Tell us about yourself:
Name and Surname: Lizeka Gqumani
Qualification Details: BSc Honours in Botany,
Birthplace: Bizana, Eastern Cape
Current location: Roodepoort, Johannesburg
Occupation and Organisation: Manager, Environmental Education Centre, SANBI
Quote that motivates you at work: “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” ― David McCullough Jr.
- When you were younger, what did you think you’d become?
My father reckoned Civil or Mechanical Engineering would be perfect for me. Unfortunately he passed away when I was still in primary school and then I thought I would become a psychologist or pharmacist.
- Tell us about your career path. What steps did you take to get where you are?
While doing my environmental science course at the University of Zululand, I was part of a non-profit student organization, which gave students the opportunity to run projects aimed at uplifting communities. Post university, I got into the NRF internship programme and was placed at an environmental education centre. Following another internship programme, Groen Sebenza, I have worked as an environmental education officer, project coordinator and now manager for an education centre. While working full time, I also enhanced my knowledge and skills by completing business management and project management short courses.
- What influenced your career choice?
Initially, I would say it was simply my love for the outdoors. My favourite module in university was ecology because we got to go on field trips to see learn about plants and animals. Since being employed, I discovered a passion for skills development especially for youth. So imparting knowledge and equipping people with the skills to take better care of our environment is great.
- Did you know about this career when you were younger?
Not at all. I somehow registered for Biochemistry which I also didn’t know much about. Luckily, we were afforded the opportunity to select elective modules during my 1st and 2nd years and at 3rd year level, I had selected enough botany modules to be able to completely change my course to be Botany, which is what I ended up graduating for.
- Describe a typical work day?
I spend most days in the office putting plans in place to achieve the centre targets and also meeting with different stakeholders. I am also responsible for supervising and mentoring interns so I make sure to make time to support and guide their work. Some days I also get to take school groups on a guided tour of the garden.
- What makes your work exciting?
My work is a constant test of management/leadership skills and I enjoy the sense of responsibility that comes with it. Especially when things come together nicely.
- What makes your work challenging?
Ensuring that all targets are met with the budget at hand. I therefore need to be alert, pay attention to detail and overall have good tracking skills.
- If you had to pinpoint a defining moment in your career, what would that be?
It is the day I decided to change my course from Biochemistry to Botany. I was still unclear on a lot of things; the biggest one being what work opportunities were available for people who do Botany but do not want to be researchers? But I decided to follow my instincts anyway.
- When did you know for sure this career is for you?
Somewhere during the past 2 years when I realized that work was a happy place for me. I was also lucky to have manager/mentor whom I found to be so inspiring that I knew that I wanted to be in this sector, doing this type of work for a very long time.
- What do you wish you knew, before you started on this career path?
I wish I knew for sure what my interests were right from the beginning. I work hard but I think it is also by a stroke of luck that things have fallen into place and I am now doing what I truly love. I often imagine how life would be had I not been able to change my biochemistry degree.
- How does your current role fit into your career goals?
My career goal is to manage big projects/programmes in the conservation sector that go beyond just one province and involve upskilling youth. Amongst other things, my current role trains me in people & financial management, networking and good communication which I think are great skills to acquire as I trek towards my goal.
- What are your next steps? What do you still need to do to achieve your ideal work situation?
I have applied for a masters degree which I hope to be busy with for the next two years. I have absolutely no interest in going for a PHD so after masters, I plan on doing short courses relating to project management. For now, I will continue lapping up the practical work experience that I am currently getting and doing my best for the organisation.
- What career advice would you give to a young person?It is easier if your career interests are aligned with your personal interests. The industry is still short of young people that stand out from the rest, young leaders that have the skill, positive attitude and are driving conservation initiatives with great enthusiasm. Also keep your head in the game by taking advantage of every study opportunity available.
- Would you be willing to share your feature on all your social media platforms? If yes, which handles can we use to tag you?
Yes. Facebook: Lizeka Gqumani