Report on the first Graca Machel Scholarships Retreat - Johannesburg, November 2009
Graça Machel’s Vision:
“I see you developing as a movement of powerful, brilliant, uncompromising women, fearlessly proud of themselves, driving social change. I hope to be alive to see it and then I can be at peace with myself.”
Graça Machel addresses her scholars
Mrs Machel has a vision of an African women’s network which will formalise and strengthen networks of women from different sectors and at different levels of their career development. The forum will provide a voice for women, profile leading role models, work as an effective body that will bring about change and serve as a dynamic resource for consultation on national, regional and international issues. The Graça Machel scholars are a key part of this network as they make the transition from young professionals to leading experts in their fields. The Graça Machel Scholarship Programme provides women with the opportunity to pursue higher education and gain access to professional and networking opportunities which as women of rural origin they would not normally be able to access. The November 2009 retreat was the scholars’ first opportunity to meet and develop their identity and values as a group, reflecting on what it means to be a Graça Machel scholar.
The Weekend Retreat
Between 6th and 8th November, 38 Graça Machel scholars from six southern African countries gathered at Helderfontein near Johannesburg. The weekend began with a dinner at which scholars had the opportunity to meet their mentors, many handpicked by Graça Machel from her own network of inspirational women leaders. Canon Collins Trust’s alumni were also represented among the mentors, with former Nelson Mandela MBA Scholars matched with women studying BBAs at CIDA City campus. Dinner was accompanied by a motivational speech from Dr Nkosana Moyo (Vice-President of African Development Bank), providing food for thought for the scholars during their weekend.
Festivities over, the hard work began in earnest on Saturday morning. The schedule began with an icebreaker to introduce the scholars to each other, followed by an introduction to the concept of personal development plans, providing the scholars with a tool to take into the future to reflect on their lives and careers. Personal and professional development workshops were facilitated by Deloitte, led by Ursula Fear and her enthusiastic team.
On Saturday afternoon, scholars attended two panel sessions, the first looking at education, health and development, the second considering overcoming obstacles and maintaining values in the workplace. The first session was led by Dr Mamphela Ramphele (academic, businesswoman, medical doctor and leading anti- apartheid activist) and Sibongile Mkhabela (CEO of Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund), while Thandi Orleyn (co-founder of Peotona Capital, the women’s investment company) and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Deputy President of South Africa 2005-2009) led the second. The panel discussions were stimulating and refreshing, with the scholars given ample space to raise challenging questions.
On Saturday evening there was a more intimate dinner at which each scholar was seated next to her mentor. Ali Mufuruki (CEO of Infotech Investment Group Limited) delivered an inspiring speech on the importance of speaking truth to power and achieving true success based on the values of dignity, integrity, fairness and honesty.
Sunday began with a lively negotiating game where the scholars were divided into 6 teams and forced to put into practice (or not) the values they had discussed over the weekend. It provoked great thought and reflection on how we operate as people; how quickly we can move away from our ideals when we want to “win”; what it is that enables us to preserve our values and our goals. Tumi Frazier led a motivating talk to inspire the scholars on their journeys forward.
The positive outcomes of the scholarship programme were strongly in evidence at the retreat: it was a joy to see the CIDA undergraduates participating at the same level as the speakers and postgraduates, and to observe that the group chose one of the undergraduates to make the final presentation. The CIDA scholars’ personal growth in terms of confidence and articulation was phenomenal. It was also great to see one of the postgraduate scholars, who had been very timid at the start of her Masters programme, choose to stand and speak in front of everybody, encouraging the scholars to be determined in pursuit of their goals.
The weekend concluded with a presentation from the scholars on their values, and a moving response from Mrs. Machel, who reflected on the conference as making a mark in the lives of all the attendees, out of which will grow a network giving support to each scholar and the opportunity for sharing challenging experiences. The retreat is now planned as a biennial event to motivate new scholars, enable former scholars to monitor progress towards their goals and to give voice and influence to the views of rural women.
Mrs Machel urged the scholars to be “unashamedly proud of who you are and of your success” and to “fly anywhere and everywhere while grounded on African soil”.
The retreat was generously sponsored by JPMorgan, with additional support provided by Anglo-American and Deloitte. We are deeply grateful to all our donors who have supported the Graça Machel scholarship scheme and look forward to working with them further to bring about effective and lasting change in southern Africa.
“For me the weekend was perfect. It was structured in a way that benefited everyone.” Phumie Sithole, CIDA scholar
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