This trauma affects everything, including in the way that candidates prepare and present themselves for interviews. There’s a marked increase in aggression, disappointment and despair.
The question was, what could we do about it? We are a proud South Africa company, that punches well above its weight against far bigger executive talent search companies, many of them foreign based multinationals. We’ve lifted as we have risen; providing training and creating jobs outside of our own business, like the time we trained 1,000 young adults in data capturing who all went on to secure permanent jobs.
We have funded artists who’ve won international acclaim. We have given opportunities to young graduates starting their careers who used as a springboard to incredible achievement later in life. And then there is my colleague, Lucia Mabasa, our manging director. She was one of those young graduates. I had the privilege of mentoring and training her. Twelve years ago, she occupied her current role.
When we started our company, Cathy O’Dowd was about to become the first woman in the world to summit Everest from north and south, Thabo Mbeki was about to become president; state capture wasn’t even a word in the dictionary. Today, 23 years later, as we reflected on who we are, where we’ve come from and what we’ve experienced, that question burned: how could we mark this milestone in the most fitting way?
The answer was a little 3D-printed plastic frog. You can read plenty into the choice of the animal: it’s tiny but plays a critical role in the ecosystem; it can jump 20 times its own height. It’s an indicator of just how well or badly the planet is doing because it lives on land and in water. None of that was what got us excited, rather it was the story of a young man in the UK who was printing these in his bedroom and then taking them to school, hiding them all over – first as a prank – and then as a token of care and of love.
His name is James Balkwill. He was born here but then moved to England with his family when he was very young. Earlier this year, he hid a frog in a parcel that they were sending to a family friend, Stephanne Erasmus in South Africa. I’m a friend of that family friend and I saw the absolute delight when Stephanne found the frog.
But his delight was nothing compared to mine, when I found out what the whole purpose of the frog was. When Stephanne went across to the UK afterwards to visit his friends, I asked him to bring back some frogs, which I wanted to give out to friends, family, staff and clients – as our own token. The response was phenomenal. These are tiny little tokens. They fit in your pocket or sit unobtrusively on the edge of your keyboard on your computer, but their meaning is profound. They tell you that that you aren’t alone, that someone cares for you and thinks of you – enough to give you a frog.
We started our own campaign #LoveMeLoveMyFrog. People named their frogs. One called hers Stella, because she’s in the process of getting her groove back and the frog reminds that if she falls seven times, she gets up eight. Another has named theirs Thabang, which is seSotho for happiness, to remind them to be happy, despite the ravages that Covid-19 has wrought. A third staff member named theirs Blackberry, not after the phone brand but in homage to the iconic Tupac and his song, Keep Ya Head Up: “Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots.”
You put your own interpretation onto your frog, it’s part of the gift of receiving it. You can name it, it can go home with you or it can just stay at the office as a reminder that you are resilient, you are a survivor and that you will flourish. What we’ve done now is to take the concept one step further and start making our own frogs. We are an executive talent search company, not a manufacturing one, so we are collaborating with a South African 3D printer and distributing them to people in our networks, as well as encouraging others to do it themselves with people who mean something to them.
When James was talking to Stephanne about the project in his home in England this year, he said it would be wonderful if he could get his frog into every country in the world. Well, we want to do that in South Africa and in other countries in Africa where have clients like Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, but with our own message.
Getting a frog won’t change the world – yet. But it might change a life and, in the process, start to rebuild faith in this incredible project called South Africa; a dream that was birthed amid so much hope, but is now a young adult in an increasingly fractured and fractious world, here at home and abroad. If we can do that then we’ve stayed true to what we set out to do all those years ago on Worker’s Day 1999.