“South Africa can do more to support small businesses. As a country, we must give small businesses space to trade. We cannot complain about unemployment rates in the country whilst chasing small businesses away from economic hubs,” stresses Dr Evelyn Thsehla. Having recently obtained her PhD in Economics, she is all set to re-join academia to contribute towards building capacity in the area of health economics by mentoring young professionals like her who are entering this field.
Below, read more about her career, her hopes and her aspirations.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I have just completed my PhD in Economics. I have been working as a researcher for the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) for the past 10 years. I also have a master’s degree in Public Health from UP. Managing the review of the Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) project at CMS is one of my career highlights.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: Studying at UP has helped me a lot. I have just been appointed as a Research Director.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Your future is in your hands. Make the most of your stay at UP. Do not be afraid to ask for help from your fellow students and lecturers.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: I think passion for what one does, or sells, is a good foundation. I have read several books by successful businessmen like Elon Musk, Phil Knight and young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk.
One common theme I picked up from their journeys is that they are passionate about what they do. Running a business is not easy; when you do not like what you are doing, it is easy to give up along the way. Loving what you do is a good place to start.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: I do not have preference in terms of magazines and newspapers. I enjoy books, whether memoirs or educational books. I enjoy reading about success stories.
Some of the books I recently read, include:
Facebook: The Inside Story by Steven Levy
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
The Airbnb Story by Leigh Gallagher
Boardroom Dancing by Nolitha Fakude
Betting on a Darkie by Mteto Nyathi
Samsung Rising by Geoffrey Cain
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Making a difference inspires me. I live by the words of the late American President, John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: Elon Musk. I believe we live in different worlds and would like to understand his world and what inspired him to go on the journey that he has taken. I would also like to ask him if he can start an innovation hub in his hometown of Pretoria. South Africa has a lot of talented individuals who need mentoring. I believe we can start our own Silicon Valley right here in the city.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: I am re-joining academia. I would like to grow in my field of Health Economics. We have few health economists in the country, so I would like to contribute towards building capacity for our country. I would like to mentor young professionals like me who enter this field.
Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. In your opinion, how can South Africa best overcome its current economic woes and increasing joblessness?
A: South Africa can do more to support small businesses. In 2018, I spent five months in Thailand. One of the things I Googled about the country was the unemployment rate. I Googled this as everyone seemed to be selling something. It did not come as a surprise when I saw how low the figures were compared to ours. As a country, we must give small businesses space to trade. We cannot complain about unemployment rates in the country whilst chasing small businesses away from economic hubs.