Last month, Johannesburg-born Jessica was awarded the “Rising Star of the Year” at the annual South African Business Awards, hosted by the South African Chamber of Commerce at SA House in London. Jessica works as the Network Development and Affiliations Officer with Democratic Alliance (DA) Abroad – Democratic Alliance being the main opposition party in South Africa. Jessica fell in love with Politics a few years back when she became aware of the power and the influence government and politics has throughout the democratic world. According to her, “Politics for me is the power to effect change, and to make a difference.” Aside politics, Jessica is also passionate about educational development and community service.
Ventures Africa spoke with Jessica, and she talked about her life, work and future plans.
VA: Tell us a little about yourself
JS: I am a passionate and patriotic South African currently residing in the UK. I grew up in an average South African family and think I was just 16 when I started work as waitress in the local restaurant – establishing what became a life-long love of food and serving people. My Mom and Step Dad worked very hard to give us children what we needed, especially an education, and this has definitely instilled a good work ethic within myself. My mother always taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated, and this is something I still carry with me today. I believe all people are equal.
VA: You were recently honoured as the “Rising Star of the Year” in the South African Chamber of Commerce Business Awards 2012; how do you feel about the award and what will you say is the defining factor behind your winning the award.
JS: I am so thrilled to have won this award – it has been a very humbling experience, especially considering the caliber of the other shortlisted nominees. I can’t say necessarily why I won over anyone else, but can only thank all those who have supported me through this journey.
VA: How do you plan to maintain your present prodigy?
JS: I love my country and am passionate about contributing to a positive future for all South Africa. I believe that bringing widespread attention to the challenges affecting our country is the first step to achieving that, as well as getting involved in projects that change people’s lives for the better. Winning this award gives me the platform to do just that – it raises my profile and provides the opportunity for me to draw attention to the initiatives close to my heart. I also hope to inspire other future “Rising Stars” – doing what you do shouldn’t be about winning an award, but about doing what you love.
VA: What do you do as the Network Development and Affiliations Officer at Democratic Alliance Abroad (DAA)?
JS: There are approximately 3 million South Africans living abroad and the DA Abroad aims to mobilise as many of them as we can to get involved in our country’s future. My goal as Network Development and Affiliations Officer is to encourage and support the development of our regional networks around the world. I’m also responsible for identifying like-minded business and organisations that we can work with to achieve mutual objectives.
VA: How has DAA contributed to socio-economic change in local communities in South Africa and the global world?
JS: This year has been a particularly active year for the DA Abroad – we’ve campaigned vigorously against the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, holding protests in London, Washington and Perth. We ’ve hosted a number of senior Democratic Alliance leaders, including Helen Zille and Dr Wilmot James, at events in London that have focused on investment and economic growth in our country. The DA Abroad have also partnered with the Ubunye-Unity Trust to raise funds to purchase desks and chairs for a school in the township of Diepsloot, Gauteng – these were delivered to the school at the end of November.
VA: Aside being a network Development and Affiliations Officer for DAA, you are involved with some community development projects. Kindly tell us about your work experience (s) both past and present.
JS: Giving has always been an integral part of my upbringing – and it’s easy to say that I have always been community-orientated; but working in community development began in earnest over the past two years. My sister Amy also has a Masters in community development and remains an inspiration to me. I became active in the South African community in London just over 2 years ago when I joined the Democratic Alliance Abroad. I was promoted to Network Development and Affiliations Officer within the first year. I’ve also been involved with the launch of the Ubunye-Unity Trust, a UK based charity that looks to facilitate, connect and organise resources, particularly in education, for the betterment of South Africans.
VA: What is your involvement with the “Ubunye-Unity Trust- Adopt a school programme”?
JS: The ‘Adopt a School’ programme was Ubunye-Unity’s inaugural project and one that our trustees feel very strongly about. The school has over 2000 children, whom all compete for desks and chairs in crowded classrooms that vary from new brick-built rooms to shipping containers. We took part in various fundraising events this year to raise money for the school. With these funds we were able to provide the school with desks and chairs and books for the libraries. We were also able to allocate funds to the school so that the children could have their eyes tested.
