Seize The Moment — Change Is Within Reach

Seize The Moment — Change Is Within Reach

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Teresa Clarke was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.

by Teresa Clarke, chairman and CEO of Africa.com 

Every idea has to ripen. You have to sense the right time to launch your social enterprise. But if you don’t “jump in” at some point, nothing will ever happen. The problems of the world will never go away.

 
I’ve had the privilege of being a social entrepreneur in two contexts: launching the website Africa.com exactly one year ago, and co-founding the now ten-year old Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP). 
 
Following the end of the brutal apartheid system of segregation, SSP has helped to fill the leadership pipeline in South Africa by educating intelligent, low-income black students in the most elite, predominantly white, private schools. And Africa.com, the fastest growing website about the continent (with information about its 53 countries and 27 cities), is both changing the way the world sees Africa, and is the online portal for effecting that change.
 
The context may have been different, but in both cases, I relied on lessons that I learned on the job as a managing director in investment banking at Goldman Sachs & Co: 
  1. Before starting a venture, consult very widely with experts in the matter at hand.
  2. Constantly assess your risks, and make changes to your plans as often as needed, based on constantly evolving information.
  3. People are the most important asset of any venture, so make hiring and partnering decisions very carefully, and reward good performance to keep your colleagues working as effectively as possible.
  4. Ensure that everyone on the team is fully informed of everything, even at the risk of what may be perceived as over-communicating.

But luck and timing also play a huge role. With SSP, my colleagues and I were trying to find a way to give back on a small, personal scale. In our first year, we placed and mentored just 25 of the brightest black students we could find. 

Now some 95 percent of the 600 students who have started the program—the first critical masses of black students to attend these elite schools—complete their education, and 90 percent of the students qualify to attend university. 
 
We have discovered that South African education and business leaders wanted innovative methods to integrate, but didn’t know how. In ten years, we have raised more than $10 million and inadvertently have become experts on diversity. The SSP staff regularly receives calls from public schools, universities, and corporations, all of them looking for our advice.
 
With Africa.com, I experimented. Anticipating an uptick in interest in the continent leading up to the FIFA World Cup matches in South Africa, I launched a prototype website and was thrilled to see traffic doubling every week for five months. During that time, I assembled a great team and decided to quit my day job to follow my passion and build the Africa.com brand, its capabilities and its functionalities.
 
My Goldman Sachs colleagues thought I had lost my mind, but women shouldn’t be afraid to step out of their comfort zones and seize the limelight. The world needs all of our creativity, confidence, and tenacity!
 
★★★
 
Before launching Africa.com in 2010, Teresa Clarke was a managing director in investment banking at Goldman Sachs & Co.  She earned three degrees at Harvard University, a BA, MBA and JD.
 

 

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