Inspiration Session with Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

At our final Inspiration Session for 2018, we heard from Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. The session was hosted by Allan Gray and Professor Phakeng shared some interesting insights from her personal journey with us:

“I am a survivor”: Professor Phakeng opened the session describing herself as a survivor. She said that everything in her path was meant to stop her from being where she is today. Despite adverse conditions – poverty and hunger, disruptive schooling movements, etc. – Professor Phakeng was able to rise above.

Growing up: Professor Phakeng shared with us the influence her father had in her life. She described him as a visionary who believed firmly in the power of education. Professor Phakeng’s father was immensely proud of his children and often shared with members of their community at the time, that his children were the smartest in the township. This instilled in Professor Phakeng and her siblings a sense of self-belief, confidence and a passion for excellence.

Don’t follow trends: at university, Professor Phakeng always pursued what she was good at. She encouraged us to do the same – to be realistic about our abilities and to always play to our strengths.

Find your inspiration: inspired into academia by one of her lecturers at university, Professor Phakeng urged us to take inspiration from the excellence we encounter in our daily lives.

Deal with temporary discomfort: with the goal of achieving a PhD, Professor Phakeng returned to university in 1998, even though she had successfully launched her career as a project manager in the NGO space. Upon her return to university, Professor Phakeng took on the role of research assistant – this entailed tedious work such as making photocopies, collecting papers for researchers, making coffee, seeing to field trips, etc. Many of Professor Phakeng’s friends thought that this was a downgrade in her career, however, she saw it as “an opportunity to get into the game”. She encouraged us to swallow our pride and at times, deal with temporary discomfort in order to build long-term success.

Success is about the chances you take: Professor Phakeng reminded us that at any one time, we have the opportunity to make choices – “you choose what you want to do”, she said.  While some choices appear more glamorous than others, Professor Phakeng reminded us that they are not always sustainable and advised us to say “no” to short-term gratification.

Mentorship: regarding the importance of mentorship, Professor Phakeng said that choosing a mentor whose values and ethical choices you admire is key. She followed by speaking to the spirit of reciprocity and said that we should try to give, as much as we receive.

Have an agenda: Professor Phakeng encouraged us to have an agenda for our life’s progression. She said that if we don’t have an agenda, someone else will impose their agenda on us.

In closing, Professor Phakeng reminded us that we are enough and encouraged us to always show up as our authentic selves.

The evening ended with a lively Q&A and young professionals were inspired by Professor Phakeng’s personal journey and the insights she shared. We are looking forward to our next Inspiration Session in 2019 – please continue to visit our website for further details around our guest speaker.

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