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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Adult-studenting!


One of the biggest challenges I face as an entrepreneur, Mom, Wife, devoted friend and now ‘temporary student in the USA’ is staying on top of everything. The 6-hour time difference is also not helping matters much. I joked to one of the other Mandela fellows the other day that, I’m burning myself out trying to operate in two time zones simultaneously. I find that I am responding to emails, trying make sure I’m present in class, organizing group work projects, keeping in touch with the family, and of course attempting at times even to avoid getting distracted by social media.



So here's the update; It is the beginning of the third week of the Mandela Washington programme and I genuinely cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by. I was hoping to have time to blog daily, but alas... 24 hours a day is just not enough to get it all done right now. I have been playing catch up since I got here.  And I must add, getting used to this 'American style' University experience has been quite something in itself. Add living in *very* close proximity to a whole group of people who are also going through similar stuff to you, and you have yourself an interesting concoction. 

My days usually start with me rolling out of my single bed. Which is by the way, the highest bed I have ever, ever had to sleep in. If you are familiar with my height limitations, you will understand my dilemma. πŸ’†Then its a brisk shower to power me up for the day. I have been surprisingly good with taking my effervescent Vitamins everyday here (note, this does not happen back home). Plan an outfit, realise it has not been ironed (eek!). So change outfit and be ready to head down to the Business Centre with one of my favs on the programme, a stunning young woman from Tanzania. That's a post for another day. Our daily routine involves hiting Starbucks every week day because if you get there before 8h30, you get free coffee. Don't judge, I'm on a student budget so this is super!

Our classes cover a myriad of topics related to business leadership, social entrepreneurship, personal management and the likes. These have been great, and it already feels like I have attended a full semester of courses in just two packed weeks. Meaning of course that after a full day of sessions that include project teams where we are actually consulting on a real business case, I am FINISHED!

Administration-wise, Lehigh University is doing the most! Their systems run well, they are organised and they even went as far as to buy basic toiletries, baskets and laundry detergent for every single one of us on our arrival, possibly thinking that we may have forgotten to pack stuff in our rush to get ready. 
(I think it was probably more for the men whose wives didn't pack for them.) πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰

We also have a card pre-loaded with moolah to be used only for food, laundry and pharmacy purchases. And like real little students, they made sure that we cannot swipe for alcohol on these cards!!! tltltltltl! Probably a good idea, some of us would have starved for the rest of the 6 weeks we are here. 

And lastly, our evenings are filled with nights where most of us are furiously typing away at our laptops trying to meet deadlines, or catch up with 'home'. And of course, I would be remiss not to mention the fair amount of "American Pie"-style partying (i.e. beer pong, shooters, all night dancing, twerk contests and salsa lessons all rolled into one- quite a feat!) that has been going on in the dorms next to ours. We do on occasion partake in these festivities- very often to some really unfortunate side-effects the next day. Lets just say, age is a factor here. I don't know how I did all that partying in my undergraduate days, while still somehow managing to get a Degree. 

'nuf yack yacking, I have a presentation due. Thanks for keeping me company while I procrastinated! 

Laters πŸ’‹

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ready or not...Mandela Washington!

What an absolute roller coaster of emotions this entire experience has been so far. I have been asked two questions about the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders repeatedly; What made you apply? and How do you feel now that you got in? Eek!! right?

To hazard an answer to the first question, I'll simply say, it was something of a dare to myself. You see, last year was one of the most testing years of my life. It tested my inner resolve to the point where I didn't know whether to stay on the path that I was on, or whether I should just give up completely and go back to that which was more comfortable (thankfully, I ignored the later). 


As life would have it, last year's challenges made me more determined than ever to just throw caution to the wind and do this year (2017) completely differently. This started with guarding my thoughts. I had to learn to listen to my inner voice, and at times, ignore it completely. So to come back to the question I was asked. Why did I apply? I did it because my inner voice asked me matter factly, why I find it easier to believe in other people's talents and abilities, but I almost always never reciprocate the same belief in myself? The result of this internal dialogue was me putting myself in one of the most uncomfortable positions known to man; in a  position to be rejected! 


And just like Shonda Rhime's says in her book, Year Of Yes,
"Be your own narrator. And go for a happy ending. One foot in front of the other. You will make it."
I did it and look I made it!!!


"Dear Mandela Washington Fellowship Finalist
It gives us great pleasure to confirm that you have been selected as a finalist for the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship.


As I embrace on this life- changing journey, I look forward to emerging from this programme and my trip to the US, empowered, enlightened and equipped to truly 'step into my own sun'

We regret more the things we don't do, than the things we do. 


