Ford Enters Esports Arena

Written for and first published by Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa on 30 April 2020

From playing a quick game of Pac-Man on an arcade machine at the corner café, to becoming part of a hugely sophisticated digital ecosystem, gamers and gaming culture have come a long way over the past 40 years. Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with gamers, has now designed the ultimate in-game race car, which will soon be debuted on the virtual grid by Team Fordzilla, the automaker’s very own esports team.

The popularity of competitive gaming, better known as esports (electronic sports), has skyrocketed over recent years. What was once a niche gaming scene has been transformed into not only a mainstream form of home entertainment, but also a legitimate sport, recognised by the International Esports Federation’s (IESF) 60 member nations, including South Africa. In fact, South Africa’s national esports team, competing over a number of games and platforms, has participated in every IESF World Championship since 2009.

According to the Business Insider Intelligence Esports Ecosystem Report 2020, “most projections put the esports ecosystem on track to surpass US$1-billion in revenue for the first time this year.” But with a surge in online gaming globally during the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdowns, this projection may prove to be on the conservative side. And esports could quite possibly become one of those industries which not only survives the pandemic, but thrives in its wake, as a new generation of avid online gamers is currently being born.

Ford enters esports arena, and designs brand new virtual race car for two simcade games

Racing games have always been hugely popular. But not all racing games are created equal. There are three main categories, with varying levels of realism. From arcade racing games with little regard for realism, to hyper-realistic sim racing (simulated racing) games with a strong focus on physics and AI, and simcade (simulated-arcade) racing games somewhere in between, which are more accessible to the average petrolhead than full sim racing games.

‘Forza Motorsport’, which is available for Xbox One and Windows 10, and ‘Gran Turismo Sport’ which is exclusive to PlayStation 4, both fit into the simcade category, and are two of the world’s most popular racing games. And it is for these two simcade games that Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with gamers, has designed the ultimate in-game race car, which will soon be debuted on the virtual grid by Team Fordzilla, the automaker’s very own esports team.

At Gamescom 2019 – Europe’s leading trade fair for the digital games culture which takes place annually in Cologne, Germany – Ford became the first automaker to debut a vehicle at the fair, revealing that its Ranger Raptor performance pickup would be coming to Europe.

Ford also took the opportunity to announce at the fair that it was recruiting gamers for Team Fordzilla. It has since built five Fordzilla national teams – in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – and from these teams, it has assembled a European all-star team, comprising the five team captains.

The two racing games in which Team Fordzilla will initially compete are ‘Forza Motorsport 7’ and ‘GT Sport’. And while there are already several new and classic Ford vehicles in each game’s expansive roster from which players can choose, it’s the brand new and exclusively virtual race car, codenamed #TeamFordzillaP1, which Team Fordzilla drivers are understandably most excited about.

“We all love racing our dream cars but ultimately these are usually painstaking recreations of vehicles that actually exist in the real world,” said Angelo Bülow, captain of the German Fordzilla team. “It will be an absolute thrill to get behind the wheel of the #TeamFordzillaP1 for the first time knowing that not only have we helped to create it but that no-one else has ever driven it before.”

Ford shares design of ultimate virtual track machine with launch of Team Fordzilla P1 Hub

Among those closely involved in designing #TeamFordzillaP1 from the ground up were Ford of Europe’s Design Team – which imagines and designs human-centric cars for the real world – and expert gamers who lead the way in racing their virtual counterparts. This included the five captains of Ford’s national esports teams, as well as motorsport fans in the wider gaming community whose input Team Fordzilla sourced via a series of Twitter polls around key design attributes – from engine to cockpit shape. Because this is an exclusively virtual race car, and not based on an existing real world Ford model, it is not constrained by any real world limitations, like technology, practicality, or cost.

And now Ford has launched the publicly accessible Team Fordzilla P1 Project Hub, a fun and interactive space for budding car designers and gamers to find a few new ways of beating boredom or the blues whilst self-isolating during lockdown. Along with personal recommendations from Team Fordzilla captains on the latest video games you could try playing whilst housebound, the hub is packed with DIY creative content designed to unleash your inner Rory Byrne.

From never-seen-before #TeamFordzillaP1 exploration sketches by Ford’s designers, to a suite of print-friendly sketches that they have left half blank and ready for you to complete, as well as some activities, like dot to dot and paint by numbers, to coax out your inner child, there’s bound to be something that catches your fancy and will keep you busy for a couple of hours.

