“I am a bit of an impact junkie. I like research. I like the allocation of resources to be as effective as possible and I like scientific evidence to show the results of those investments,” says Joy Olivier, a social entrepreneur from South Africa. She is fiercely and fearlessly pushing ways to bring gender equality on the high table of discussion. In today’s conversation for Global Girl series on SheThePeople.TV, I am speaking to her about many issues like working with the young, showing youth the light of opportunity, finding spiritualism in the work she does.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a 39-year-old South African woman who is passionate about addressing equality and doing my bit to make things better.
You are a social entrepreneur in South Africa. How did you choose this path for your career?
The career chose me. It has been small things that have led to bigger things. The career was not a decision but a small action that led to more actions and then I found myself as a social entrepreneur. It was responding to solving problems, taking up opportunities, am interested in understanding how challenges can be made into solutions. It was a mix of my passion and interests, as well as the opportunity of being in this country where there is so much to do that has led me to this career.
You are “fearless” in your current position. Help us walk in your shoes and understand where you get the strength from.
I come from a long line of strong women, so a lot of it is nature and nurture. I also take a lot of comfort in the fact that as humans we are essentially tiny little insignificant ants crawling around and so when I zoom out and look at the stars or look at the sea or think about how big the world or the Universe is, the fact that we are irrelevant, helps me to have less fear.
The career was not a decision but a small action that led to more actions and then I found myself as a social entrepreneur. It was responding to solving problems, taking up opportunities, am interested in understanding how challenges can be made into solutions.
What excites you when you wake up every morning?
To be honest, I am not excited in the morning, except for coffee. Once I have had coffee, I can start to get excited about the rest of the day. I am not a morning person.
Share some examples where you have made a difference in your country and community
The biggest difference I have made has been through the work that I have done in collaboration with everybody at Ikamva Youth. Together we have built an organisation that ensures that thousands of young people who are receiving poorer quality of education get the support, guidance, access to opportunities, experiences and networks that they need to be able to pull themselves and each other out of poverty. By each one teach one, the programme has spread across the country and every year hundreds of young people graduate from high school and go on to access higher education, earnings and jobs setting them on a path to the middle class and a better life for themselves and their families.
How easy is it working on gender issues in the South Africa?
It is really hard. South Africa is a super-patriarchal country where women are not seen as equal humans to men pretty much across all the cultures in the country. So that makes it difficult. On the other hand, South African women are also generally very strong. There is a lot of strength in the sisterhood and women supporting each other as we navigate the systemic injustices that are really entrenched. I think working in the non-profit sector in South Africa has a unique opportunity to operate in a work environment that is a lot less patriarchal than most other industries. So I am really grateful for the opportunities to develop in my leadership, where women leaders are a lot more common than men compared to other sectors. The gender issues in South Africa mostly play out in the personal space. We have some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, some of the highest rape statistics. There are different statistics around this but somewhere between every 15-26 minutes, a South African woman is killed by her partner. The gender issue in South Africa plays out most horrifically in people’s homes and that’s really really tough.
You are on your second venture as a social entrepreneur. Is it easy the second time around? What have you done differently?
What’s different about the second time around is that I have a lot more confidence, both from being older and from getting the experience since the first time around. I have also got a network that really didn’t exist the first time around. It has been amazing to be able to draw on that. I have obviously learned a huge amount from my first venture with Ikamva Youth so all of those invaluable lessons have been really helpful. I have learned about my own strengths and weaknesses. So in building the team of cofounders for the second venture, I have been aware of the gaps that I have and helped me find cofounders who are good at the things that I am not good at or that don’t bring me joy or a sense of flow when I am doing them. That feels quite liberating.
The gender issues in South Africa mostly play out in the personal space. We have some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, some of the highest rape statistics.
What are some of the challenges you face? How do you overcome them?
