Call it social empowerment, call it ‘spreading the love’, call it what you will – there is no doubt that what we are doing is changing lives

An article that appeared in Homecoming Revolution a while back.

Nicci Annette Yoga With Nicci (1)

Name: Nicci Cloete Annette

Age: 39

Home Country: South Africa

Country returned from: UK and USA

Years lived abroad: 10

Occupation: Marketing & Operations Manager for TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za), a non-profit organisation that supports township tradesmen build up their own businesses and break through the barriers to financial independence; Owner and Yoga Instructor at Yoga With Nicci, a private yoga studio in Stellenbosch.

What made you decide to return home and start a business?

I only ever intended to leave South Africa for 2 years and so didn’t even bother applying for the ancestral visa that I qualified for, instead going straight for the working holiday visa. At the end of the two years however I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet as I realised there was so much more I wanted to see and do – plus the small matter of having met my now-husband from Northern Ireland. We got married a few years later and after 8 years in London, moved to the west coast of America where he had the opportunity to open an office for the UK-based software company he worked for.

By this time I was already yearning to return home but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss out on and we spent two wonderful years out there, however when we were told by two independent medical specialists that we would never be able to have children on our own, we decided to try the IVF route and that South Africa was the right place to do it – from a financial perspective but more specifically because of the support back here from my family and our mutual friends. My husband had fallen in love with SA during our many trips back home and so it was with great excitement and a fair amount of trepidation that we returned early in 2008. As it turned out (and it seems like it often does work out this way), the moment we stopped focusing on me falling pregnant, it just happened naturally and so when we touched down at Cape Town International, I was almost 3 months pregnant, and we had not a job between us, no place to live, but a firm belief that we were in the right place, and that as uncertain as the future seemed, we trusted the process to unfold just as it should.

Another thing that appealed to both of us hugely and made us choose to settle in SA rather than return to the UK – aside from the obvious like the weather, lifestyle, social networks that we’d both built up here – is the way in which we’d seen our friends carve out real niches for themselves in the business world and seeing how they seemed to be managing to find a balance between work and play.  Unlike London where it seemed like almost everyone was ‘working for the man’, in South Africa we had friends who were doing their own thing – one running a successful flower export business, another his own design agency, another a play group for small kids and new mums, another her own architectural landscape company, and so on. There were others in more conventional jobs too of course, but these people also seemed to be finding a way to make a comfortable living whilst taking advantage of all that our incredible country has to offer.

Having spent hours commuting to and from work each day and knowing how ludicrously expensive childcare is the UK was also a major factor in our decision – we hoped that South Africa would offer us an opportunity to spend as much time as possible with our little ones, rather than having to work every hour of the day in order to finance a crèche for them to grow up in.

What company do you work for and what do you do there? If you are an entrepreneur, tell us about your business.

I have two part-time jobs: first and foremost, I work for a brilliant non-profit organisation called TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za) which supports township tradesmen by helping them to market their businesses and ultimately to break through the barriers to financial independence.  As I currently only work part-time, this allows me to keep teaching yoga on the side at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch (my second job), but we are confident that we will shortly be receiving some more funding that will enable me and the founding director, Josh Cox, to both work fulltime for TRADE-MARK. The concept is Josh’s brainchild – his friend Simon, from the township of Diepsloot, was struggling to secure regular work despite being an expert tiler. By providing Simon with business cards and a written reference, he was suddenly able to secure contracts of up to R30 000. It became clear that with added credibility and a few marketing resources, high-quality tradesmen from the townships were able to secure significantly more business.  I met Josh when I worked at WWF South Africa when I first arrived back in SA, and from the first day he told me about what he envisaged for TRADE-MARK, I was hooked. He went about making it a reality and after having my two (miracle) children and qualifying as a yoga teacher, when Josh approached me to come on board I leapt at the opportunity.

My job entails helping to hand-pick the best township tradesmen: individuals with initiative and drive, who communicate well and already have experience in dealing with customers, and then helping them to market themselves sufficiently to secure on-going work and to keep growing their businesses.

In terms of setting up my own yoga business, I was extremely fortunate in that my parents allowed me to use a space at their home which lent itself perfectly to being transformed into a yoga studio, which meant that I didn’t have the burden of paying rent when first starting out as a teacher. Initial outlays financially included transforming the space into a studio and paying for a website, and it was slow going at the beginning to get people through the studio doors, but what with regular blogging and use of social media to get my website picked up by the search engines, I now have a regular stream of students and as of a year ago, have a second teacher offering classes at the studio. You’ll never get rich as a yoga teacher, but it’s hugely rewarding, I love what I do, and it’s something that I hope to continue doing on the side line for as many years as I’m able, as we continue to grow TRADE-MARK.

What’s the hardest bit about doing business in SA?