Ready...or not- Here I am! 



(There I am in the front row, grinning from ear to ear)


Sunday, 22 January 2017

A letter to my younger self.



Nobody wants you to know how great you can be. It's not their job. Nobody is going to give you more than they can get from you for themselves.

Remember too that your parents are not perfect people, they too were young once, struggling with some of the issues that you yourself have.

Nobody told your Mom when she was a young girl much like you, that she was powerful, worthy and beautiful. So today, she may not even know how to say it to you.
It's up to you to learn it for yourself.

Know who you are. Tap into your own power source, so that the world doesn't shake you, as it shoves you from pillar to post, telling you who it thinks you are or who you should be.

Search for your passion, and know early on what things fill you with trepidation and what things excite you. It's these things that you should pursue.

Surround yourself with people who edify you, build you up and who are not afraid to be honest with you. But only for your own good.

Beautiful, brown skinned girl, forget the expectations that people have of you- and focus on how you can make your own dreams come true. That's not to say you should selfishly push your way through life- it merely means that you cannot know where in the world you fit in, until you truly know who you are, where you come from and where you want to go.

And dear child, you will not know what you have been called to do in this life, until you actually set out to discover this for yourself.

Most importantly, beautiful, brown-skinned girl, nobody should know something about you that you don't already know about yourself. And be careful of those who speak over your life. This should only ever be done in agreement with you, otherwise you run the risk of people always keeping you where they are most comfortable with you staying.

Lastly, take nothing for granted. Good and bad, life is always teaching us lessons.
Listen. Breathe. Live!

You are loved.



Tuesday, 13 December 2016

My 5 lessons in young business

"Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice." Peter Drucker

No one ever promised us that getting into business was going to be easy. But from where we were sitting, my bestie and I had put it off for long enough, so getting off our butts was the only option left open to us. We were itching for more.

After a mere two years in business, I can say with absolute certainty that- ideas are easy, but implementation is hard. Here are my top 5 lessons learnt in business so far.

1. To work IN the business is not the same thing as working ON the business.
(This is a difficult lesson for most start ups to learn. As business owners there is a real danger in getting so busy with the day to day operations, that there is no time to work on strategies that will chart the overall direction of the business.)

2. Keeping it lean and clean, is not just a choice you get to make as owners. It is a matter of survival.

3. Have a business advisor or a mentor.
(Especially one with a knack for strategy, numbers and attention to detail. Things that we as creatives often think about as an after thought.)

4. Find ways to self motivate.
(The day to day running of the business will deplete you- mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As a result you will need to replenish your stores.)

5. If like my partner and I, you are in a 50/50 partnership and you also happen to be close friends, then you must know that your partnership is like a marriage. Simply put, it will require constant communication, constant work and if you are of the religious persuasion, constant prayer too. It is The most important element of your business. The better this relationship works, the better it is for your business...and of course for your sanity.

Year 2 has been fraught with potholes and detours. We danced to a tune neither of us was familiar with and we were stretched to the max. But we grew immensely and we also reached new depths in our knowledge of what it truly means to be business owners. Its been one heck of a year.

Thats all I will say for now.

If you haven't taken the leap yet, but have always wanted to- do it. And if you have no desire to pursue this course,that too is admirable. Here is to wishing you the courage to bring your vision to life. Whatever that vision may be! πŸ˜‰

Saturday, 3 December 2016

#SistersWithBlisters



“Every case of a woman being abused is a case too many. Too many survivors continue to suffer in silence and it is our joint responsibility to do whatever possible to change this”

It's sad to read that South Africa has 1 of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. But it’s not enough to just lament this fact. So I decided to add my voice to the many others also saying No to violence against women!

On Saturday, the 26th of November the stage was set for the very popular #SisterswithBlisters protest walk at Monte Casino. Not only was Joburg weather positively showing off, with its clear blue skies and beguiling sunshine, but the occasion was also blessed with participants with lots of gees and personality.

Seeing as I am one of those people who are slightly adverse to hardcore, grueling manual exercise, I was a tad bit apprehensive about signing up for this 5km walk, but I am very glad to report that the day turned out to be a most pleasant surprise for both my walking partner and me. On arrival we were greeted by fantastic marshals, the walk was well organized and most importantly, we were thoroughly entertained by people we saw along the route- with their crazy costumes and of course the men in their 9inch stiletto heels and sequined, padded bras! The water stops were a hive of activity, and the screaming water volunteers, had us all in stitches. They were cheering everyone on so enthusiastically that even if you were considering not taking the water from them, you ended up doing it anyway just to get in on the fun. I also liked the ‘selfie-pitstops’- What a nice touch!