Be sure to snap some photos of your bespoke liveries, sketches, and designs, and upload them to Twitter and Instagram with the tags @FordSouthAfrica @TeamFordzilla #TeamFordzillaP1

Follow Team Fordzilla updates on Twitter: or Instagram:


Rally To Bridge Literacy Gap

Written for and first published by Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa on 13 March 2020

On Saturday 7 March, several convoys of Ford Ranger double cabs, loaded with boxes of books, teaching aids, and other educational materials, set out from Nkambeni Safari Camp in the Kruger National Park to visit some of the most remote and disadvantaged primary schools in the Hazyview, Mpumalanga area.

It was Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s leg of the annual Rally to READ, a flagship programme of the READ Educational Trust, founded in 1998, and spearheaded by now retired McCarthy Motor Holdings CEO and philanthropist, Brand Pretorius.

A living legend in industry circles, widely acknowledged for his invaluable contribution to the growth and sustainability of the local automotive sector since the 1970s, Pretorius is also a proud father to three sons, and seven grandchildren. Passionate about helping to change the narrative for those less fortunate, he continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the already most vulnerable members of society are not simply left to fall through the cracks.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and education in itself is an empowering right,” says Pretorius. “Equal opportunity and universal access to good quality education is one of the most effective tools by which economically and socially marginalised communities can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in society. Unfortunately, as we all know, the right to education doesn’t necessarily align with the reality of implementing that right.”

Millions of children around the world are still deprived of educational opportunities as a result of socio-economic and cultural factors. Here in South Africa, the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 78 per cent of Grade 4 learners cannot read with comprehension, which inevitably means that many learners drop out of early high school. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas.

To mitigate this, Rally to READ – implemented by the READ Educational Trust with the assistance of the Rally to READ steering committee under the chairmanship of Brand Pretorius, and made possible by donations from a multitude of South African individuals and corporates – provides support to the most needy of schools in rural areas.

Rallies take place in six school districts, across five provinces. Schools selected for support are provided with books, and specially constructed ‘box libraries’ to protect the books, during the initial Rally weekend. Then each of the schools is supported for a period of three years with teacher training and classroom support visits by READ field staff. The ‘box library’ stock is supplemented each new Rally year with more advanced reading material.

Teachers are also tutored on literacy and language methodologies by dedicated READ trainers. READ trainers monitor and mentor teachers and are, in turn, monitored and mentored by senior READ trainers, who quality assure the project. All READ trainers’ work is done in conjunction with the Department of Education’s subject advisers and school district offices.

Simply by equipping teachers with the tools and training they need to create print-rich classrooms and stimulating learning environments for the children, morale amongst teachers dramatically improves. And as the children’s reading and writing skills improve, so their confidence grows. Literacy gaps are bridged, and an increasing number of learners are now making their way confidently into high school, and even university.

Not only are strong literacy skills linked to higher Matric pass rates and university enrolment rates, but also higher emotional intelligence. Reading helps us to better understand other people and cultures, and make wiser choices regarding our role models and friendships and relationships – all essential skills for a young person to acquire and assimilate, especially during the crucial formative years.

From Grade 1 to Grade 3 we learn to read; from Grade 4, we read to learn. The more we read, the better we read. And the better we read, the more we learn.

All it takes for children to significantly improve their reading is daily practice. By reading books that interest them, for just 20 minutes every day, a child will see 1.8 million words in one year, while another child who reads for only one minute a day will see just 8,000 words in that same year.

This is why it’s so important for us to not only teach our children literacy skills in the classroom, but to ensure they have access to a wide variety of material to read for pleasure, outside of school hours. And this is what the Rally provides. By the end of the three-year Rally cycle, schools will not only have ‘box libraries’ filled with classroom resources, but also classrooms filled with independent readers.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the ongoing support of our loyal sponsors,” says Pretorius. “This year alone, Ford assisted us with an incredibly generous R1-million donation to help us continue our work. But over and above that, we are also so very grateful for the logistical support they provide in their fleet of Ranger bakkies, helping us to physically get the books and supplies to the schools, which are often in very difficult to reach locations. We’re talking wading through rivers sometimes, and climbing rocky roads that only the very toughest of 4x4s could handle.”

“It is our honour and privilege to support such a worthy cause,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Our partnership with Rally to READ goes way back to 1999, and it’s an association of which we are extremely proud. Being a good corporate citizen has always been a core value of Ford, and our commitment to sustainability is a key part of who we are. We believe that by supporting communities and members of society who can’t support themselves, and providing opportunities so that they can better themselves, we will have a profound impact on the future of our country. And education is the foundation we all need for a lifetime of learning and work opportunities.”

“For us, coming on this Rally, and actually meeting the beneficiaries of the programme, is a very special opportunity,” he continues. “To share in the excitement of the book hand-over, to meet and engage with the teachers, children, parents and caregivers, and to see first-hand the tangible results of this programme – the very real progress that is made in the schools we support – is both humbling and inspiring.”

