Lockdown Lessons: Empowered people build empowered societies - Neliswa Nkani

Neliswa Nkani is the Hub Head – MEISEA at South African Tourism
Neliswa Nkani is the Hub Head – MEISEA at South African Tourism

The year 2020 has taught us several harsh lessons. Barely had we entered a new year with renewed hopes and expectations, when the global COVID-19 pandemic jolted all of us out of our comfortable ‘Normal’ zone and flung us into an uncertain world. Terms like lockdown, social distancing, quarantine, work from home, new normal, unprecedented times and the dreaded ‘R’ word – Recession – have become a part and parcel of our daily lives.

India is just emerging out of an over two-month lockdown – a period that has changed our lives, behaviours and the way we conduct business forever. The lessons that we have learnt during the lockdown period and our experiences during the year so far, will help us navigate a world that we had never imagined. Adgully’s latest endeavour – Lockdown Lessons – is an attempt to present the key learnings that India’s business honchos have learnt and imbibed, and which can help the industry navigate the new normal better.

Neliswa Nkani is the Hub Head – MEISEA at South African Tourism. During the lockdown imposed in her country, she is working out of a hotel in Johannesburg, while her team is based in India. Here, she talks about how she has adapted herself to the new normal and what the lockdown period has taught her.

What are key lessons you learnt as a professional during the lockdown period?

The lockdown owing to the global pandemic has been challenging for businesses at large. However, the one thing I am taking away from the experience is this – always put people first. In South Africa, we center our belief system around the principle, Umntu Ngumtu Ngabantu, which translates to ‘I am who I am because of others’. This calls us to look out for the community and each other. The safety of our colleagues, citizens, and potential visitors is top priority.

It has also provided me the opportunity to step of my comfort zone. I am big believer in the power of personal interactions – however, social distancing measures have pushed us to innovate. Everything from the way we interact within our teams, to the way we sell and promote South Africa has changed.

We have been using virtual tourism to promote destination South Africa. While travel is, and will always been about people and spontaneous experiences, virtual reality helps build aspiration and works as a really efficient destination brochure.

Please share some key takeaways in terms of life lessons during this period.

The lockdown has provided a lot more time and fodder for introspection. I have realised that we lose alignment in the daily hustle-bustle of life. I have been able to reorient and focus on all dimensions of personal wellness – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. Which means that I make conscious efforts to meditate, exercise more often, be mindful of my diet, read voraciously and spend quality time, albeit virtually, with friends and family.

I have also learnt to look within – we can only give what we have, so to make an impact on society we must first work on ourselves. Happiness is not too complicated or aspirational, and joy can be found in the smallest of things, if we remain purposeful and positive. Your mind is your only home – so keep feeding it with all things good!

How did you manage and achieve a work-life balance while working from home?

I was caught in between the travel restrictions imposed by the lockdown, so I have been working out of a hotel in Johannesburg, while my team is based in India. The time difference demands more flexibility than usual, and our markets and strategies now require more attention and guidance than ever. However, there is a simple mantra I follow – be present completely.

When I work – I give it my 100% and ensure there are no distractions. I have a space designated solely for work. When I am done for the day, I leave my workstation – both physically and mentally – to switch off and spend quality time with my son. He is back from Japan, where he works, so we take advantage of every moment we have together. He is – without doubt – my favourite companion, so it is fun to drum up creative meals together, binge watch Netflix and just be in each other’s presence. He also acts as my personal trainer, and is helping me achieve my fitness goals!

It has been more than two months since the lockdown was enforced. How is South African Tourism gearing up for the back-to-office mode?

Our India office is shut until further notice. The South African Tourism Head Office in Johannesburg now has an opt-in policy – where employees who want to use the office premises to work can do so, provided there are less than 50 people at a time. We have strict hygiene measures in place, and all employees are required to wear personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.

The office area and work stations are frequently disinfected; we have also set up sanitization stations every few meters. All employees are requested to sit a couple of meters apart.

South Africa is now in phase 3, and we have reinitiated limited domestic air travel for business purposes, with strict and effective guidelines to ensure safe and responsible travel.

Any lessons in financial management that you picked up during the lockdown period?

The pandemic has brought prominence to the economic inequality that exists across the globe. I am thankful to have a roof over my head and food on the table, and have learnt to give back to society, especially to those who live alone and are without means to support themselves at this point.

Empowered people build empowered societies, which form great nations and a happier world. We have to find ways to give back consistently, even if it is a little at a time.

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