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  • Writer's pictureEmzingo|U



This article is part of a series written by Emzingo-U alumni to offer a first hand testimony of their experiences during our university programs.

After graduating from McGill University with a Bachelor of Commerce and competing as a Varsity synchronized swimmer, Isaline pursued a Master in Management at IE Business school. There she joined the Impact Learning Trek in South Africa, as part of her program’s global immersion component. As of September 2018, she will be working as a technology consultant at Deloitte in Montreal.  This is her personal story.

Purpose: the beginning of it all

As someone who has always been struggling to find a purpose to what I was doing with my life, social entrepreneurship is a topic that drove me towards the Global Immersion Week as part of my Master in Management at IE Business School, in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the Emzingo program.

On top of personal gains of self-development, fun, and pursuing my own education within my degree, going on this trip was truly the cherry on top of my master’s degree and mostly gave me this sense of purpose that I encountered from the start of the pre-sessions, to give something back and have an impact, even the smallest, on someone, and get closer to the type of leader I aspire to become.

Learning to learn

During this one week long program, my most valuable learning experience is that I was not there to volunteer or help out in a material way, but I was here to learn from the people I met. And I learned so much. I learned that these growing entrepreneurs in South Africa have so much drive and willingness to learn, something we tend to take as granted in our environment. They were so eager to learn from us on how to build business models and generate value creation from their ideas. We were not there to create ideas for them or change their ideas, because only South Africans know what their problems are and only they could solve these problems in the best way possible. “Change comes from home”, as we were taught there.

I valued the openness and the friendliness of the people/leaders I met, this invisible human bond, from entrepreneurs to spaza shop owners to township inhabitants to random strangers. I valued the astonishing emotions that emerged within our group as we faced the reality of this country’s past and present, knowledge that we had never been exposed to and that made me feel ashamed of the way humanity could behave. It was truly reinforcing to witness how the people of South Africa are currently standing back up and fighting for a better future. There is still a long way to go and I truly identified with this path that South Africa is following, from intense suffering and emotions to human self-identification to hoping and fearing for what will happen in the future. What is concretely happening to this country is happening to every human mind on the inside. This made me realize that I should value not only every other human being and what they are going through, but every single external factor that may come into account contextually. I learned to focus on finding out what it is that I do not know, instead of always spreading out my current knowledge, as if I already knew it all.

A wholesome evolution of myself 

And that is, to me, one of my greatest personal achievements. On top of that, it became easier for me to open up to the people of South Africa, to even have fun with little kids, ask questions to the speakers, and actually speak up. I feel like I developed conversational and communication skills with a nation that I knew nothing about and people I had never met. Coming from a family and a culture that is always suspicious of strangers, I surprised myself by going on a run with a group of social runners that I met randomly, or joining this classical symphony orchestra representation because we met a war veteran. There is so much outside of the planned schedule that I noticed, experienced and thus, felt the trip as a wholesome evolution of myself, without even acknowledging it, until I told myself, “wow, this is crazy, this is so interesting, and so much fun”. It was not just about me but the way I developed and acted also impacted the rest of my group and the people I met along the way. They wanted to learn as much as I became more and more curious about their journey, whether it be personal or professional.

Understanding true leadership

From what I know and what I learned in South Africa, I can define a responsible leader as someone who makes decisions that are beneficial to all stakeholders who are part of the context, and looking for win-win situations. It is someone very adaptive and a good listener, especially in our fast-paced world where everyone wants to speak, instead of listening to get a better understanding of what is actually going on. A responsible leader is human, not afraid of failure and makes mistakes along the way while making the most out of them. He or she is also respectful and a team player that takes into account other people’s ideas, thoughts and feelings. A responsible leader has a sense of purpose supported by a strategy towards a desired outcome by not only him or her, but by most stakeholders. A responsible leader will keep struggling to align people’s interests and keep cool. A responsible leader can also act from behind the scenes and delegate to the best people for the job. He or she is not looking for glory, but for the right thing.

To all aspiring leaders out there

The best advice I can give you is to learn to forget what you know to make space for new learnings and not be afraid of taking upon challenging, even scary, adventures, because they can teach you so much, if you listen closely.

About the author

Isaline was part of a 2018 Impact Learning Trek in South Africa while doing her Master in Management at IE Business School.  She is a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University and competed as a Varsity synchronized swimmer. As of September 2018, she will be working as a technology consultant at Deloitte in Montreal.  

About Impact Learning Treks

Our Impact Learning Treks inspire students to discover the field of social entrepreneurship and responsible leadership in a new country over their semester breaks. During these one to two week trips, students continuously learn through in-country academic sessions and multiple field visits focused around sustainability, CSR, impact-investing, and interactions with social entrepreneurs/enterprises in Peru, South Africa, Brazil, USA, or Spain.

About Emzingo-U alumni series

Written by Emzingo-U alumni, this series offers a first hand testimony of our alumni’s experiences during their university programs. The opinions expressed in these articles are the author’s own and do not reflect the official view of Emzingo.

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