In 2007 as I turned 50 I found myself at the end of a great season and grappling with what may come next. My children had left home, were both married and the work I was doing came to an end through the sale of the company I was working for. It was a time to end one season and grapple with what may be next? It was a scary place. I am sure there are many who reach this point in their lives. It was the combination of empty nest, aging and wanting to ensure that whatever I did next would be something I loved, paid the bills and gave me a reason to get up. I needed a new dream.
Dreams can take time and the building of what we hope for can be like sand castles. We spend time designing, learning, building and then can be wiped out by the current wave of the times. We all remember 2008 and what this did to the economy. We were also at the start of a new season of leadership in South Africa and ten years on we know how painful this fight has been. In my case I was also building a new business around longevity and positive aging. Working with a futurist, I understood what was coming but the market certainly was not ready. I banged my head against many corporate doors and was laughed out of many of them with responses that could have made me despondent.
In 2009 I decided to go back and study Social Entrepreneurship at GIBS. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn new things, engage with younger diverse leaders and spend time dreaming about how my model may be able to make a difference in South Africa. Refirement Network was born out of this experience and I left with the following big, hairy, audacious goal. What if I could influence 10% of the retiring talent to keep engaging in society for an extra five years to help transform South Africa through coaching, mentoring, serving and earning? This would equate to ONE MILLION years of transformation.
Models take time to build and need sustainability to keep them going. Many social entrepreneurs know the pain of knowing what they want to build, but not having the finances to sustain themselves while building. It is so easy to look at a successful entrepreneur without understanding the journey. My journey was no different. I did whatever I could, using capital I should not have touched, working long hours to make ends meet and eventually had to put aside my dream for a while to breathe. I took on a full-time job for five years to help get me out of the deep hole and to allow the market to catch up with what I could see on the horizon. Those five years were good years and I learned many lessons. A detour is not always a bad thing.
In 2016, I stepped back into writing my own salary cheque as I sensed that the market was starting to catch up again. I have spent the last two years re-building the brand of Refirement Network and my knowledge as a thought leader in this niche market. It is now much more evident that most of us do not have enough money for a long retirement and most also would prefer to keep using their skills, experience and talents daily as it brings a sense of purpose. Technology has changed the way we need to think about work and this is critical as it plays heavily in our favour. The challenge is that we just need to open our minds to understanding how.
In mid-2017 I entered a grant competition around my model of building a Skills Bank. There were 400 entries and I made it through to the top 20. At the end of the competition, 15 people with great ideas would each be funded over a two-year period to build their model, each receiving one million rand. I was hopeful and excited. Sadly, I was one of the 5 who did not win. Again, a feeling of despondency and a loss of my dreams.
The one intangible asset that I have been blessed with is great networks and relationships. After this disappointment a group of friends and fellow South Africans who believe in this dream of transformation joined hands and started designing what this process could look like. When people with a common vision come together and share their assets for collective good, dreams can become a reality.
On the 15th February as we celebrated the change in leadership with President Cyril Ramaphosa coming into power, we were opening the new bank account of this new business. The skills bank is going to be called 50Plus-Skills and will be a community platform for South Africans 50+ to serve, learn and earn. It is time for all South Africans young and old to come together with business, academia and civil society to help re-build our nation. Our new president said it best at the end of his State of the Nation address when he used the following words #SENDME.
The challenge of life is to stay focused, keep learning, praying and waiting for the right time. In this process we build character, skills and resilience for the journey.
This is a dream that God planted in my heart and he has equipped me. It is now time. It is now the right season. Join us on this journey. As we take hands we build a stronger nation, building capacity and strength into our children and our youth. Now is the time.
The website will be up shortly but, in the meantime, join us on