Interestingly, while reading practice can help a child compensate for, and even overcome, the challenges of being socially or economically disadvantaged, the equivalent lack of reading practice can actually reverse or erase the advantages of a child who comes from a privileged background, making the relevance of reading practice equally important for all children, from all walks of life.

Ultimately it is our responsibility as adults, and our collective duty as civil society, to provide all of our children – from all socio-economic backgrounds, in big cities or small villages, in every province across the country – with the opportunities they need to expand their minds and unlock their full potential.

“This Rally is not just about delivering books,” concludes Berry. “It’s about delivering hope. Giving these children, their families, their communities, and our country much-needed hope for the future.”

The schools sponsored by Ford SA in the Mpumalanga leg of Rally to READ 2020 include: Mpunzana Primary School, Majika Primary School, Khombindlela Primary School, Ifalethu Primary School, Mhwayi Primary School, Mgwenyana Primary School, Umpololi Primary School, Siyamukela Primary School, and Entokozweni Primary School.

Roadkill Saves Lives

Written for and first published by Ford Wildlife Foundation on 19 November 2019

We’ve all driven past the lifeless body of an animal in the middle of or on the shoulder of the road. In our suburbs and cities, on our highways and byways, and in protected areas like game reserves. Family pets, valuable livestock, and myriad species of wildlife – each sentient being meeting its fate through a tragic impact with a moving vehicle.

But it’s not just animals that are killed in these awful accidents. “Of the 45 human lives lost on our roads every day, we estimate that around a third of those are due to collisions with wildlife,” says international award-winning researcher Wendy Collinson-Jonker, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (EWT-WTP).

Huge costs of road accidents

Road deaths account for untold suffering for families, friends, and loved ones left behind. They also come at a huge cost to the economy, which government conservatively estimates at around R166-billion annually. “The insurance industry pays out claims in the region of R82.5-million each year for wildlife-vehicle-collisions (WVCs) alone, ” says Collinson. “But the costs to our wildlife, and tourism industry, are never calculated.”

Currently, one in every 22 working South Africans are employed in the tourism sector, which accounts for 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product. “Wildlife is one of the major drawcards for tourists to South Africa,” she continues. “And wildlife tourism is expected to grow significantly by 2030.”

“Unfortunately WVCs are already a common occurrence in our parks,” she adds. “With even more vehicles expected on the roads in the years to come, an anticipated increase in WVCs is obviously cause for serious concern. And if you consider that many of the species being killed in WVCs are already on the Endangered list – like the African Wild Dog – the costs could be very high.”

Roadkill research used in science of road ecology

The fact is, transportation infrastructure affects the structure of ecosystems, all around the world. As more roads are built, and more vehicles take to the roads, the increasing attention of scientists to the ecological effects of road infrastructure has resulted in the emergence of the science of road ecology.

Roadkill researchers working in this field are like police detectives. They gather forensic evidence (roadkill data) at the scene of the crime (accident scene) to build a case (identification of roadkill hotspots). The strength of their evidence will help determine the outcome of the case (implementation of traffic calming measures at specific roadkill hotspots), which ultimately helps inform national policies and legislation for public safety (development and planning decisions around future road design, with the ultimate aim of making the roads safer for all).

Ford Wildlife Foundation sponsors EWT-WTP project vehicle

“As an NGO, we rely on assistance from our core supporters to be able to do the work we do,” says Collinson. “One of these core supporters is the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF), with their sponsorship of a Ford Ranger double cab. Our programme benefits enormously from the use of this project vehicle, since we do a vast amount of travelling, and are active on all roads in the country – from protected areas to regional and national highways.”

“The conservation and preservation of the environment has become a major worldwide issue, dramatically changing the attitudes of consumers and the way large corporations do business,” says Lynda du Plessis, manager of FWF. “For 30 years, Ford has supported environmental education, research, and conservation projects around sub-Saharan Africa. We announced the FWF in 2014, and are extremely proud to be associated with the likes of the EWT and their Wildlife and Transport Programme. The value that roadkill research adds to the greater discourse on conservation is clearly evident. And it is an honour and a privilege to know that our Rangers are being used to enable these projects to go further, to build a more sustainable future for all.”

So how exactly is roadkill used?

“Using the roadkill data we collect over time, we are able to identify patterns and trends of where WVCs are most common, and when the greatest number of impacts occur – the months of the year, and the times of day or night,” says Collinson. “We can identify migration corridors for different species, and roadkill hotspots where mitigation measures can be implemented for those species most at risk.”

Much of the carnage on our roads happens at night, and if you’ve ever wondered why you’re not allowed to drive around inside game reserves after sunset, this is the main reason.

