Life-long learning for some is a life philosophy. It is a way of living and approaching the world. For Deelan Chetty, he embraces this reality whole-heartedly. Having studied Information Technology straight after matric, Deelan restructured his focus to enter the logistics industry and went on to complete South African Customs modules 1 and 2, and International Forwarding. To quench his hunger for knowledge, he has continued his learning through internal training whilst completing such programmes as leadership and employee development courses.
His thirst for learning more did not stop there and in June 2017, he enrolled for his Higher Certificate in the Management of Technology and Innovation with The Da Vinci Institute. “I am at a point in my career of 19 years where I need to constantly study and improve myself and the opportunity came about with Hellmann Worldwide Logistics and The Da Vinci Institute and I grabbed it. Experience can only take you that far; however, it is always good to back that experience up with a qualification.”
As many of us know, the challenge to balance working full time, studying part time and having family commitments can be quite a struggle. For Deelan, it was not an easy journey. “It required a lot of sacrifice. At ﬁrst, it was diﬃcult wearing the diﬀerent hats and switching between family, work, study and play. I was lucky enough to have a strong support network in the oﬃce and at home and I was able to still achieve results and maintain control throughout.” Making it more difficult was the fact that Deelan resided in Durban. “I travelled to Johannesburg every month to attend my classes, so it was a lot of time away from home.”
“My position of Operations Manager (Air & Sea) at Hellmann is one that demands attention every minute of the day. I work in a fast paced and rapidly changing environment. My biggest challenge was working and studying and allocating time after hours to complete the programme”. Fortunately, the power of support from loved ones was imminent for Deelan. “I had a lot of support from my wife who was also studying at the time. She has inspired me to see the beneﬁt in studying hard and the self-improvement that is derived from it.
“As a people manager, the programme set a tone of how to structure diﬀerent leadership techniques and to manage and problem solve in a systematic way. It also taught me a lot about myself, my learning and personality style and how to engage with and identify other people’s learning styles.”
Through all the challenges on his learning journey, Deelan successfully graduated on 20 September 2018 at The Institute’s annual Graduation ceremony, held at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg. Not only, did he graduate, but also he achieved his qualification, Cum Laude. “It was an incredible experience graduating with my fellow colleagues and friends. One of my goals set out at the beginning of the programme was to achieve a Cum Laude and I accomplished it. Hard work and a positive mindset truly pay oﬀ.”
From his studies at The Institute, Deelan says he has learned that one has to take any opportunity to study seriously in order to make the biggest impact on one’s job. “As an operations manager for Hellmann Worldwide logistics, I take pride in learning as much as possible to, in turn; empower my people to achieve greatness and to lead by example. Prepare your mind, be committed, be dedicated, realize that it is not a task, but a learning journey of self-improvement.”
We would also like to acknowledge students from Hellmann Worldwide Logistics who graduated and achieved Top Achiever status. They are Elizabeth Marie Desancic for modules Managing Systems and Problem Solving, Creative Thinking and Decision Making, and Morne Erasmus for the Management of People module.
Not all opensource research platforms are equally useful. This is the experience of masters graduate Cliff Brunette, who has registered on two platforms and found them vastly different.
“I published my dissertation on both ResearchGate and OpenThesis.org,” says Cliff, who completed his masters through The Da Vinci Institute in 2017. “With ResearchGate, I get constant feedback. I have 60 reads across the world already and get monthly updates about how many people have read my dissertation and responded. I have also been asked to review someone else’s project and to comment on it.”
His experience of the other platform is more one-sided. “I know it’s there, but unless I go back in, there’s nothing forthcoming. ResearchGate is very active.”
Cliff, a Learning Experience Specialist with Cornerstone Performance Solutions, is now working on his PhD through Da Vinci and is finding ResearchGate resources useful and beneficial.
“When anyone I have cited (in his master’s dissertation) publishes a new article, I get notified and receive automatic access to their work. That is extremely relevant to me because of my field,” he says.
Cliff’s masters was about learning architecture and the role that personal significance plays in helping learners to co-create. For his PhD research, he is exploring learning architecture for a future Fourth Industrial Revolution world.
It’s a huge topic that affects everyone living in the 21st century, which is another reason why ResearchGate is helpful to Cliff. “You’re not limited to what is happening in South Africa; you’re playing on the international scene.”
Three and a half years ago, Mkhululi Moyo started a chapter of his life. It would be a start to something life-changing. Mkhululi was no stranger to education, having completed his National Diploma in Computer Science. However, when enrolling with The Da Vinci Institute for his BCom (Business Management), he liked the experiential learning approach used and the emphasis on self-discovery, and the practical application of learning in a workplace.
