Investing in Greatness – Jacqui-Noluthando Watson

Investing in Greatness – Jacqui-Noluthando Watson

Allan Gray Fellow

Jacqui-Noluthando Watson was born in the suburb of Durbanville in Cape Town, to a privileged and loving family. Growing up, Jacqui was unaware of the inequalities in South Africa – like most children from a middle-class upbringing. However, a family holiday to the coast brought to light the vast discrepancies between Jacqui’s own environment and that of other children living in less fortunate circumstances. Whilst walking along the beach, Jacqui was approached by a group of young boys who hoped to sell some beaded trinkets they had made in order to be able to afford food for their next meal. The encounter disturbed Jacqui to such a degree that she later approached her father to ask why the children were forced to craft and sell items to buy food. Her father explained to her that there were those in South Africa that lived in vastly different circumstances to that which she had experienced. This unfortunate realisation was a pivotal moment for Jacqui, and would come to play a massive role in determining her future career path.

In her Matric year, Jacqui applied for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Scholarship as she felt that the values of the Foundation resonated with her own beliefs. Jacqui underwent a gruelling selection process; the pinnacle of which was the Fellows Selection Camp. Jacqui found herself flung into an unfamiliar environment with students from completely different backgrounds and walks of life.

This experience made Jacqui realise that although she had always considered herself proudly South African, she had never fully comprehended the different contexts in which other individuals in South Africa abided within, and that the environment in which she had been raised was barely representative of the rest of South Africa’s youth.

Jacqui was admitted into the Allan Gray Fellowship and went on to complete her Business Science Marketing degree at the University of Cape Town. However, upon graduating, Jacqui realised that her true passion lied within education and not in marketing, as it was in teaching that she felt she could make a more significant contribution to her environment.

Jacqui’s choice to leave her comfortable life in Cape Town to teach in a township in Soweto was not an easy one. The decision was a true test of Jacqui’s commitment: although she cared about the quality of education provided to South Africa’s youth and even ran an NPO which focused on tutoring underprivileged children, would she be able to leave the security of her home for the formidable and unruly classrooms of Soweto? Jacqui decided that she was up to the challenge, packed her bags, and relocated to Johannesburg.

For Jacqui, the most challenging aspect of this decision – apart from the standard trials and tribulations that the first working year brings – has been to not lose her passion in the process. Jacqui admits that the horror stories that we read about in the newspapers concerning the education crisis are not simply isolated incidents – they are real and happen daily. Resources go unused, corporal discipline is rife, domestic violence seeps into the schools, and the internal structures of the Department of Basic Education are chaotic. In an environment where daily frustrations impact productivity, Jacqui admits that it is difficult to remain motivated. “I have to constantly remind myself why I’m standing here in front of this mountain, and push myself up it one step at a time. Some days I feel like I’m on my last legs, but then a learner gets a good grade and I breathe in the air I need to face a new day,” says Jacqui.

Jacqui lists her proudest achievement as being an active South Africa citizen. Through directly engaging with her community she strives to address the inequalities she sees around her on a daily basis. Her dream for the future is to establish her own organisation that addresses a social need yet does not rely on sponsorship to sustain it.

In her spare time, Jacqui can be found playing hockey, pursuing her passion for photography or brewing her own beer.

Investing in Greatness – Suzie Nkambule

Investing in Greatness – Suzie Nkambule

Suzie Nkambule was born in a small township in Matsulu, Mpumalanga – the sixth child in a family of seven. It was in Matsulu that Suzie competed her schooling. Suzie’s mother was a kitchen matron at a local prison and her father was foreman at a fabrication family. Although Suzie’s immediate environment could hardly be described as privileged, Suzie enjoyed her childhood and especially Christmas time spent at home together with her family.

Suzie discovered an innate talent for public speaking at an early age. At the age of eleven years –one of the youngest grade six learners in her school – Suzie delivered her first speech in front of the entire school. She recalls being extremely nervous and that her eyes were downcast for most of the presentation, but attributes that speech as the beginning of her journey as a keynote speaker. Suzie went on to win numerous debates and public speaking competitions throughout her high school career. These accolades were significant to her as they asserted the fact that where she came from had little bearing on what she was able to achieve. Today Suzie is renowned as an inspiring and passionate motivational speaker at events all over South Africa.

Although Suzie excelled in her schooling, university was considered a luxury that her family could ill afford and she decided to apply for Fellowship at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. The values of the Foundation resonated with Suzie, as she found the ideology to be unique from any institution she had previously investigated in her quest to obtain the funding necessary to complete her degree. Suzie realised early on in her life that she wanted to be a Civil Engineer; to build and transform cities, transport networks and iconic structures. However, the nature of the questions asked in the application process reminded her of the passions she had prior to burying herself in engineering, and she was thus connected to the Foundation through the discovery of shared beliefs and values.

Suzie’s parents died during her first year in the Fellowship; a terrible and trying time for her. However, she believes that undergoing this ordeal strengthened her and she attributes her unflappable nature and ability to make decisions under extreme pressure to this challenging period.

Suzie completed her degree at Wits University and today – at the age of 24 – is a civil engineer and part of the executive management team for one of the leading construction and engineering groups in South Africa. Suzie is understandably proud of her achievements: “I wanted to be an engineer, entrepreneur, business analyst and a change agent. I have the privilege to be all this in my daily life; my roles at work, within the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, as a mentor and mentee have created a unique setting where I get to wear all those hats every day. It wasn’t easy to create – nor is it easy to sustain – but I am proud of my accomplishments and have never happier.”

Suzie’s long term goal is to make a significant impact on Southern Africa’s ability to localise the mega manufacturing industry, which will assist in solving employment issues, as well as improve access to technology and education.