There are a myriad of challenges. The main challenge is that a lot of stuff is really out of one’s control. So how I overcome it is to be optimistic, to keep at it, to keep reframing disappointments as necessary steps along the way to success, and to try and keep positive even when things are delayed. We are currently establishing our farm in Lesotho to grow medicinal cannabis and there is a lot of red tape and bureaucracy in getting our license. It is taking a lot longer than I thought which has led to all kinds of challenges around stretching out our seed funding which got used up faster than we thought. There were some additional things that we needed to do for the license which were not part of the original requirements. There have been a lot of curveballs, a lot of unanticipated developments and navigating all the trickiness of working in a place that is beset with a lot of challenges, overcoming these requires a lot of tenacity, some perspective and a balance of accepting things as well as pushing on despite them.
What does “scale of impact” mean to you?
I am a bit of an impact junkie. I like research. I like the allocation of resources to be as effective as possible and I like scientific evidence to show the results of those investments. Scaling impact for me is not necessarily about reach or geographical spread but about how the spending of resources achieve the most valuable impact. In the Ikamva Youth context, the impact is around educational outcomes, access to opportunities and ultimately earning potential and then actual earnings. The objective of the organisation is to enable young people to be out of poverty and that impact being scaled is ultimately the number of people who are earning a dignified living within four years of graduating from the programme. In the Botanican context, the objective is ultimately the same, so the collective of outgrowers, the employees, all the people that will be working in the whole value chain for growing, processing, manufacturing and exporting free trade African medicinal cannibas products will be part of the scale, will no longer be living in poverty.
I learned the concept of “co-parenting” from you. Can you share how it works or how you have made it work for you?
Co-parenting is really what should happen for all children who have two parents. My son’s dad and I have split up. We take turns in having our son and the real gift of that is that my son gets to have the full attention of whichever parent that he is with and the other parent gets to work, have fun and have time to ourselves. As a mum it feels like it should be but is unfortunately rare. I have a lot of women friends in similar situations where the parenting lands with the majority work on their shoulders. I feel really grateful to my son’s dad that my son is wonderfully cared for and loved for when he is not with me. It gives me a lot of peace of mind and opportunities to do all kinds of things that the mothers of toddlers don’t normally get to do.
How do you manage self care? Do you believe in work-life balance or integration? What are some of the strategies you adopt?
I have a history of being a workaholic and working too hard. I am now making up for it by prioritising, not working too hard. I definitely believe in self-care. I believe when you are refreshed, well-rested and have had a lot of fun and are happy, when you are in that frame of mind, you are a lot more productive, a lot more creative and a lot more effecitive. It is an ongoing thing, learning to not feel guilty about not working all the time. I am getting better at it. For me at the moment it is spending more time with my friends, with family, doing the things that make me happy and being in places that rejuvenate me. I like to spend a lot of time near the sea and in nature. Often I will be thinking things that are really helpful from a work perspective but they arrive whilst I am running on the beach or when I am having a swim. I definitely believe in the power of not rushing around and being too busy with work because the rushing and the stress diminish the effectiveness of one’s thinking.
Do you consider yourself a “Global Girl”? Why?
I am totally a Global Girl. I love travelling. I have friends all over the world. I care about the world at large.
What is the advice you would give your 16 year old self?
Equality is super important. We have extreme inequality in the world and that inequality is increasing as we progress. Global leaders need to focus on this as it is a horrific and growing problem.
I would teach my 16-year-old self all about the patriarchy and systemic injustice and how we have been programmed to not have confidence, to not believe in ourselves, to have too high standards and to be too hard on ourselves. I would teach myself how to overcome all of those things. It would be really interesting to know how I would have turned out if I had known the things I know now way back then.
What are three values you think are most important for a global leader?
Equality is super important. We have extreme inequality in the world and that inequality is increasing as we progress. Global leaders need to focus on this as it is a horrific and growing problem. Global leaders need to think far into the future. Our political systems are far too short term and as a result, we have leadership that is not thinking of the bigger picture. With global warming becoming increasingly dire and the temperature rising steadily each year, we can no longer afford to think in political terms or 3-5 year strategies. We need to think of the next 50 years and start planning and operating with that future in mind. The third value should be Humility. The arrogance to believe that one’s perspective is the truth, is something that can really get in the way and valuing multiple diverse perspectives is an important value for having a better grasp of reality.
What’s next for Joy Olivier?
I am on the way to my spiritual home to spend time with my family where we will be off the grid, without electricity or phone signal. I am so looking forward to having some real downtime, unplugging and connecting with nature.