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An audacious goal.....
Update posted by Jennifer Katchmark On Aug 13

Hello my darlings, and I’m sorry for my silence of late. I know how disconcerting this can be for a woman of my decibel levels to fall quiet J There has been a lot going on for me on this side of the world over the past 8 months.

As you all know, I left my country nearly three quarters of a year ago with very little certainty of coming back to it. I felt a pull toward my future version of myself, and came to South Africa with an open heart and a will to learn and the fire in my soul alight with possibility. My only companion on this journey into the unknown was my trusty old friend, that small voice within my heart that speaks up when I am quiet enough to listen to it guiding me onward. That voice that whispers of my own yearning and desire to be of service, and to connect with those who live to make the lives of others more empowered.

Yes, I came here to Cape Town to further my own education, but each day I also carried with me the spirit of those who called me to this experience. Every young woman, and farmer, and rural villager and persistent and tenacious African colleague who through the strength of their efforts, on their own behalf and on behalf of those less fortunate simultaneously implored me to become better. For myself, for them, for all of our futures, to take up this precious opportunity given to me in the hopes that it would enable me to continue to give back all that I have been given a hundred fold.

And my darlings, I want you to know that it has been hard. This year has thus far surpassed every challenge I had ever previously set for myself. And you’ll recall that I did two damn years in a rural village in the Eastern Okavango Delta in the #hardcorps. I have a massive tattoo on the tender back of my skull. I have run a marathon. And yet, this MBA has been the hardest thing I have set my mind to. A damn business degree for someone truly terrified of maths! I didn’t say this endeavour made sense. But the prospect of it thrilled and excited and terrified me and so here we now are, over halfway to the finish.

This MBA experience has broken me apart and allowed me to slowly put myself back together with more gold than I knew I had in me. There has been panic, and failure, and so many long dark nights of the soul, with rivers of tears and sobs of self-doubt echoing into the darkness. I have triumphed, I have been vanquished, and the punches have literally kept on coming. As it does whenever we challenge ourselves, in brilliant streaks and faint hazy twilights, the light has crept back in, and that pale glow marking the path at the end of the tunnel is beginning to glimmer more strongly ahead of me.

But, for better or worse, as the fog clears, the path ahead of me has changed. Although when I crossed this ocean this most recent time it was with a permanency in my heart, the current immigration policies of this great nation in which I reside do not allow me to stay. I will be leaving South Africa on or before the expiry of my visa on January 5 of 2017. After a long and exhausting fight, I have arrived at a quiet peace with these facts. I feel no regret in being wrong about my vision of my future, but I feel tremendous regret at not being allowed to be of service within this country. I am humbly crushed by my disappointment in my inability to reinvest the investment which this school has made in me, to reap dividends for those South African people who are so desperately in need investment. This failure of fate continues to weigh heavily on my heart.

And so I ask myself, if not my professional skills, what can I give? How can I begin to repay this cosmic debt of gratitude I owe for all that I’ve learned here, to all those I had hoped to help help themselves in this country? What can I leave behind to make this place better than I found it? What can my small legacy be?

Within the curriculum of the Graduate School of Business Program, there is a requirement to complete a dissertation, a mammoth undertaking which will result in the largest single body of writing I myself have ever put together. My choice of topic was driven by an observation I made of my class, which is that there is not one black South African woman in my full time program. Throughout the year, I’ve felt this absence keenly in our class discussions. I gaze upon the faces of my colleagues as we speculate how to create businesses and social initiatives to benefit those most in need, and I struggle to find the faces of those whom we should be asking. Because of course the black women who are most disenfranchised population in a country only 22 years post-Apartheid are not present in our classes. They are not here to give us their perspective on how to include them in the economic growth stories we hope to write with our newly minted MBAs next year. It is difficult for those with means to come up with the funds to attend this most prestigious and expensive of South African business schools. For those who are economically disadvantaged, it is an impossibility.

As you can imagine, I find this utterly unacceptable. And as you can imagine, I am driven to do something about it.

As I undertake the audacious task of trying to contribute something bold and meaningful to the (currently silent) academic conversation surrounding black South African business women and mentorship, I invite you on this next leg of my MBA journey. I invite you to support this cause that is very near and dear to my heart, and to contribute what you are able to help me fulfil my dream of coming back to the GSB as an alumnus to see a full-time MBA class filled with faces that better reflect the demographics of this fine country. I shall be “selling” my dissertation to raise funds for the Graduate School of Business Scholarship endowment, and I have pledged to raise 2,500 dollars for this cause, or ten cents per word for the final product, which will be in the neighbourhood of 25,000 words.

Consider it an early birthday present, consider it an early graduation present, consider it a down payment on any of those drinks you might owe me, or the savings you’ve made on not having to buy me any drinks this past year. Know that the support you provide to this great cause will be the support I need to work long hours into the night, the support that will push me through the doubt, the uncertainty, and the monotony of writing a project of this magnitude. Your contribution will be what helps push me over the finish line of this most daunting of goals I’ve set for myself, to complete my MBA in a land far from home. I’ve missed you all so deeply, and cannot wait to tell you my stories when I come up for proper air in December. I love you all and thank you for your support.

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