His learning journey paralleled with full-time employment as he continued to work as a Software Developer in Global Markets Technology at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB). This was both life and career changing because Mkhululi soon realised that to get the most out of his BCom studies, he had to change his career and be in a role aligned to his BCom studies. Mkhululi then joined the Client Strategy team in Coverage. Part of Mkhululi’s struggles in balancing work and study lied in procrastination. “During the first half of year one, I would start working on my assignment close to the deadline. After going through the pressure of having to accomplish a lot within a limited time, I decided to overcome procrastinating and start doing my assignments early and completing them in time.”
This alignment of study and work became more integrated as Mkhululi started applying his learning in the workplace. His role as a Client Strategist at RMB includes driving the origination and retention strategy by providing deep corporate client and industry sector insights. “I enjoyed my experience of learning and working as I was able to apply most of my learning in my workplace. My work-based challenge was based on an existing situation within the RMB Global Markets technology division. I shared my research paper with my line manager and they were appreciative of the work I had done and committed to using the information from my research paper as input to make informed decisions.”
“When the energy was low my motivator was knowing that the theory I was learning in class was applicable in the real world of work and there were noticeable and immediate benefits in my contribution in the work that I was doing.” In this context, motivation and support came from those closest to him. “My wife who is an academic was very supportive. She helped to simplify some of the assignments that I was overthinking.”
Mkhululi Moyo graduated on 20 September 2018 at the Annual Da Vinci Graduation Ceremony and was awarded a Cum Laude for his BCom (Business Management) qualification. When asked how it felt, Mkhululi stated, “It felt good. I am pleased with myself. In fact, I am proud of having achieved the BCom qualification and the recognition I received for obtaining a Cum Laude. It is humbling to have been supported and provided with an enabling environment that has allowed me to unleash my potential.”
“Studying while you’re working is different from studying to complete your studies and get a qualification. It is beneficial because when you study and work you are not just dealing with theory, there is an existing work “sandbox” environment available to test and apply your learning. It is this experimental approach that will ensure that you will always remember what it is that you study. It becomes transformative because your contribution towards your work environment and society becomes fact based and is supported by credible sources.”
What is next for Mkhululi?
“I intend to study further. Da Vinci has cultivated in me the culture of being a learner and I intend to use education to equip myself with the knowledge to contribute meaningfully in corporate and entrepreneurial business initiatives in South Africa.”
For several weeks, Da Vinci Institute Doctorate student Estie Serfontein had been struggling to find out more about the research technique known as “purposive sampling” and was having precious little luck. She turned to ResearchGate, an opensource platform for researchers around the world.
“I found an article that explained the different kinds of sampling and sizes and research paradigms. It helped me quite a bit,” says Estie, who has a master’s degree in fine arts and a day job as Quality Assurance Manager at Execujet, a private aviation jet company.
“Whenever I find a source on ResearchGate, it’s quite specific and explanatory, which is helpful,” she says, adding that she has also benefited from the platform’s Q&A Board. “I haven’t asked a specific question on this forum myself but have found quite useful information by looking at other people’s responses to questions that have been posted.”
Estie started her Doctorate in Technology and Innovation in April 2017 and is preparing a descriptive case study on process control systems in South African aviation. She became a member of ResearchGate a few months later, attracted by the concept of being part of a worldwide community of people with a lot of information and research experience.
“I’m not an expert researcher and it helps to be able to follow other researchers in my field,” Estie says.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to request automatic alerts when people doing similar research upload their work. “You add keywords connected to your project and profile, and receive alerts when someone using related keywords uploads material.”
Apart from following other researchers, ResearchGate members can ask the community for input on their work. From Estie’s experience, the response has not been overwhelming. She uploaded her research proposal in February 2018 and has had four reads so far but no specific responses.
She does not find this discouraging. “Once I have completed my first chapter in the near future, I’m sure I’ll be able to use ResearchGate and its functionalities much more to my advantage.”
Answers are easy, says Dana; the questions make up the ‘art’
Twelve years ago, Dana Gampel became the first Da Vinci Institute student to graduate with a PhD. Today, she is still closely affiliated to The Institute because, like its namesake Leonardo, it continues to be relevant.
“Da Vinci is one of my superheroes. He made art to better understand the world and to inspire the world to engage its elements more creatively. He participated in autopsies to understand how the body worked and designed the Vitruvian Man to teach artists and architects about perspective,” says Dana. “Applied knowledge was the crux of Leonardo’s thinking and applied knowledge is what sets The Da Vinci Institute apart.”
Dana, head of Eskom’s Strategic Intelligence and Analysis unit and CEO of her own company, Atum Strategy Consulting, says The Da Vinci Institute is one of only a few higher education institutions who are actively working with the application of knowledge.
“We don’t need new ways to do algebra and geometry. We need to apply algebra and geometry,” she says. “I want students of Da Vinci to come out and apply knowledge for innovation. That’s what they are taught here, that’s why we are relevant and that’s why I am very proud to be affiliated with The Institute.”
