Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same. Early mornings, making sure everything was in order and all questions were answered, taking the film crew around Alex to visit each of the groups in action, debriefing in the afternoon, conducting interviews in the evening and attending some networking event in the evenings to get up and do it again. Every day was a success despite the roller coaster of good times and high stress levels that naturally come from putting on a huge program; however, Friday- the concluding day of the program- was what it was all about.
Friday December 7, 2012
Today the students gave their final presentations to their entrepreneurs with simple, applicable recommendations on how they can improve their businesses. Managing expectations of the entrepreneurs throughout the whole process was critical. Despite an exciting week, they can not expect this experience to produce miracles. But after a week of honesty and developed trust I believe they understand more than we do that the challenges of living in Alex will not have disappeared over night. No one discredits our work though, siya zama.
Side note: ‘Siya zama’ means ‘We are trying’ in Xhosa,a local tribal language widely used in South Africa. It is the first phrase that I learned and embarrassingly was mispronouncing it with an awkward Spanish/American accent until this week when one of the navigators bluntly corrected me. If nothing else I love their honesty.
Rewind- Friday morning transportation was organized for the navigators and entrepreneurs to Gordon Institute of Business where they would meet the students for lunch and presentations. Unfortunately I missed the formal presentations to the staff and faculty because I was in Alex scrambling to make sure every entrepreneur made the bus. Not only does it defeat the entire purpose of the whole week if they don’t receive the recommendations from the students, but it would also be disappointing for the students to see their work not completed. Five minutes before the bus left there were still three entrepreneurs missing. It’s always something isn’t it? Mary, an old woman with a lot of spunk and a great dry sense of humor made it into my heart quickly as one of my favorite entrepreneurs, demanded that those who were responsible and on time should not suffer the consequences because others were not on time. The others echoed in agreement. I couldn’t agree more, and despite my slight panic of having to go round up the missing entrepreneurs myself in the rental car, not to mention how I was going to figure out how to even get to GIBS from Alexandra, it made me feel good that the entrepreneurs were so anxious to receive the recommendations for their businesses.
I send the bus on its way, fetch Rachel so that she can help me explain to or convince the missing entrepreneurs why they should come, and maneuver my way through the hectic streets of Alex. Arlindo agreed to come easily, Thumi promised me he’d meet me there (I was skeptical), and Martha came but it took a lot of convincing and a firm tone from Rachel. I felt torn because Martha and Arlindo were some of the most difficult cases that we dealt with, and it was particularly hard for the two of them to close their businesses down for the afternoon to come to our event. On the other hand, we did include in the budget R500 for each entrepreneur for their time. It wasn’t a lot but it was part of the agreement that they come and regardless of race, religious, cultural or economic differences it is good practice to hold each other and ourselves accountable.
Bombarded by the film crew and other minor logistics when we arrived at GIBS, I managed to every once in awhile stand back and look around at all the students, navigators, and entrepreneurs sitting in the courtyard enjoying lunch and talking about the project. It was incredible. These people had been strangers from very, very different backgrounds only five days ago, and now they were friends who shared a memorable experience for everyone. I was proud to have been apart of it and felt privileged I had the opportunity to do so.
The afternoon finished with a formal congregation of everyone for concluding remarks to be made. LBS thanked the entrepreneurs and navigators for all their help, Reciprocity thanked them for their trust. One month prior a random French man with an American woman knocked on their doors and asked them to be a part of the program. Many were skeptical, but the crew we had trusted us and it turned out to be an unforgettable week. Finally Harry Nakeng, a Rastafarian navigator, got up and recited a beautiful poem he wrote. Tears filled everyone’s eyes and goodbyes were said, then it was a rushed send off because the everyone needed to catch a bus to their next destination. I didn’t get to have a proper goodbye to many of the people of Alex that had come to mean so much to me. This bothered me a bit, but I also knew it saved me from a more emotional experience then I wanted to have. Better to leave on a good note.
We came. We saw. We built relationships. We taught. We learned. We hope to have made a difference in the community of Alex, and for that only time will tell. But, we know we made a difference in lives because it was clear that everyone’s heart was touched and that is not forgotten, and that is exactly the main objective of this program- to develop a human connection between two worlds where both have something to offer. It’s all about Reciprocity and I believe it works.