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Vanie Bessick: A Woman Helping in Levelling The Playing Field in South Africa

Vanie Bessick and her husband were a great support for each other but sadly he died young, leaving Vanie to raise her young children alone and move from a low paid career in social work to becoming a businesswoman, at a very important time of development in a South Africa that was finding its way through transformation after the end of Apartheid. Vanie has been making her own valuable contribution in shaping important legislation and advising organisations on how best to make the changes for the greater social good. She is a good example of the “social entrepreneur” as you will discover here.

Vanie, as a woman and as a businesswoman, what are the differences between them?

Fundamentally, in the business world I remain who I am as a person and as a woman. This is my charm. Of course, there are times that I find the need to exercise my assertiveness and strength of character more powerfully, to make certain points heard and acted upon, to the largely male headed organisations that I work within.I am asking them to do things that they are not necessarily willing to do, but they must, to do business effectively and profitably in South Africa.

My skill in working with men was really developed long before this however, when I became the first ever woman in South Africa to sell exterior wall coating. (I resigned from Child Welfare for a period back there, which in hindsight was divinely ordained).

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My counterparts here were male and were furious that my boss had hired me. I turned out to be the highest commission earner, and Ulrik, my late husband, left his job at the Dept. of Educationand joined me. We generated the most money we ever earned at the time in this manner. I tell everyone that we had a two-year honeymoon just before he died, because we only went out to meet people in the evenings and on a Saturday. Maybe God as a compassionate God gave us that before he took Ulrik back home.

Do you remember your earlier years and what difficulties you faced?

Let me say upfront that my mother, Kanchan Chetty, has been the greatest role model and inspiration in my life. She had a Grade 3 education, because she was the eldest and had to take care of a line of siblings that came after her. However, in this time, she taught herself to sew, so that she could make underwear and clothes for herself and her siblings. My mother, a Hindustani speaking woman,was not allowed to marry a Telegu speaking man, my father, the happy-go-lucky, handsome, well-dressed, loving man that everybody loved!.So, she left her home in rebellion and married Pat Chetty. What a love story that is!

Using her sewing skills, my mother began to sew for other people to supplement my father’s income. Eventually she started her own dress making business (LVN Dressmakers) and eventually also became a trainer/teacher at an Occupational College, teaching dress making. Oh my … how precious it was when she would come to us girls when preparing her lessons, to check if her spelling and sentence construction is correct.

My older sister and I, in particular, watched both with fear and pride how brave my mother was.When my father was out late at night, and people came banging on our door, Ma would stand with a panga/bush-knife in defense of us, and chase these would be thieves coming up from the bushes on the hill below us, with a firm voice that she will kill anybody who comes in. They never got through that door. ????

Oh my … how it pained my heart to give up practicing social work after Ulrik died. I just could not raise my children on a social worker’s salary. It was easier when Ulrik was alive. I made the decision then to upskill myself, and through the help of a friend’s referral, I became head trainer at a company called Lead The Field Africa. I am eternally indebted to Mr. Frikkie van Kraayenberg for giving me this opportunity and training me, particularly on how to accelerate learning, and how the brain learns best.

I then began to train others using these methodologies. It was a great loss to our country when Mr. Van Kraayenberg chose to shut down the company, because he was getting much older. I told him then, that if I had been his daughter, I would help him run the organisation. Nevertheless, he left behind a brilliant legacy. He was instrumental in training countless previously disadvantaged people, many of whom were women, to become Facilitators of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET). He put into my hands the opportunity of following a different career path if I chose to. I remain eternally grateful.

How can you describe your work as a transformation consultant?

Transformation in South Africa required us to begin ‘levelling the playing field’ as it were, amongst all the races and genders. Various legislations were passed to bring this to fruition. The legislation that I work with in all economic sectors to bring about compliance, are the Employment Equity(EE)Act, The Skills Development (SD) Act,& The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Act.

The B-BBEE Act helped organisations to align, in particular, their Equity Ownership (EO), EE and SD plans and actions in a manner that was relevant to the growth of the people. Except for the Defense Force and Intelligence Agencies, all other organisations, including non-profit ones, should comply. No organisation would be fined if they did not comply, however, because of “Preferential Procurement” standards in the B-BBEE Codes, fewer and fewer companies would use their services, except in cases where they are the only provider or supplier in the country.

