Here’s a shocking statistic: around 46% of South Africa’s youth are unemployed. That’s not only an economic disaster; it’s a social one, too – which is why Kasthuri Soni, CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, is determined to help find solutions; a goal her organisation is achieving by working with an ecosystem of other change leaders.
The way she approached this challenge, with grit and determination, speaks volumes about Mila’s tenacity – a quality she’s honed during her first months of articles. Then again, Mila’s perseverance is probably not surprising, given that she made the decision to become a CA a full 10 years ago. ‘My first dream was to become a computer scientist, like my father, but he advised it wouldn’t be the right career for me,’ Mila says. ‘Giving it further thought, I decided on accounting. As a highly left-brained person, I love the logic. I also enjoy the fact that every cause in accounting has a reaction.’ Now that she’s gained more experience in the profession, she’s come to appreciate other facets, too. ‘The impact auditors have on the country is nothing short of amazing. Look at how many people lost their pensions through the Steinhoff incident, for example. It’s up to us, as auditors, to safeguard the public,’ she says.
Stepping over stumbling blocks
Growing up in Pretoria, Mila was an A-student throughout matric. Then, when she moved to Stellenbosch to complete her studies, her grades started slipping. It started with a few failed tests; then, Mila says, she ’just scraped through’ – and, although she realised this wasn’t entirely unusual for a first-year student, she still had a feeling that ‘something wasn’t right’.
That feeling grew throughout second year, accompanied by a strong sense of anxiety when she realised that she simply wasn’t learning any new material. ‘I couldn’t remember what had been said during lectures, even though I was paying attention throughout.’
Mila brought up her concerns with her parents, who were able to help her find the root of the problem. They had been warned early in Mila’s childhood that she may experience problems as a result of issues she’d had with her ears: as a baby, Mila suffered from an allergy to dairy which led to ear infections so severe that her ear drums burst no fewer than four times. Like many children suffering from recurrent ear infections, Mila received grommets – but, while most children have no aftereffects from this procedure, in Mila’s case the grommets caused severe damage to the hair cells in the ear. These cells enable hearing and although Mila does not have deafness, the issue has manifested in difficulties with auditory processing. This makes it hard for her to listen in environments with background noise. The small classes at high school had shielded Mila from any problems, but the university setting was markedly different. Now, with up to 100 people attending a class at a time, there was constant low-level noise.
Mila’s memory was also affected. She explains that there are several reasons for this: for a start, when you’re battling to hear, you have to concentrate that much harder to make the connection between sound and meaning. In other words, although Mila could hear what her lecturers were saying, she had to work hard to decipher their speech – with the result that her memory didn’t always retain what was said.
Although Mila is able to hear and communicate without hearing aids, her audiologist advised that she would benefit from hearing aids. She was also given a connection clip, which her lecturers clipped to their outfits like a microphone, and which connected directly with her hearing aids – ‘so it was like I was streaming their voices directly’, Mila says.
Finding out about her hearing loss was a double-edged sword for Mila. On the one hand, it was a relief to learn that there was a reason behind her struggles, and one that could be addressed – but, at the same time, she felt self-conscious. ‘I didn’t want people to pity me or treat me differently because I have hearing aids,’ she says. She came to terms with this with the help of a life coach, while her lecturers were also wonderfully supportive. Perhaps most importantly, now that she was able to concentrate properly, Mila’s marks soared, ‘tracking from the sixties into the seventies’. Even more significantly, she passed her ITC with honours. ‘This is testimony to just how much I needed help. I am so grateful I was able to fix the problem.’
Mila’s focus in now on finding her niche in the profession – which she suspects may lie in the area of ESG. She says that although she has yet to gain practical experience in this field, she has invested several hours listening to podcasts on the topic. ‘I’ve come to realise that this country is in dire need of this sphere of assurances – it impacts so many of the challenges we are currently facing, from the energy crisis to how we treat people in the workplace and, of course, questions around corruption, ethics and governance.’ Mila notes that at present, ESG disclosure is not as strong a requirement in South Africa as it is in, say, Europe or the United States, but she hopes to see this change.
She’s also interested in the impact of digitisation on the profession and its potential to make jobs in this area more enjoyable. She’s joined PwC’s 6 am Club: a group of employees who meet daily to grow their knowledge about all matters digital, and says that she loves soaking up the environment of innovation. ‘I’m fascinated to see how our jobs will change going forward. It’s no secret that this is a career that demands long hours, and I believe technology is a wonderful tool that has the potential to make our lives easier and allow us to concentrate on the parts of our job that we find meaningful.’
Mila’s tips for young professionals
Mila acknowledges that the first year of practice following studies can be a rude awakening for young people entering the industry – but, she says, it’s important that you never lose sight of how much you’re learning on a daily basis. ‘When you feel as though you’re struggling and nothing makes sense, you need to take a step back and think about how much more you know today than you did yesterday, and how much more you’ll know tomorrow. There will always be something you don’t know, because this field requires a commitment to lifelong learning, but you’re growing all the time. That’s a beautiful thing. You need to look upon those difficult times as learning moments – use them to think about how you’ll reach the next highlight.’
Author Lisa Witepski & Lynn Grala | Photographer Theana Breugem