You’ve probably at some point also wondered why certain animals turn into statues in the middle of the road – that classic ‘deer in the headlights’ moment – when you’re driving straight towards them. It’s not because they’re stupid; it’s because they are often crepuscular or nocturnal animals, and their vision is different to ours. Because they are mainly active within an hour or so on either side of dawn and dusk, or at night, their pupils fully dilate to capture as much light as possible and optimise their vision in low light conditions. So when you shine a very bright light in their eyes, they become temporarily blinded and will freeze until their eyes can adjust. Unfortunately this may take longer than the time you need to stop your vehicle and avoid a collision.

While many animals do have eyes which are reflective in artificial light – thanks to a mirror-like membrane called the tapetum lucidum behind the retina – which makes them easier to spot in the dark, for taller hoofed mammals like kudu, cattle, and horses, their eyes are above most headlight beams. This means that their eyeshine is less likely to be seen by motorists until it’s too late.

Because of their size, and hooves and horns, these animals also pose the most danger to vehicle occupants. If these animals are hit, they can roll onto the bonnet and into the windshield or roof, resulting in extensive vehicle damage, and serious or fatal injury to the vehicle occupants.

Two (or more) heads are better than one

“Collaboration with stakeholders in the transport sector is integral to the success of our work in terms of building a combined body of knowledge,” says Collinson. “Currently we are in partnership with three of South Africa’s major toll concessionaires, namely Bakwena N1N14 Toll, TRAC N4, and N3 Toll Concession.”

“Input from the public is also hugely appreciated,” she adds. “Anyone with a smartphone can be a citizen scientist. By sending in photographs of roadkill, along with the location, date, and time of the sighting, via email or the EWT’s Road Watch app, this helps expand the geographic scope of our study.”

Organisation As Servant-Leader

Written for Len Brand, Chief Executive Officer at TATA Africa Holdings and Head of Distribution Vertical at TATA International, and first published by TATA International Africa on 1 October 2019

“I had the pleasure and privilege of serving with Len Brand on the board of TATA Africa Holdings, for three years. During this period the company went through tough times and difficult decisions had to be made. Len, in his capacity as CEO, impressed me with his clear vision and his ability to develop and implement a new strategy which gave rise to a much more focused, profitable entity. In his leadership role he gave direction, demonstrated his courage and earned the trust, respect and confidence of his people. Len leads by example in terms of his principles and values, and he delivers results. He is a humble leader who doesn’t use positional power, but one who earns the commitment of his people by caring about them. Len is hard headed when it comes to results, but he has a gentle heart when it comes to people. He leads with a firm hand but a gentle touch. He has created a workplace where humanity flourishes and where people live their passion and realise their potential. In summary, Len is an inspirational, caring and effective leader.”

Brand Pretorius, retired CEO of McCarthy Limited and executive director of Bidvest Group, currently member of the Advisory Board of the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa, and serving as a non-executive director on several boards, including TATA Africa Holdings

When I stepped into my current role in August 2016, the people were very unhappy, just coming to work to earn a salary. At the outset of my turnaround strategy, the first thing I did was try and set a new tone. I drew a great deal of inspiration from my mentor, Brand Pretorius, who is a well-known proponent of servant leadership.

Servant leadership

Servant leadership has nothing to do with being subservient or submissive. The core premise of the ‘service to others first’ philosophy is prioritising other people’s needs over your own. Humility is an absolute prerequisite for this management style, as your overarching goal is to achieve authority, rather than power.

To establish and execute strategies which drive growth in revenue and profitability, to lead cultural and process change, and to build consensus and develop high-performing teams, you need the buy-in of your people. To do this, you first have to earn their respect and trust.

You have to create an environment where your people want to come to work every day. Human beings have an innate need to belong, so you have to build a sense of unity and wholeness in the organisation. In order to help people foster bonds and build relationships, you have to provide opportunities and spaces for them to interact with one another, informally, across the company.

To inspire and motivate, you have to convince rather than rely on coerced compliance. To optimise your influence, you have to persuade rather than rely on hierarchical dominance. You have to be a solid role model and an advocate for your people – everyone in your team should know that you’re there for them. As a servant-leader, you have to make yourself visible, accessible, and available. You have to check in often with your people to see how they are. You have to look them in the eyes, and engage them in meaningful discussions. You have to listen, empathise, and make an effort to acknowledge things from their perspectives.

No-one likes to be micro-managed. People get de-motivated when they are managed and controlled into the ground. Remember, your people have been hired for their skills set. You have to create space for them to use those skills, and encourage them to take calculated risks. As long as they’re trying to improve the business, you should allow them to try new things, or new ways of doing things.

