Over the last few weeks I have had the privilege of profiling several Allan Gray Fellows, young men and women who have graduated from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme. You may remember the pieces I did on Akosua Koranteng, Douglas Hoernle and Kholofelo Moyaba. These Fellows have all gone on to start making their mark in the entrepreneurial and working worlds. My interactions with each of them have left me in awe and at times breathless at all they’ve already achieved. Mostly though I’ve walked away inspired, convinced anew that persistence pays off and that it will always be worth pursuing big dreams albethey different dreams as my most recent profile reveals.
Arushka Bugwandeen has always liked being different. Where some would jump at the opportunity to become an accountant or doctor she considered these roles too traditional for her. The thought of simply obtaining a qualification and working up the ranks in a profession was an unbearable one. She knew she could do more for society and the world than make a purely economic contribution.
This motivation to help others is one that runs deep. It is what drew her to apply for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s Fellowship Programme. And thanks to the Foundation’s entrepreneurial development, it now informs her general approach to life. “I am constantly thinking about transformation and opportunities to improve, develop and grow things,” she says.
When the opportunity came to improve, develop and grow the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, she availed herself. Like many of the other Fellows, she didn’t quite understand the purpose of the Association and so she wanted to change this. She has since been elected as president of the Association and explains that the essence of the Association is to start high-impact businesses and her role is to create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurial thinking. Once Fellows enter the working world it becomes more difficult for them to pursue entrepreneurship and while they are more than able to chart their own course, she understands the importance of facilitating that process.
Being president of the Association is the achievement Arushka is most proud of. “I think being a Fellow has opened doors in ways that no other affiliation has for me,” she explains and points out that the Foundation not only made it financially possible for her to study at the institution that was her first choice, the University of Cape Town, but also paved the way for her to pursue a Master’s degree at the Antwerp Management School in Belgium.
In Belgium she was able to use her Fellowship experience along with what she was learning in her Master’s programme in Management: Innovation and Entrepreneurship to compete in the Hult Prize Challenge 2013, a global innovation challenge that awards $1 million in seed capital to the winning idea. The contestants were challenged to tackle the topic of food security and were asked to create a business model that solves global food insecurity in five years. Arushka teamed up with four other class mates from around the world and together they came up with a model that entailed a system of buying in bulk that allowed patrons to purchase items at a significantly lower price and do so via sms. Their idea made it to the regional finals in London and has been documented and made available as open source.
In answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?” she responds somewhat controversially. She never wanted to be in this business, referring to consulting and the disparity between the value the industry adds and the profit it generates. Her current position as consultant in the sustainability and innovation space is what she terms ‘an experiment’, the results of which depend on whether or not she can add value. Swimming upstream and making career decisions contrary to what society expects is something that Arushka is very comfortable with. She says it’s easy to do “if I know that what I’m doing is the right thing.”
By her own admission she is headstrong and independent – both qualities she got from her dad. Growing up in the care of her father Aroon, in the small town of Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, instilled in her a sense of being an equal. He also showed her that it’s possible to overcome the most adverse circumstances. Despite a physical disability he leads a very normal life: driving, swimming & pursuing his trade, which is welding. Only by the time she was ten did she realise that he only had one leg.
Arushka believes that her role in society is to use her privilege to better the lives of others in the broader society, especially children. As such she aims to become involved in foundation-phase education and in helping people who face physical disabilities like her father to live a similarly fulfilling and self-sustaining life. It is with great pride that the Foundation recognises one of their Foundation Pillars in her. Her Spirit of Significance – the weight of personality that comes from living a life of passion and integrity; the recognition that personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order to serve others – is what will continue to make Arushka who she’s always wanted to be. Different.