Meet the boss: Berenice Rose, General Manager at Unity in Africa Foundation

AUGUST 17, 2016

Berenice Rose’s upbringing has turned her into a remarkable Eastern Cape businesswoman. She is currently the General Manager at Unity in Africa Foundation – an NGO dedicated to supporting a range of education-related projects, from early childhood development through to tertiary education.

After being raised on a farm in the Karoo, she spent most of her young life at boarding school – an experience, which she says helped her develop a tenacious spirit “of getting past the negative and getting on with the job at hand”. 

“Character and strength for me has come from within. I draw on my moral compass to guide me in business and life in general,” she tells Business Link (BL) magazine. 

In June, her efforts were recognised when she won the Social Entrepreneur category of the 2016 Businesswomen’s Association of Port Elizabeth (BWA) Investec Regional Business Achiever Awards (RBAA). 

Below is what we also learnt about Berenice Rose (BR).

BL: You recently won the BWA’s Investec Regional Business Achiever Awards - Social Entrepreneur category. What does this award mean to you?

BR: This award gives encouragement that my work is being recognised.  It also gives validation that there is an impact within society to the programmes that we implement.

Being profiled at the awards dinner will open up doors of opportunity and I cannot wait to see the positive impact on our bottom line. For me personally, this award is a win for the Unity in Africa Foundation and my support team, more than an individual award. 

The nature of our industry does not thrive in a singular, insulated mindset, and it is only through collaboration and pooling of skills that we can achieve greater impact.  Of course, being the recipient on the night created a high that would be difficult to match and the entire team at RBAA ensure that we know our value and accept and own this award.  This is so encouraging during the process as well, and possibly why everyone on the journey feels like a winner.

BL: How did you end up at Unity in Africa Foundation?   

BR: While working for an insurance company as the Marketing Manager, the company went through a de-mutualisation process.  A custodian trust, African Unity, was started to oversee the funds being spent within the community. 

What was meant to be a short term custodian period, turned into a full-time passion for development. This Custodian Trust was meant to close, but by the commitment and confidence of the then CEO, Carl Kirstein, I was afforded the opportunity to build the trust into an organisation to take seriously. 

The past two years have been about rebranding and creating a new vehicle Unity in Africa Foundation with objectives specific to our current vision and programmes. We are now an independent foundation relying on corporate funding to support our initiatives and the past two years have been pivotal to building a solid organisation with professional standards, thereby laying the foundation to a sustainability future.

BL: What have been some of the highlights in your career to date?

BR: There have been many highlights through the years.  From starting a profit company from scratch to being instrumental in forming the character and project profile to the non-profit programmes that I currently oversee at the foundation.

Winning the RBAA category has been an unexpected highlight that I am delighted to have been a part of. A constant highlight throughout the past few years has been when I see one of the students, whom I have walked a personal path with in development, achieve their goals. Youth, who become hungry to contribute positively to their society, just gives me an instant high!

BL: What would you say was the best or worst business advice that you have ever received?

BR: I can’t recall either. But I value people in business, who understand the importance of treating people the way they would like to be treated.

BL: Tell us more about your work at Unity in Africa Foundation.

BR: The Unity in Africa Foundations core focus is development through educational support programmes that empower individuals to contribute positively to our economy and society.

We implement programmes that mirror this focus. iGEMS (Incubating Great Engineering MindS) is  a programme with a 4-phase approach, incubating all level of engineers from grade 11 through tertiary and into the workplace.

WOW (Women of Worth) is a mentoring programme for business women to inspire, encourage and motivate young female students on the cusp of entering the world of work.

SVP (Student Volunteer Programme) is an initiative run in collaboration with the NMMU, where students are given the opportunity to be of value to society and their community by volunteering their skills in homework, maths and reading support to various beneficiaries. 

Fundraising and building the profile of the foundation is only a part of my day, as overseeing programme implementation, budgeting, administration, finance and HR fill my days.

BL: How would you describe your leadership style?

BR: My style is definitely one of guiding and supporting staff to take responsibility and be the best they can be. I enjoy sharing ideas and brainstorming why and how a project and action plan will work. As a leader, I value proactive employees, who see the importance of their value and contribution to the projects and greater team.   

Within the non-profit industry, capacity is our biggest challenge, which is directly related to income. We wear many hats and work long hours just to get the basics done. It is for this reason that work ethic has a high value in our organisation.  Appreciation and respect for each other in the team carries us through the many long hours.

BL: What is it that separates Unity in Africa Foundation from the other players in the NGO space in our region?

BR: I have chosen to run the foundation on the same basis as you would any other professional organisation.  Our standards are therefore high and our integrity towards the lives that we impact on is the benchmark to our success.

BL: What are some of the challenges that you think women executives are facing locally?

BR: Although we have come a long way, there are still certain disparities and perceptions that exist for women in the workplace.  For example, women, by nature of the role of mother, often require flexi-time or part-time work. Their commitment and productivity should not be questioned. Often, we work harder just to prove that we can ‘fit it all in’ and prove that we are worthy of the job.

BL: What can government and the other stakeholders do to help women in business overcome these?

BR: Flexi-time where ever possible, should be a natural choice in many organisations. The benefits are many, from a happier work force and building team work ethic to a more productive workforce.

BL: When you are out of the office, where are we most likely to find you?

BR: Mostly at an event or planning an event to raise the profile of the foundation. On my ‘off-work’ time, I rush around like all other working women - fetching kids, quick grocery shop, dreaded errands and a chinwag catch up with a friend for a cup of tea on my stoep.

BL: As a working woman, how do you juggle the office and your family?

BR: A supportive husband, who does not mind being the modern man, despite having his own busy schedule. There are often times when the family have had to suffer my long hours and late night catch ups, which is not ideal. 

Balance often ebbs and flows depending on the calendar of events, but at the end of the period, it should all balance out quite well.  It is during these busy seasons that I need to take a deep breath and work systematically through the workload.

BL: What advice would you give to other women in business out there?

BR: Don’t under estimate the importance of your team and appreciation for what they contribute to your business.  Keep your team interested in your business by allowing them to take responsibility and guiding them to ensure their growth is as important as the growth of your business.

Integrity, in all that the word means, is high on my list of advice.  Know your moral compass and stick to this - as in times of need, you will draw strength from this knowledge.  

BL: What do you think or hope will be your legacy, one day when you leave Unity in Africa Foundation.

BR: An inspiring legacy would be if I have successfully guided people into being positive contributors to society, whether in work or community and inspired them in-turn to pay it forward, to guide others into achieving their potential.