Encouraging a participative approach to decision-making leads to a higher level of engagement and innovation, and helps build a sense of community within the team. It is important however to remember that, as a servant-leader, you can’t avoid making unpopular decisions, or giving team members negative feedback when it is required. Servant leadership is about focussing on satisfying the highest-priority needs of others – not their feelings.

You have to prioritise the personal and professional development of your people, and empowerment should follow an orderly and structured approach. Coaching and mentoring your people has to take precedence over personal elevation. You have to lead by example to reinforce the spirit of service to others, and encourage mentees to prioritise serving others over self-gain.

Organisation as servant-leader

It should be noted that organisations – not just individuals – can also be servant-leaders. The ‘institution as servant’ is something which I think TATA does extremely well.

Founded in 1868 by Jamsetji Tata, the legendary “Father of Indian Industry”, and one of the most important founders of the modern Indian economy, the TATA Group of companies is India’s only value-based corporation, and the country’s biggest conglomerate.

Tata was the epitome of a servant-leader. He believed that in order to advance a nation, you need to uplift the best and the most gifted, so that they can go on to be of the greatest service to humanity. Most significantly, he believed that the community is not just another stakeholder in a business, but the very reason for its existence. In other words – institution as servant, or organisation as servant-leader.

Virtuous cycle of servant leadership

The ‘servant-leader is servant first’ philosophy – whether that be in an individual or organisational capacity – is, ultimately, a virtuous cycle. Because when your people become happier, healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous, they are more likely to themselves become servant-leaders. All of which bodes well not only for businesses, but also communities and society at large.

The Bus Driver And The Rugby Ball: How To Boost Turnover By 20%

Written for Len Brand, Chief Executive Officer at TATA Africa Holdings and Head of Distribution Vertical at TATA International, and first published by TATA International Africa on 1 October 2019

When I accepted my current position in August 2016, the business was not in good shape. It was spiralling downwards, had been making losses for three consecutive years, and was facing yet another loss. I had been on the TATA International Holdings Board as an independent director for 18 months at that stage, and so was well aware of the scale of the turnaround challenge that lay ahead.

Now, looking back at what we managed to achieve over the next two-and-a-half years, I realise that the strategy our team applied held some valuable insights and learnings – not just for our organisation, but for other businesses as well. By sharing this high-level road map of how we not only returned the business to solvency, but also boosted turnover and grew market share, I hope to inspire or motivate others in their attempts to breathe new life into their own enterprises.

Reality check

When I attended my first Board meeting as CEO I was very frank about its unrealistic expectations of transforming the business in three months, and offered rather an 18-month turnaround, with a proposed goal of doubling turnover in four years, from 2017 to 2021.

I also expressed my concerns about the decision they had made back in 2012 and 2013, to de-risk the company and create more than a dozen trading companies. I explained that diversity equals risk, and moving forward we would have to go back to the original and singular focus of the business – the distribution of commercial vehicles.

I definitely stepped on a few toes, but I knew it was my responsibility to stand by my convictions. It took me a full year to convince the Board that their de-risk strategy had been a mistake, and get approval to sell or close those businesses that didn’t fit our focus moving forward. It was an extremely difficult process. Eventually we sold four, and closed a further 10, where there was nothing left to sell.

Right people on the bus

For any business to be a success, you’ve got to have the right people on the bus. This is an analogy created by Jim Collins which really resonates with me. Essentially, you – the leader – are the bus driver. When the bus, your company, is at a standstill, it’s your job to get it going again. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

First, you’ve got to get the wrong people off the bus. And you have to start at the top. Those who want to be a boss must go. A leader is not a boss, and a leader should not be allowed to act like a boss. During that process we had to let some senior people in critical positions go.

Then you’ve got to get the right people in the right seats. We started blatantly headhunting senior management to fill the key seats on the bus. We handpicked people we knew well. Some I had worked with in the industry for many years.

Once you’ve filled your bus with the right people in the right seats, it becomes less a question of where you’re headed, but rather how far you can go.

Hard on the numbers, soft on the people

If you want to get that bus moving again, you have to create an environment where your people want to come to work every day. You should be hard on the numbers, but soft on the people. Your people need to know they have to achieve the numbers and you’re not willing to compromise on standards but they also need to know that they matter, and they will always be treated with dignity and respect.

It’s all about uptime

When setting the new direction for your business, and articulating your strategy, you need to make it easy for your people to relate to and understand. ‘It’s all about uptime’ is the business mantra we created to emphasise our core focus moving forward.

In essence, uptime is the opposite of downtime. For commercial vehicles like trucks and buses, uptime is the period when that vehicle is up and running, and downtime is when it’s off the road for maintenance or repairs. When human capital or other assets go down, the business suffers financially. So, the quicker we can get that vehicle back on the road, helping its driver or owner to earn an income, the better.

