AS TOLD TO
Phumelele Bohlale (34) a former senior employee at Unilever and Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus left her corporate job three years back in pursuit of her passion, social entrepreneurship. Bohlela says her decision was driven by her passion for making an impact in her community Gamalakhe Township on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, through her skills. She shared her journey with the Daily Vox.
I graduated at the University of Pretoria with a degree in communications and marketing, majoring in statistics. I was then employed by Unilever for eight years, I was working comfortably and travelling globally.
Back in 2015 I started contemplating leaving my job because I had amazing ideas, but somehow they were being rejected by the company and the team I was working with. What I learned during this time was that people didn’t understand me for who I am and my passion, which is using what I have to gain what I don’t have.
I then came into a decision to leave my job and start working with the people in my community because they were like minded, driven and lacking knowledge and necessary resources. I currently identify myself as a social entrepreneur because what I do isn’t profit but impact-based.
When I left my job, my parents didn’t understand why I’d leave what they call a dream job, especially right after I had been promoted. I had to explain my intentions to them but nobody really understood who’d want to leave their high paying job and venture into a non-paying business.
I knew what I wanted then and I focused my mind to it, and fortunately, an opportunity of a lifetime availed itself and that’s when I was awarded a Mandela Washington Fellowship. Being in Texas University helped me broaden my skills in terms of social enterprise, I had now found people with like minds, who spoke my language.
Using the networks from abroad, I came back and started assisting young people with small businesses to grow, by offering my skills and connecting them with relevant people and departments. It didn’t make sense to a lot of people that I would leave behind a fancy life and go back to a township but I wanted to make an impact.
Being a social entrepreneur has had its challenges because when I started off, I had no capital, and had to use my pension fund. However, the passion I have for working with and uplifting people is what has pushed me to this far. Currently, I have a company with four employees. We deal with different matters such as education, unemployment, health and small businesses.
Our mandate is to assist people using our networks with different departments from both private and public sectors. We partner with organisations whose mandate is to reach people in communities and help them with information and whatever assistance in terms of opportunities. We have access to the people and we understand how they work, this makes it easier for us to present ideas to these departments on how they can use us as a driving vehicle to reaching out to communities.
There’s been both highlights and lowlights in my venture but obviously highlights surpass the lowlights, because I’ve been able to uplift many people whose businesses are now thriving because of my assistance. I’m confident that I’ve achieved what I aimed for when I left the corporate world, and continue to.
Featured image by Lizeka Maduna