VA: As an African living abroad, how have you been able to create change(s) in the lives of your countrymen both at home and abroad with your work?
JS: Modern technology and globalisation has shrunk the world, and increasingly, younger South Africans, like myself, may for various reasons find themselves living all over the globe. Contrary to what may be believed about South Africans living abroad, many feel very passionately about their homeland and want to play their part in nation building. The DA Abroad are launching the ‘Vote Home’ campaign which encourages South Africans living abroad to vote in the next national elections in 2014. Many South Africans living abroad have lost touch with what’s happening back home. We see a lot of negative coverage, but not enough about the way our politics are evolving in South Africa and cutting edge insight into challenges. This needs to change.
A groundswell of support is building behind a real desire for hope and change, and that’s really exciting. We want South Africans overseas to be a part of that, to be informed about what it happening back home, and participate in our democracy. Their vote in the 2014 elections will be a crucial to a continued democracy.
VA: How do you see community volunteering improving Africa?
JS: People have many reasons for doing volunteer work on the continent and in South Africa. Many want to help those less fortunate and some are looking for ways to be involved or to make the world a better place. African countries face many complex problems such as poverty, hunger, malnutrition and disease. This has been caused by illiteracy, high population growth rate, corruption, political instability and unjust world economic order. Hundreds of thousands of people volunteer in Africa every year, and these communities all benefit from the range of expertise these volunteers bring to Africa. But an important way to make a real impact is to commit to one or two projects for the long-term. Short-term assistance is great but it does not work in facilitating real change. So as long as long-term relationships are established and maintained, I believe community volunteering has high relevance to Africa.
VA: As a passionate political student/citizen, where do you see South Africa heading to – political and business wise?
JS: Under the current government, South Africa is on a downward spiral. The ANC is no longer the liberation party that Mandela fought so long and hard for and instead is has become entrenched in greed and corruption. This is why the DA is so important, now more than ever. As it has shown in the areas that it governs, where it does govern, communities flourish and grow. This is why it is so important that the DA governs nationally, because they will create this same environment for all South Africans. Despite this situation, I am hopeful. South Africa has limitless potential, much of it patently obvious in the talented people that come out of the country. With sustained direction and political will, the country can achieve its potential and more. For this however, change is needed, a change the DA can offer.
VA: What was the best professional decision you ever made?
JS: To become a member of the Democratic Alliance.
VA: Who are your mentors? Give reasons why you think (they) have inspired you.
JS: Not a mentor as such but most certainly an idol – Nelson Mandela. Madiba understands what it means to fight against enormous odds. He was imprisoned for his political views, and sacrificed his own freedom for the freedom of all South Africans. He believes that every human being is of equal value. He has always inspired me to think beyond myself, and give of myself selflessly.
VA: What information would you like to pass along to readers out there?
JS: If you are a South African citizen living abroad, make sure you vote in the national elections in 2014. Make your mark for the country, as much as for the candidates. If you are returning to waASouth Africa between now and 2014, and have not registered to vote in the last 10 years, please make the effort to register.
VA: Any message for readers / budding social entrepreneurs – Say that in your local language and translate that in English
JS: Kubalulekile ukujunda zithobe uzehlise ukuze wazi ukujunda. Imjundo yija lakho ekekho ongalithatha kuwe zithobe. Angavu meli umuntu oma endleleni yakho, ukuze iphupho lakho lijeezeke kutsho u Mandela. – (Zulu – South African local language)
(Translation in English) Getting an education is the most important thing you can do for yourself. This is something nobody can ever take away from you. Put your head down, and don’t let anything stand in your way of what you would like to achieve. As Nelson Mandela said ‘If you study diligently then you can become a president’.
VA: What are your hopes, thoughts and aspiration for this holiday season and how will this reflect on your plans for the coming year?
JS: All I want is for every child in the world to have access to education… Education is the tool for change and insight. Without it, our world and our nation will continue to descend into petty corruption and unenlightened decision-making. I would like to encourage all South African expats living abroad that are travelling home to register to vote in the next elections while on holiday and be part of the important change we need to see in SA.