This was the backbone of our strategy. Vehicle price, running costs, and fuel consumption do matter, but uptime matters more.

The four-year football

I used the football concept to illustrate the life paths of our strategy. The seams on the ball represent the five main areas of the business we needed to focus on, namely: improving access to parts and service, ensuring a comprehensive product offering, providing customers with financing options, expanding our distribution network and footprint across the continent, and increasing brand awareness.

The seams all share a common starting point and a common end point. In between, they run parallel to one another, and along each seam there are different projects. On the one seam you may have 12 projects, on another you may have only three. Unlike pillars, which feel like silos, these converging lines give a sense of being interconnected – which different areas of the business are, or at least should be.

If all your people have sight of the end goal, and know where their work fits into the bigger picture, it’s so much easier for them to focus on what needs to get done, and pull together to create a, dare I say, more seamless operation.

On track to target

At the close of our 2018 fiscal year, TATA Africa had managed to achieve a 20 per cent jump in turnover, and we continue to penetrate the markets and make market share gains.

The business is still in the process of realigning itself, and we’ve still got a long way to go to reach our goal of doubling turnover by 2021. But the strategy is cemented. The Board is behind it. Our people believe in it. Today, if you talk to any TATA Africa employee they will tell you about uptime, and they will be able to quote the five life paths on the football.

Now it’s all about execution, execution, execution, and defining benchmarks for the continued growth and success of the business.

Implications Of South Africa’s Brain Drain

Written for and first published by PPS on 22 May 2019

The number of skilled professionals committed to a career in South Africa is diminishing, while the demand for their expertise is not.

Emigration is a complex and expensive process, which means that it’s generally top talent – skilled doctors, accountants, lawyers, engineers, corporate employees, and successful entrepreneurs – who both qualify and have the financial means to leave. Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UAE, UK, and USA continue to be the destinations of choice.

So what are the implications of a professional migration trend on a developing nation?

Scatterlings of Africa bodes ill for healthy economy

Skilled professionals play a critical role in the working environment and shaping of SA’s future. They are usually the highest earners, and therefore the most significant contributors to the country’s tax revenue. As the pool of top talent contracts, so too does the revenue obtained by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The long-term effects of this ongoing erosion of the country’s human resources and endowments should be of considerable concern to every citizen who wants to build a sustainable future.

Revealing insights from PPS Graduate Professional Index

The Professional Provident Society (PPS) is a local financial services provider focused exclusively on providing the right financial solutions to graduate professionals.

In January 2019, PPS conducted an independent survey of 5,837 members to gauge their perceptions of a number of issues affecting their professions, both now and in the near future.

Graduate professionals working across the Accounting, Dental, Engineering, Legal, Medical, Pharmaceutical, and other sectors were polled, and the findings of the survey shed light on many of the push and pull factors they take into consideration when thinking about emigrating.

Push and pull factors for professionals considering emigration

The majority of respondents (68%) felt confident in the future of their profession over the next five years. The most confident were accountants (86%), ‘other’ professionals (80%), and legal professionals (65%), followed by engineers (60%) and pharmacists (60%). The least confident were medical professionals (56%) and dentists (47%). Factors which positively influenced this confidence were financial viability (35%) and regulations (23%). Factors which negatively influenced this confidence were political issues (43%) and economic conditions (27%).

The majority of respondents (71%) would encourage matriculants to enter their respective professions. 89% of accountants would encourage matriculants, followed by 80% of engineers, 79% of ‘other’ professionals, 59% of pharmacists, and 56% of medical professionals. The main reasons for positively influencing this recommendation is that the skills are needed in SA (51%), and the profession is personally rewarding (35%). Only 9% stated financial rewards as a reason. The factors which negatively influenced recommendations were the belief that other professions may be more desirable (33%), there are no job opportunities in the profession (20%), and the profession is not financially rewarding (20%). In the case of dentists, the major negative was that it is not financially viable (38%). The major negative for engineers was the lack of job opportunities (36%).

When asked about the state of youth unemployment, 36% of respondents thought this was a problem which government must solve, and 30% believed that their professional associations were also looking for solutions. 42% suggested that skilled professionals cannot find appropriate jobs and are moving overseas. The largest percentage who felt this way were engineers (51%).

22% of respondents felt that professionals were overworked due to staff shortages. The largest percentage who felt this way were pharmacists (34%) and medical professionals (33%).

42% of respondents believed that millennials in the workplace needed a different leadership style, and companies should adopt new ways of working. 17% suggested that millennials are not as hard working as previous generations. Only 12% thought that maths and science standards had been improved to enable people to enter their professions.