Besides the fact that the #SisterswithBlisters protest walk is a fantastic occasion to raise awareness against women and children abuse, it also presents a unique opportunity for men, women, children (and our dogs) to come together, walk as one and make our collective voices heard- and that’s more than enough for me.

One of the main things it does well to highlight is also the often hard, but very important work done by the 1st for Women Foundation in the fight for equality and protection for women and children. We know that violence against women and children is a social tragedy that transcends political, religious and economic boundaries- so it is encouraging to know that all the proceeds raised from the walk will be donated to two other organisations that make a practical difference to the lives of those affected by abuse.

This is a worthy cause, and was a truly memorable occasion to have been a part of. Kudos to 1st for Women Foundation and all the other partners, I will definitely be taking part in the walk again next year!

Check this out for more information on the work done by the 1st for Women Foundation
(https://goo.gl/RP7db5)






Wednesday, 12 October 2016

GUEST BLOGGER: @stephinazwane- ''What do you do if you want to make a film in SA- but have no idea where to start?"


What do you do if you want to make a film in SA but have no idea where to start? You start.

You start writing a synopsis and breakdown, sometimes the most boring thing to do when all you want is to make a film. But having written a few short film scripts before, I knew this was very important, especially if I was planning on not writing the script myself (I ended up co-writing it).

You ask a few of your contacts to help you but they all tell you that it can't be done, especially if you want to start shooting it within three months. But I have become the girl that doesn't accept no for an answer, not without a bit of a fight and some manipulation of the system. But you see, to manipulate the system, you need to know how the system works, which I didn't.  I was just a girl with a story I wanted to tell.


So I told it, after convincing my partner in crime that we had to. It didn't take much convincing because she's also a phenomenal storyteller and she chose to stick with crazy old me for over a decade. If this didn't work, I was going to blame her for not stopping me in time, for approving the project and for being a great support structure. 


So we soldiered on, two girls with a big, impossible dream, about to go on another crazy adventure together (the first one was the launch of AzaTV). I think we have a knack for operating outside of our comfort zones, it's terrible, especially for our sleep patterns.


Our film Love and Kwaito came alive in the streets of Kliptown. We had no idea how it would change our lives. For one, it meant that we had to deplete all our company funds to make the film, which weren't a lot to begin with. Secondly, we had to maneuver social stereotypes, when a tavern owner wouldn't believe that my very pretty and vertically disadvantaged partner was the boss, he had wanted to speak to 'umlungu' before he could turn down his blaring radio so that we could continue filming, he was sorely disappointed by this. Our metamorphosis into filmmakers had come, it was filled with hard lessons but also the greatest joy. We were hearing new terms we had never heard before (and we had been in the TV industry for over 15 years). Words like 'distributor,' 'worldwide film rights' and 'dcp file.' We had to nod and pretend we knew what it all meant and then secretly ask those who were on the same journey as ours for definitions. 


We're still learning, still probing, still dreaming.  We can't wait for people to watch our labour of love, but we're also so scared that they might not like it. The few who have seen it, fall in love with the story and the characters that we helped bring to life. They laugh, cheer and shed tears as they see themselves or even their neighbours in some of the characters- but most importantly, they see and appreciate our hard work. 


So what do you do if you want to make a film in South Africa? You bring people on board who will share your vision and pursue it as fiercely as you do. They don't have to be perfect, but they need to believe in you. We had the best team in the world. The other thing you do when you want to make a film in South Africa, you apply for funding, at least that's what smart people do. It takes very long, some even give up along the way and great stories go untold, but at least it's not your personal money. Would I do it the same way all over again? Of course, yes!!!

- Twitter: @stephinazwane
- Facebook: StephinaZwane 


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Travel bug- My Canada Top 12



After 12 days spent in Canada, mostly in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival, I noticed and partook in some weird and wonderful things. Naturally, I joted some stuff down while on my travels and here is my TOP 12 on Canada: 

1. Niagara Falls!!!!
Wow. The beauty of the falls is awe inspiring. The sound is incredible, and even though all the locals complain about how many tourists flock to see the falls annually, naturally I didn't mind- because as I had to remind them, I myself was a tourist eager to see this piece of mastery on the Creator's part.