I found it quite an adjustment initially upon returning in terms of the speed at which things happen. I used to work in the murky world of recruitment in London where it was 1000km an hour, with very little pause for breath. I used to find it frustrating (and still do sometimes) at how much slower things can seem to happen here, not just in terms of the pace at which things get turned around but also technically and logistically: the comparatively slow speed of the Internet and even the erratic electricity supply when we first arrived back could really make it challenging to get a full day’s work done at times.

Another thing that I find very hard is to be confronted on a daily basis with the shocking prejudices that still exist in South Africa, and the stark disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’.

What’s the easiest bit?

Switching off the computer, stepping outside into the magnificent Africa sunshine, taking a deep breath and giving thanks for being able to call such a stunning part of the world ‘home’. I also love the fact that it’s a lot less formal than the UK dress-wise – what a pleasure to be able to work in an office where people are wearing plakkies and jeans rather than the obligatory black suit! 

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of returning home and starting a business / finding work?

Do your homework – research what business opportunities exist in your area of expertise, chat to people here who are doing something similar about what they have learnt, what they’ve done right and wrong, and what they’d do differently.  Also, really check out the cost of living here – we did our homework in this regard and even so have found that it’s significantly more expensive than we anticipated. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the turn-around in securing a job is possibly going to be slower than you may envisage, and if your partner isn’t from here, make sure you’ve got all their paperwork in order before you come back – and pay for professional help with anything bureaucratic if you can afford it – tax, immigration etc.

How are you making a difference back in your home country?

At the risk of sounding clichéd and twee, it’s an absolute privilege to be back in South Africa, using the skills I’ve gained along the way to help to uplift people from my community who’ve not had the same opportunities granted to me. It’s not rocket science and I am so aware that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but basic things like using my experience of sales and marketing to help to pull jobs for our tradesmen, or like simply having access to the Internet, a printer and a car to help the guys put together and deliver professional quotes – these things are making a massive and tangible difference to the small group of tradesmen that we work with, as well as their extended families.  Call it social empowerment, call it ‘spreading the love’, call it what you will – there is no doubt that what we are doing is not only improving the individual tradesmen’s financial situations, but giving them hope for the future. We are so excited about what lies ahead for the organisation and about our imminent funding coming through – and this all feeds into the communities that the guys come from, creating ripples of hope, positivity and garnering a can-do attitude.

What is your opinion on what the Homecoming Revolution is doing?

Helping to reverse the brain drain by encouraging South Africans to tell their stories about coming home in an honest and non-biased way – although if you are truly and proudly South African, you will always be a little bit biased about all that this beautiful country has to offer.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s….. Derryn!

I’m delighted to announce that a new instructor is joining my yoga studio in Stellenbosch, starting this week!

Derryn Searle is a beautifully positive person whose smile lights up every room she walks into. Some of her passions are yoga, music and teaching, and she particularly shines when the three are combined in her classes. Derryn trained at Yoga Life in Cape Town and offers a wonderfully energising Vinyasa flow style that will get you moving and a spring into your step, strengthening the body while calming the mind.

What this means for the studio at Yoga With Nicci is that there are more classes on offer, and you will be able to choose between two different instructors/styles. Try us both out to see what resonates better with you! Or just pick and choose, depending on your schedule.

Contact me for more info about the new class schedule, fees etc.

And in her own words, here is what led our radiant new instructor to yoga:

Derryn Searle – What led me to yoga

When I look back on my life, discovering yoga has been the most natural progression for me. My journey as a young adult began with my passion for ballet and music as I was growing up, which culminated in my studying music at university and becoming a musician and teacher. After having taught music for many years in Durban, I arrived in Stellenbosch 8 years ago with new ideas and dreams of opening my own décor store, Cocoon. This was a wonderfully creative and busy time in my life learning how to run a business along with being a mother, and getting to know people in Stellenbosch.

At the same time, I started practising yoga in Stellenbosch first with Johan Kotze  and Ina Gerber who introduced me to Iyengar Yoga, and later for many years with Adele George. I fell in love with yoga and the wonderful sense of well-being and calmness that I felt after every class, and soon it became very much part of my daily life. Practising yoga has transformed my life, cultivating strength, stillness and endurance in my body, steadiness and calmness in my mind, and a wonderful lightness of being!

My regular practice of yoga brought me to the realization that I wanted to teach yoga and train as a yoga teacher, which made perfect sense as I have always loved teaching.

Earlier this year I completed my YTT 200 Hr Teacher’s Training with Yogalife in Cape Town. Trained by Marley Vigdorth from Denver U.S.A. and Dave Porter, owner of Yogalife, we were trained to teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga which is a steady flowing sequence of connected yoga postures linked with the breath. This is an exhilarating yet calming yoga, usually accompanied by beautiful and inspiring music, and appeals to all ages. It helps focus the mind, improves posture and alignment, builds strength, stamina and flexibility, and releases stress, bringing balance and healing in our lives. On and off the mat, yoga feeds body and soul.

I am so looking forward to joining Nicci and teaching yoga with her in her beautiful studio in Stellenbosch. Hope to see you there!