Main findings for each of the professions


84% of respondents were concerned about how state governance could impact the future of the legal profession over the next 12 months.


73% of respondents felt that a large number of medical professionals are depressed and suffering burnout, due to long hours (38%) and poor working conditions (23%).

72% did not think that the National Health Insurance (NHI) will improve the sustainability of the profession. When asked what can be done to improve the healthcare system in SA, 26% mentioned anti-corruption and better management of funds, and 12% suggested adequate staffing based on merit, not race.

When asked what can be done to encourage doctors to stay in SA rather than move abroad, 33% thought that the socio-economic situation needs to be improved, 30% suggested better working conditions, and 19% suggested better salaries and incentives.

47% were of the opinion that the deployment of newly qualified doctors to rural areas had improved access to healthcare in general. But 23% believed that this policy had discouraged individuals from entering the profession.


78% of respondents thought there had been a decline in engineering project opportunities. And 76% were of the opinion that the government’s strategic integrated projects programme not being realised has affected them a great deal.


54% of respondents were of the opinion that the NHI will increase access to dental services, and 58% thought they could be under threat from big corporates offering dentistry. 87% thought that technological advancements have positively influenced their ability to treat patients, but 66% thought it was difficult to get funding for specialised equipment. 55% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry.


66% of respondents thought that access to pharmaceutical services had improved over the past 20 years, but 62% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry. 93% viewed their client interaction as an opportunity to educate the community about medicine, but 88% thought big chains were drowning the community pharmacist. 86% did not think the NHI adequately addresses pharmacists.


35% of respondents were of the opinion that the current reputational issues are negatively impacting their profession. 59% did not believe that graduates are adequately equipped for the job and require further training, and 69% believed that there are adequate training opportunities for accountant graduates. The major issues to be addressed by the profession over the next 12 months include improved governance, integrity and transparency (55%), and innovation/technology (25%). 33% claimed to be assisting with improvements to the profession.

What government can do to stem the brain drain

The origins of the professional emigration phenomenon are many and varied, but most fall somewhere on the socio-economic-political spectrum. The majority seem to be directly tied to the political upheaval of the last decade, the effect it has had on the economy, and uncertainty around the future for SA. Those who decide to emigrate haven’t made a snap decision. Most have been toying with the idea for years, but current affairs often push them to make that final call.

The future of SA cannot be compromised by populist policies, which are not sustainable. The current NHI legislation, for example, which caps fees that doctors can charge for private healthcare, will almost certainly result in a mass exodus of medical professionals for greener pastures. This will have a knock-on effect for other skilled professions, because once the doctors leave, then other professionals who can afford to leave will follow suit, as they want quality healthcare for their children.

Government needs to get its house in order, and focus on bringing stability to the economy. With stability comes investor confidence, and with more foreign direct investments, SA can grow its economy.

What business can do to retain top talent

Because of the brain drain, there is less of a concentration of talent. And herein lies an incredible opportunity for skilled professionals to carve out a niche for themselves. But companies need to make their jobs, and in turn the country, worth staying for. When a company acknowledges its people with financial rewards and opportunities for growth, and genuinely understands the need for a healthy work/life balance, there is less of an inclination to look for work elsewhere.

“Right now there is a window of opportunity which SA needs to take advantage of if we want to turn things around before it’s too late,” says Motshabi Nomvete, Head of  Technical Marketing at PPS. “If government and business can work together to create a mutually beneficial and viable platform for opportunity and success, then we will increasingly see more skilled professionals wanting, and choosing to stay. And once we reach a tipping point, not only will we stop the brain drain, it could actually start reversing.”

Corporate Storytelling

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE LinkedIn. It is by far the most intellectually stimulating social media platform out there. And really awesome for networking.

Anyway, I was recently asked by one of my connections, Sarah Makwele, to share a bit about my career journey, and I thought I’d share an excerpt with you guys here. You can read the whole interview over on her blog here



SDM: Explain what your career field entails.

PG: I am a corporate storyteller; a specialist writer working in the public relations (PR) industry. I use the power of plain language to help increase a brand or business’s profile and visibility, and communicate their value and purpose to all stakeholders.

Without industry jargon and sloganeering, I help to establish company leaders as thought leaders, or companies as leaders in their industry; showcasing the brand’s heritage, the business’s expertise, and the legacy they want to leave.

Sharing authentic, engaging stories about how a company has impacted the lives of staff, customers, communities, and society at large is an incredibly effective way to garner positive public sentiment, and build trust.

Corporate storytelling runs the gamut from social media posts and press releases, to editorials (profile feature articles, thought leadership, op-eds), advertorials, blog posts, web copy, brochures, newsletters, company magazines, executive biographies, keynote speeches, presentations, as well as internal communications.