The B-BBE Act has truly, in my view, given women the opportunity, like at no other time in our country, to begin to take on significant leadership positions in the workplace/organisations, and it has given us the courage to become businesswomen in our own right. It is very deeply fulfilling for me to be instrumental in making this happen.

My role here is to help companies/organisations to craft a strategy for B-BBEE that will align itself to their business objectives and goals. I find less resistance to the process, as a result. I have also given talks on transformation in South Africa on public platforms.

Between a social worker, a network marketer, and a trainer, which do you most relate to?

Whatever I do, I always aim to do it to the best of my ability, and if I need further ability (knowledge, skills and attitude) to move on, I will pay for it and gain it; and I would be damned if there is very valuable free training anywhere that I need, and I miss it! “Lockdown” for this very reason has been like ‘manna from heaven’ for me, with the valuable training provided to us by Success Resources and Global Woman Club. They brought The Best into our homes … what a privilege! I have been and am a lifelong learner. I am an avid reader also. Having said that, social work is my vocation. Growing people is my calling, and as long as I believe in something and know it works to grow people, I will market and sell it to them, if that is the only way for them to get the value of the thing(s) they need, tangible of intangible.

What has made you most proud?

On a personal level, my children and my grandchildren are my biggest pride. My husband, Ulrik Bessick, died when we were both only 32 years old. I brought up my children (5 and 7 years of age) alone and did not use marrying a “Man as my Plan B”. Our family was our strength and support, even when I messed up, which I did do for a period after Ulrik’s tragic death.

On a social work level locally: Following the research I undertook in my fourth year of social work study, my greatest pride is having established the first ever Home Finding Units for Children in need of care in South Africa… Specifically in Durban and Kwazulu Natal, initially, and thereafter in Johannesburg, Gauteng, while working at the Child & Family Welfare Society in these Provinces.

As a result of the latter development, I took the lead in establishing the Foster Care Forum of South Africa, that would set much needed standards for the screening and selection of “Alternative Care Families” when children had to be removed urgently from their care-givers, and to prevent secondary neglect/abusein alternate care.

Furthermore, I, and a group of other women, in July 2005, had the privilege of working with the then South African President Thabo Mbeki’s wife, Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, on a project/programme in Johannesburg called “South African Women in Dialogue”. This was the programme that allowed us all to gain a greater insight into the varying cultures and needs of “The RainbowWomen” of our Country.

On a social work level internationally: I, together with my social work supervisor, the late Mrs. Ester Maharaj, were selected to be part of a group of social workers from around the world via an organisation based in the UK known as Knowledge Interchange. We had the privilege of assisting and guiding President Mikhail Gorbochev of the then Soviet Union, and his relevant teams, in Moscow, Leningrad and Riga in Latvia, to begin developing an appropriate “Social Development System” that would help their society to deal with the serious social problems/issues that were being faced, a disastrous legacy of two world wars.

I experienced my very first International Women’s Day in Leningrad, back in March 1990. All of us women in the group felt and were treated like the “Queen of our Countries”… an exhilarating, fulfilling and unforgettable time of my Life. Needless to mention all the latter had to happen in a somewhat clandestine manner because South Africa was still under the rule of the Apartheid Regime at the time.

What is the advice you always give to your girls, friends, and all women?

Live one’s life all the time in full awareness, consciously, not accidentally.

Take at least 15 to 20 minutes each day, morning and evening, to sit with your eyes closed and remain in silence, or use the ‘AUM VIBRATION’. Your mind will wander, yes. Regard each thought as a release of a stress bundle and keep on repeating the vibration, if using one. Exercise one’s body daily for a minimum of 15 minutes. (I practice simple yoga and meditation daily and do not eat red or pink meat anymore. My body is so much lighter and healthier.

I take turmeric and neem powder to clean my system first thing in the morning, and to keep all the bad cells away from having any kind of meeting).????; Take care of the skin on your face and neck especially.

Be yourself, grow yourself, stand up for yourself, never doubt yourself, love yourself, forgive yourself for the mistakes you make along the way, and forgive others for the things they do or say to you. I read somewhere that ”Forgiveness is like the perfume released by the Jasmin Flower, when you tramp on it”.

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