by security cameras 24/7. This does to some extent restrict mobility, especially in the evenings. But more time to write my blog!

Day One at Office – October 19th

The day started when I was picked up by Smiley, Temba (the manager of the Palm Ridge CKC) and Babalwa (the manager of 7 of the 15 CKC’s in the Kwa-Zulu area). After a quick beverage at the guest house, we set off for the 30 minute drive to the Palm Ridge CKC where we would spend the day discussing Siyafunda, the centers and I would have a chance to see in real time how a center operates. I was astonished to learn that Babalwa and Moses had driven 7 hours to Alberton in order to spend time with me and to tour me around the other centers through the next week. It is evident that Siyafunda is committed to making sure that I get the full experience of the organization.

As we drove from the area of the guest house in Meyersdal, Alberton to Palm Ridge, the vestiges of segregation became quickly apparent. Alberton is a township southeast of Johannesburg which is part of the Ekurhuleni Municipality and is a product of the amalgamation of 19 suburbs including Meyersdal and Palm Ridge where the CKC is located. Meyersdal is an affluent area which even includes an 1100 hectare residential estate with game on the premises. As we drove from Meyersdal, the suburbs quickly became less affluent as government housing increased and there were clear indications of the 25 to 30% unemployment rate.

Once we arrived in Palm Ridge, Temba and Babalwa gave me a tour of the CKC which sits in a building which it shares with a medical clinic. This is the center with Moses, Babalwa, and Machalete:

The CKC is divided into several training rooms where classes are held for those wanting to take one of the multiple courses offered by the center and an administrative section where the community can come to use the internet, copiers or fax machines. The CKC has grown so much that it now has added a trailer to the end of the building so that more people can be accommodated. After a quick tour, Smiley and I reviewed the current operations of Siyafunda and the centers covering topics from the legal organizational structure of the centers and Siyafunda (the lawyer in me came out), to the details of the impressive partnerships Siyafunda has with multiple universities, corporates and government, to the plethora of community services offered by the centers.

Once we finished our meeting, Temba, Moses, Babalwa, Machalete, Smiley and I walked to Smiley’s house around the corner where his wife, Kharummisha had cooked up a quite meal. Best homemade poppadums I ever had.

What really stood out during lunch was the extent to which the Center teams really enjoy and love what they do. Even though they deal on a daily basis with the serious struggles that people face in merely making a living or accessing what many others take for granted, they are energized by their task. And with all that they already do, Moses and Babalwa separately shared their thoughts about how much more they wish they could do and how they wish they could expand even more quickly. It is clear that this kind of energy is an ingredient of accomplishing real change and innovation in our lives and in our daily work.

We had time to continue this discussion after lunch when Moses and Babalwa spoke to me about the centers they manage. It was truly amazing to get an understanding, especially in light of the thoughts shared at lunch, of the innovative, creative and adaptive solutions and services being pursued in the rural regions (some of which do not even have running water) they service. Difficulty for the rural communities to travel to the center? Let’s take laptops to the rural areas and use the rural community center to provide computer skills classes. Lack of employment opportunities? Let’s get a cash register and participation of a local retail store to give classes and experience to students so that they can learn a skill which can lead to employment. They are also currently scoping providing driving lessons and plumber training classes. There is no end of ideas and it occurs to me that the ideas come as a result of the talent of these individuals for listening to the community to understand what would be most useful in order to improve their lives. It also occurs to me that the importance of never forgetting to listen (customer centricity in a word), no matter what experience you already have or what you think you already know, is fundamental to the success of any organization regardless of the whether they are an NGO or a profit organization.

Following a day trying to keep up with the information being shared on the models currently in place at Siyafunda and the centers, and feeling energized by the positivity and impact that these organizations have already generated, Moses and Babalwa drove me back to the guest house so I could prepare for tomorrow’s meetings with the managers of other centers.

And that wasn’t the end of the positivity:

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