SDM: What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

PG: I didn’t start my writing career in the PR industry. I actually cut my teeth on magazine feature writing and newspaper journalism… Making the transition from feature writing and journalism to ghostwriting in the PR space was a little challenging, I won’t lie. Seeing a CEO or MD or some another senior executive’s byline on a piece you have conceptualised and researched and written, and watching them take full credit for what are essentially your words and ideas can be tough! But that’s the nature of the PR writing beast. You have to be prepared to check your ego at the door in order to let your client shine. That is what they’re paying you for after all.

SDM: How would you advise someone interested in your choice of career?

PG: Corporate storytelling is a specialised field of writing. It goes without saying you need to be a highly competent and versatile wordsmith; creative, detail oriented, and deadline driven, with strong copy editing, proofreading, and desk and field research skills. In my opinion, a lot of this stuff cannot be taught. It has to be learned. Which basically entails months and years of on-the-job practice. Honing your craft one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.

I think the beauty of writing as a career is that it doesn’t have an expiry date. English as a lingua franca means that quality writing is an internationally sought-after skill, especially for clients with a global presence. And thanks to technology, more and more companies are offering remote (work from home) opportunities for full-time, salaried writers.

If you are a professional writer, you need to have a centralised web presence, somewhere for you to build your online portfolio, and showcase your growing expertise… If you don’t have your own website [like this], there are several portfolio platforms, specifically for writers, from which to choose. You could also create a portfolio (business) page on Facebook, or a publicly accessible portfolio board on Pinterest.

When’s your next book coming out?

On Saturday I’ll be celebrating my one-year work anniversary at Meropa Communications. This little interview appeared on the company’s Facebook page today. Thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, for you guys to get a better feel for what I actually do for a living (and hopefully explain why my second book is taking so long to finish writing!)

• Please explain your journey through Meropa?

I joined Meropa on 1 December 2017 as senior writer on a global blue-chip account. Our team of six is quite unique in the Meropa family in that we are based off-site, within an integrated ad agency which was specifically created for and is dedicated to this one client. The ad agency has a global presence, and we all eat, sleep and breathe the same brand. I have a hot desk at the Meropa office, and another one at our client’s premises, but for the most part I work in a fun and high-pressure ad agency environment. When I reflect on the past 12 months, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned, and how much I’ve improved as a writer – not just as a corporate storyteller, but across all styles of writing. I’m surrounded by interesting and inspiring people and have made some firm friends along the way. In terms of my now 18-year-long career in the greater media and communications industry, this has definitely been one of my most productive and rewarding years to date.

• What makes you a Meropian?

I am proud to work for such a well-established, ethical, and authentically African agency, with an empowered company culture, and a reputation for excellence. With an extensive and wonderfully diverse portfolio of clients, I find the scope for growth and development within the organisation very exciting.

• What do Meropians have for breakfast?

News, news, and more news. Whether it be via the radio, TV, newspapers, online, and yes, even the good old grapevine, it’s all fuel for the day ahead. Keeping abreast of topical issues and sensitivities within the societies and countries in which our clients operate is crucial to staying ahead of the curve, and producing work of relevance and value.

• What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while being at Meropa?

Working in an integrated ad agency environment, and being exposed to all the different departments – creative, DTP, quality assurance, marketing, media, social media, client service, operations, and PR – has opened my eyes to just how many teams, individuals, and specialised skill sets it takes to run an operation of this size. I also think the value of new blood in an intergenerational workplace cannot be overstated. From what I have witnessed, Millennials are a lot savvier than we old-timers were in the equivalent early stages of our careers. And if/when we take the time to really listen to what they have to say, we’ll realise they have more to offer than we usually give them credit for.

• What has been your most memorable moment at Meropa?

In June I received the most amazing recommendation on LinkedIn from a high-ranking executive at our client’s HQ in the US, who flew out to SA for the launch of a big CSR initiative: “Paula – great to meet you last week – thanks for all your support for our event. I must say your speech writing talent is exceptional! I am very appreciative of the lengths you went to in preparing and the level of detail you included. I was super impressed. Perhaps our paths will cross again! Keep up the great work there in South Africa!” There’s not much that comes close to that warm, fuzzy feeling of one’s work being publicly acknowledged by a satisfied client.

• What’s your special skill?

Easy reading is damn hard writing. And I think the most valuable skill I bring to the table is being able to craft the most felicitous prose. I particularly enjoy writing op-eds, speeches, and human interest stories.

• Any additional comments you would like to add?

I feel like I have finally found my niche as a writer, and am incredibly grateful to Meropa for giving me the opportunity to do what I love for a living.