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LEAD: Profile: Empowering the nation through education

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Whilst most people are focused on making a career choice that offers them stability, peace of mind and money, 30-something Ronel Mosehane had a very different idea. Yuven Gouden spoke to her

Ronel Mosehane always wanted to make a difference and to work with people to realise their potential.

“When I left home [Venda] to come and study here in Gauteng, I always knew that I will go back and improve a few things,” she recounts. “To me there is no point of studying if you can’t improve your life and of those around you. I always wanted to make a difference even if it meant moving a little stone off the road so that the next person doesn’t stumble and fall upon it. I watched the news bulletin, I realised how much we are losing as a country and continent because of poor leadership. I decided to do something about it instead of complaining. I decided to combine my childhood vision, my struggle as a student and my need to find solutions to most of the problems we are facing as a country and established non-profit company called African Visionaries Network to address some of the issues.”

Mosehane’s journey has been riddled with obstacles and hurdles. But it was her resilient spirit and her unwavering focus that got her to where she is today. What helped is that she refused to choose the easy path simply because she enjoyed challenges and she was not deterred by obstacles.

“I chose my career path in Grade 8. My school, Litshovhu in Limpopo, had only two Grade 8 classes. I noticed that most students were flocking to one class while the other was almost empty. Upon enquiry I discovered that the other class was more difficult and most of the students preferred the easy class. I wanted to do challenging things; I wanted to do something different from what other students were doing in order to create more opportunities for myself. I had never heard of Accounting before but I got to understand it very fast and enjoyed it. I always pretended that I owned a small retail store or spaza shop while I was studying; and everything made sense to me.

At school there was no career guidance to assist the student with making career choices, but fortunately her Accounting teacher briefed the class about possible career paths, one of which was a CA(SA). Mosehane would be the first female in her immediate family to go to university.

Mosehane depended mainly on NSFAS until she got a part-bursary from PwC in her third year, that was not always enough and student life was tough.  Her mother also used to send her all she had because she believed in her. However, university fees are expensive for any single motherand Mosehane would often sleep or write exams on a hungry stomach. “I’m glad I faced those challenges because they, in a way, made me want to complete my studies so that I could improve my life and those of people close to and around me.”

Mosehane is currently an advance tax ruling specialist at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) head office in Pretoria and a financial director at another non-profit company where she helped establish internal financial control policies and instilled ethical values on the board. She is the youngest and only female member on the board but has gained the respect of her fellow members from the start. She is also the founder of African Visionaries Network, a non-profit company.

But what is African Visionaries Network, and what is it about? In order to answer these questions one needs to delve into the psyche of Mosehane.

Whilst most CAs(SA) are keen on hearing the cash register ring when they commence working, Mosehane had a different outlook. What plagued her was the lack of leadership, the state of education, the abject poverty and the mindset of the learner, especially in Venda.

“After many years, little has changed for children in the rural village; there is still a lack of information and guidance. Furthermore, the youth of today are uninspired, lack determination and the discipline needed to take themselves and their communities from their disadvantaged circumstances. Students are still choosing careers without knowing why and none of these choices are linked to their strength and passions in life. This means that their chances of success will be low and they will be uninspired to join the workforce other than for the fact that they do not want to go hungry; they’ll be uninspired to become entrepreneurs and innovators and their education will mean very little to them, their communities and countries. I established the mentoring project under a non-profit company called African Visionaries Network. The aim of the network is to identify students with leadership potential, support and guide them through their career paths, accelerate their development while grooming them to become better leaders of tomorrow for themselves, their families, communities and Africa as one continent.

“Education is the only hope for a better future for poor students living in the rural villages of Africa. It is through education that their minds can be liberated from the chains of the past, their living standards improved and Africa’s economic growth accelerated and strengthened.

“I am not alone in this journey and I have already formed part of a group of people with similar experiences. I believed that a combined effort would be more efficient as it would allow us to address the issues faster and better with more resources.  Included in this group of friends are four other CAs who are equally capable of establishing a similar project and are passionate about it. They are Azwinndini Magadani who is an associate tax director at SizweNtsalubaGobodo; Kwena Mashiane who is a financial accountant at De Beers; Keamogetswe Molebalwa who is a tax specialist at SARS, and Khathutshelo Ramukumba who is CEO of NYDA.”

In an era where good and responsible leadership is sadly lacking, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter individuals such as Mosehane. Whilst others are motivated by growing their bank balances and working at their jobs tirelessly, it is individuals such as Mosehane who are an inspiration to others, especially to the youth. If the country, and indeed the world, can grow the number of leaders who display the ethos of responsible leadership and prove to be guiding light for the youth, the world will certainly be a better place. This ideal of such a leader is echoed by Robin Sharma in his bestseller The leader who had no title. “In a way I realised that I like serving people while I lead them and that one can achieve more if he/she joins hands with other people with similar objectives. In Venda we say ‘munwe muthihi a u tusi mathuthu’, the direct translation being that one can’t grab food or eat using just one finger,” says Mosehane.

“The project redefined leadership for me. Most leaders want to lead by being on the front line all the time taking all the credit as they go, but leadership for me means empowering and inspiring people you work with, serving them all the time and being on the frontline only when necessary.

It is clear that the reward is seeing a transformation in youngsters and, more importantly, ensuring that they embark on the appropriate career path.

“We visited the schools early in the year to engage with the students and motivate them. We spoke to them, gave them some career guidance, financial advice, gift packs, including stationery, calculators, bags, etc. We visited the schools over three days and it was still not enough time spent with them.

“I also noticed over the period that the students were not just inspired, but they seemed to stand out from others and there was a noticeable increase in focus on their studies. My greatest pleasure was just to see them having a sense of direction in their lives, knowing what to do next.

“It is a learning, challenging but fun experience. We are currently receiving support from various organisations such as SARS, NYDA and other private individuals and companies but we still need a lot of support in order to realise our vision. These organisations intend to help us build libraries in schools, provide school uniforms, study materials and awards for best performing students. We also wish to establish a fund that will assist students with study finance, even if it means just reaching a few learners at a time. We have in the meantime advised the students to apply for bursaries and loans so that finance doesn’t become a big issue unnecessarily.”

Mosehane would like to see more students, especially students from rural communities, becoming chartered accountants. She is adamant that this career path offers one great job satisfaction and the potential to develop into sound leaders.

“Becoming a CA is a challenge, but one worth taking as it opens your mind to think differently and innovatively. The path gives you loads of knowledge and with knowledge one can do anything, hence the saying ‘knowledge is power’.”

When she can find time in her 25-hour day, Mosehane enjoys family time with her husband and three children. Although she does admit that the children are “chaotic”. She loves a good movie, especially series, and R&B music. When things get really hectic, she finds comfort in her soft winter pyjamas, a good read, a restful sleep or a short vacation.

“I am a quiet and peaceful person who likes simple things and working with people. I set high targets for myself and work hard to achieve them. I’ll do almost anything to have a big laugh. I don’t like dishonesty and selfishness in people: I find it to be destructive,” says Mosehane.

The definition of “successful people” is relative. However, in terms of exercising responsible leadership and seeing the proverbial bigger picture, it is clear that most individuals would like to epitomise the success as reflected by Mosehane.

Author: Yuven Gounden is Project Manager Communication and Marketing at SAICA