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“You have to be open to learning and prepared to be challenged.” A life-changing project in a South African social start-up.

By Catherine Gaulin – GIF 2017.

 

My name is Catherine, and I study International Management at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada. I decided to participate in the Emzingo Global Impact Fellowship program because I wanted to be an impact-maker. I also wanted to try something different and get out of my comfort zone, rather than getting a traditional internship at home.

 

I had the chance to work with Alex Art Market (AAM), a start-up boutique that acts as a platform for SMMEs in the arts and crafts sector. It is situated in Alexandra, the oldest township in Jo’burg which has a rich history to offer, but whose residents suffer from high unemployment and an underdeveloped economy. The organization tackles these issues by providing jobs and attracting tourists.

 

A lot changed in the AAM during our project. Even though it seemed like an impossible mission at first, our team managed to do a lot with very few resources. During the program, we helped the social enterprise develop its business model and marketing strategy, and obtain funding. Following our efforts and advice, our field partners, Tony and Lungelwa, achieved a lot by themselves. They have taken on social media, made new partnerships, applied for funding, enrolled in a business workshop, and initiated a plan for the next phase of the project: a museum. We were mostly there for planning and assistance.

 

Sometimes I was afraid I was not useful, I was not having the impact I wished for. It took me a while to realize our impact was not limited to the actual tasks we accomplished: we empowered Tony and Lungelwa to grow their own business, and that is the most powerful change we can make. I learned that being a leader is not about credit or title, it is about the impact we have on others.

 

Working for a start-up enterprise in a disadvantaged area was the best work experience I could have asked for. I definitely got what I wanted: Get out of my comfort zone! Doing this program, you have to be open to learning and prepared to be challenged. This kind of project comes with a number of obstacles, such as a lack of resources, higher barriers, and a completely different culture and lifestyle. We tend to view problems as undesirable; but they pushed me to become more adaptable, open-minded, a better team player and problem solver. As a person who is easily anxious, working for AAM was not always easy; my work was full of surprises, but the experience helped me grow professionally and personally.

 

The experience as a whole was truly life-changing. Through adversity I discovered my strengths and weaknesses and gained resilience, and through accomplishments I became a lot more confident in myself. This program is for anyone who wants to learn and discover, who wants to make an impact, who is ready for a challenge, who is willing to laugh and cry and rethink everything they know about themselves and the world.

 

 

Catherine Gaulin

Emzingo GIF Fellow 2017 and Bachelor of Commerce, Major International Management, at McGill University.