2. The UBER drivers
We were staying quite far away from downtown (where #TIFF was taking place), so we relied a lot on UBER to get around. Toronto's UBER drivers were all super friendly, especially when they heard that we were all the way from "Africa" as they all twanged on hearing Johannesburg in our responses to them. But boy, oh boy, are they really bad drivers. I have to issue a disclaimer here though, I confess to be a particularly bad backseat driver, so take this with a pinch of salt if you will. However, I was travelling with one of my Besties, and she concurs with this assertion, their driving left much to be desired. Thankfully they made up for this, with oodles of good natured humour and personality. 

3. Cocktail hour, was disastrous everyday!!
Shew! They drink some pretty strange cocktails these Canadians. I like to think of myself as rather experimental with my palate, simply put, I am not afraid of tasting new things...urm...not so fun when the cocktail comes back tasting like a bad version of the Floo shot. The friendly waitresses kept egging me on to try the famous 'Caesar' cocktail. So I did. Its like drinking Tomato juice, mixed with cayenne pepper, Tobascco sauce, BBQ spice, some alcohol I didn't recognise and a loooooonnnngggg squeeze of Lemon juice. Let's just say I am not in a hurry to try this again. 

It looks like this...

Besides this disaster of a cocktail, every other attempt we made to order the normal classic cocktails like the Long Island Ice Tea or even the hard to mess up, Mojito, we were left sorely disappointed, and after 12 days of experimenting at different restaurants daily, we came to the conclusion that the Canadians are clearly good at other things! 

4. The friendliness of the locals
Having travelled extensively to the US and the UK, I must say the people in Canada were a very pleasant surprise. They are genuinely very friendly. And I am not talking about the 'fake, sheepish type of friendliness' that seems forced, I mean real friendliness like we see at home. A huge part of why I like Toronto so much is definitely because of the people. I hear their winters are lethal, so maybe I should assess whether they are as friendly when they are freezing their arlies off- but for now, I give them 5 stars in this respect. 

5. Salt frugality!
Perhaps its legislated by their health department, but these people are really frugal, no actually stingy with their salt. Almost everywhere you eat, you would probably request some salt, because the food although at times, really delicious, almost always tasted salt-less. 

6. Movie-watching-heaven for film lovers!
Their cinemas are massive, and most of them spectacular as well. Besides the Scotiabank complex, the others are like old-school Opera theatres with Gallery style seating and draping. It was amazing  to have watched amazing films like, 'A United Kingdom', 'Queen of Katwe' and 'Birth of a nation' in Toronto. Truly unforgettable in fact. 



7. Road hazardary
Driving on their roads when you are used to cars coming from the other direction, is positively 'heart-attack-inducing' and it is not something me and my travel companion ever got used to. Personally I felt like it made the roads seem chaotic and disorganised, also downright dangerous. But I suppose its mostly because we are just not used to it, that it just didn't make sense to us. 

8. Breakfast pancakes!
They make some really scrumptious breakfast pancakes, second only to pancakes that I had at a Diner in Hollywood. 

9. WIFI Heaven
Toronto is WIFI heaven for people like us, who are not used to getting free WIFI everywhere we go, 24 hours a day. This is a true marvel for our social media loving generation, me included!

10. VISA Application
The VISA Application process is probably the worst one I have ever experienced. And trust me this is saying a lot, considering that the first time I ever applied for the US VISA, my application was denied. The Canadian VISA form even requests information about deceased half brothers and sisters...Lol! Considering how much I whined and whinged about the unabridged birth certificates issue that our Home Affairs introduced last 2 years, I can safely say, that I take back everything I said, and I apologise profusely. Lol!

11. Coffee loving of note
There is a huge coffee drinking culture in Canada. Yes the states have a Starbucks on every corner practically, but Toronto even takes this even further by not only having a #Starbucks around every 2nd corner, but they also have #TimHortons, #SecondCup and #AromaCoffees. I still prefer the Cappuccino at Starbucks though. In fact, we wanted, no let me rephrase, we Needed a cup every morning so badly, that Steph and I took to calling it 'crack'. Its addictive. 

12. Toronto = Pretty City, but our SA suburbs are still much prettier
I always say travelling will either make you love your country more, or really despise it, and let me just state for the record that in terms of the beauty and general aesthetic of the place, there is nothing there that is in my opinion better than here at home, so pat yourself on the back- SA still Rocks!

- All in all, #Toronto was a great city to visit. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat! And people keep asking me if I would relocate to Canada, and to answer that, there isn't much to think about in that respect, because I would. It would be an easy adjustment after life in SA. 

Til we voyage again- Adios!