Conventions make for lazy thinking
Dana says anyone hoping to receive a template from Da Vinci on how to apply knowledge is likely to be disappointed. “Conventional practice in business today increasingly relies on templates and ’best practice’. I think these conventions make us lazy and lower the bar. You’ve got to think creatively. That’s hard and it’s uncomfortable … and from that difficult space, innovation and insight usually emerge.”
When quizzed on how The Institute advocates the TIPS™ framework and whether this is not a template for thinking, Dana quickly retorts that this is “far from being a template. TIPS™ is a meta-framework for responding to challenges and it has to be applied in a creative way,” she says. “To do that, you have to understand the art of asking questions. Finding the answers is relatively easy – the problem is we shy away from, and often don’t know how to, ask the questions. Asking the questions is the start of applied thinking, and the essence of most creative thinking processes.”
Dana defended her PhD thesis in 2006, examining the interrelationship between leadership, power and radical transformation. She innovatively developed several tools for managing this interrelationship in order to sustain a competitive advantage. These tools remain relevant today – and continue to be successfully applied for small and large organizations, government and NGO players and even for individuals, suggesting that she may have been ahead of her time, given how much has changed since then.
“Of course I’m ahead of my time. I’m South African,” she says. “Creative thinking is everywhere in South Africa. We have it in spades. You see it when you go into an impoverished rural area; the inner city … and even in suburbia. It’s remarkable how much innovation and creative application is underway right here. Sadly, as a nation, we have not yet succeeded in harnessing this creative thinking for everyone and making it available for others to improve on. But we will. We’re South African.”
Opportunity knocks for black female-owned entrepreneurs
There are encouraging signs for entrepreneurship in South Africa. While the percentage of adults involved in entrepreneurial activities is still low compared to the rest of Africa, necessity is no longer the primary reason why South Africans go into business for themselves. The pursuit of opportunity – known as opportunity motivation – is the main motivating factor for male and female entrepreneurs alike, according to the most recent Global Entrepreneurial Monitor (GEM) report on South Africa.
The trend is particularly marked among women entrepreneurs in the country. In 2001, almost 45% of women in early-stage enterprises were motivated by necessity, says the GEM report. This decreased steadily over the next 15 years and by 2016, had dropped to just over 27%.
In other words, almost 72% of women entrepreneurs in early-stage companies in 2016 were motivated by opportunity and not a necessity. This is a positive trend as opportunity-driven entrepreneurs tends to choose entrepreneurship rather than be pushed into it for lack of alternatives.
The GEM report also notes a strong increase in opportunity-motivation rates among black Africans, rising from just under 30% in 2005 to an impressive 55.4% in 2016, the highest rate of all population groups. What’s more, black Africans now make up three-quarters of the entrepreneurial population in South Africa.
The report does not say where black African females, specifically, stand in this scenario, nor for that matter, where white females stand. This is a pity given that small black women-owned enterprises are widely known to be the least represented segment of the entrepreneurial community in South Africa.
What we do know is that the historical gender gap between the percentage of women entrepreneurs compared to male entrepreneurs is no longer as wide as it used to be. More than seven women were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurship for every 10 male entrepreneurs in 2016, according to GEM, which describes this ratio as a “healthy level of gender parity in terms of entrepreneurial involvement”.
Bearing this out are the results of the Real State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa survey 2017, conducted by the Seed Academy among 1 200 entrepreneurs.
“Encouragingly, we are seeing the gap between the number of male and female entrepreneurs start to narrow as women represented 47% of entrepreneurs surveyed,” said Donna Rachelson, CEO of Seed Engine, which incorporates Seed Academy. “This gives some indication that efforts focused on the development of women-owned businesses are beginning to pay off.”
This is a reference to South African government initiatives to prioritize the advancement of women-owned and youth-owned enterprises through policies, preferential funding schemes and targeted support.
Wanted: strong female role models
While access to funding and markets are perennial requirements for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, a support mechanism that should not be underestimated is the motivating power of good role models. As Donna Rachelson of Seed Engine says: “I engage with many female entrepreneurs. It is clear that strong role models are especially powerful. I would, therefore, encourage successful women to mentor and support other women where they can. Successful women entrepreneurs are both an example of what is possible and a source of funding for others.
A powerful platform for showcasing the success of women entrepreneurs in general and black women entrepreneurs, in particular, is the tt100 Business Innovation Awards Programme, now in its 27th year and held annually to recognize excellence in the management of technology, innovation, people, and systems.
The tt100 programme is open to companies of all sizes, including emerging enterprises, and has the long-standing support of the Department of Science and Technology, as well as major private sector companies known for their innovativeness.
“For 2018, we have embarked on a major drive to encourage the participation of black female-owned entrepreneurs, who up to now have been underrepresented in tt100 – just as they have been in the broader economy,” says Sonya Landman, tt100 coordinator. “The time has come for this to change and for black women-owned enterprises to show what they are capable of achieving, and in the process to inspire other women entrepreneurs.”