Spring has sprung and there is a buzz in the air….

…and it’s not just the bees humming about all the gorgeous jasmine that has suddenly come into bloom or even an extended Brahmari pranayama session. No, there is a buzz around my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch that is getting louder and louder, in the most exciting manner possible! Let me explain…

I’ve been conspicuously absent from my blogging over the last while, and it’s because I’ve had the incredible fortune and privilege to become involved in a non-profit called TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za) that a former colleague from my WWF days (World Wide Fund for Nature, not the wrestling crew) – Josh had the idea a number of years back and has recently got some funding to set up a website and get things really moving forward, and we are currently in the process of waiting to hear from DG Murray Trust as to whether a proposal for funding that we lodged with them, will come through. It’s an agonising wait, especially because it is going to determine whether or not I will be getting paid a salary! I will be the first paid member of staff and so it’s a really big deal to all of us. More about TRADE-MARK in a bit…

Anyway, I’ve committed a set number of hours a week to Josh and TRADE-MARK, and what with that, the usual time pressures that come with having two small children and also trying to keep up with my regular yoga classes that I teach in Stellenbosch, there’s not been much time left over for blogging. I love every one of my three ‘jobs’ (as mentioned above) but I really have been feeling increasingly that something needs to give. I wasn’t quite sure how or when or what it would look like, but I did know that I wanted to keep up with all three of them – a real juggling act, and one in which I didn’t want to drop any of the balls. So I started putting it out there (as the cliche goes) – the fact that I was very open to any form of help, support, helping to share the commitments or to take a bit of pressure off.

And wow, did the Universe listen! Literally, in the last few days, things have been falling into place in the most wonderful way possible. I can’t go into too much detail now as I’m still finalising things, but there are going to be some very exciting developments coming to Yoga With Nicci in the next while. I will keep you all posted – watch this space!

TRADE-MARK

Just a bit more about this phenomenal non-profit, as promised: TRADE-MARK is a non-profit organisation (registered as a Trust) that connects the best tradespeople – tilers, pavers, painters, carpenters – in the townships in the Helderberg basin with those who require their services. We have a rigorous selection process and a performance monitoring system that ensures both accountability and the highest quality service.

The idea was conceived by Joshua Cox in 2007.  Simon, a friend from the township of Diepsloot (an expert tiler/paver) was struggling to secure regular work. By providing Simon with business cards and a written reference, he was suddenly able to secure contracts of up to R30 000. It became clear that with added credibility and a few marketing resources, high-quality tradesmen from the townships were able to secure significantly more business.
There are many skilled tradespeople, just like Simon, living in the townships in South Africa. Marketing opportunities for these individuals are basically non-existent because of the lack of resources. Most of these tradespeople are sub-contracted to do work, intermittently. Others advertise their services on cardboard placards, or compete with numerous other tradespeople on the roadside for casual work. Some tradesmen, against all odds, have managed to secure jobs directly with customers and have established their own businesses, sub-contracting and finding their own work through word of mouth, handing out flyers, or advertising on Gumtree.
We hand-pick the best of these tradesmen: individuals with initiative and drive, who communicate well, and already have experience in dealing with customers but are not able to market themselves sufficiently to secure ongoing work.
Our vision is a South Africa in which people’s quality of life is determined more by hard work, diligence and integrity than the economic situation they are born into, that these qualities are recognised and rewarded and not masked by people’s preconceptions, that members of our society lead by example and play an active role in bettering this country, and that the gap between the rich and poor is continually being narrowed.
Our mission is to handpick highly skilled and diligent tradesmen (painters, pavers, tillers and carpenters) who live in townships around Somerset West, invest in them as leaders and role models in their communities (through additional skills training, create marketing opportunities for them to grow their individual businesses, and to encourage South Africans to become proactive in improving our country by offering them attractive choices to spend their money in the communities most in need.
Check out the website http://www.trade-mark.co.za to see how easy and straightforward it is to post a job. Just a few clicks and you’re there, and you will then be contacted by a skilled, vetted tradesman who will give you a free quote. Once the price is agreed, there is a simple contract to be signed by both parties, and after the job is done, you will be able to give feedback which we will share with the tradesman in question. Our tradesmen are top-notch guys who communicate well, run their own ‘businesses’ and who know that their reputati0n in what is going to take them forward in life.
It’s a brilliant concept, especially in this day and age where everyone is complaining about the lack of employment in South Africa, but it seems that not very much is being done about it. I have met some of the guys already, and look forward to meeting them all in time, and they are inspirational in terms of how they have risen about their circumstances and are achieving such success. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a bleeding heart charity, trying to give handouts – we are a middle man to help these entrepreneurs market themselves a bit better and to just get a little bit of a boost. We actively dis-incentivise them to become reliant on us to keep providing them with jobs – to avoid us being solely reliant on donor funding and also to empower the tradesmen, we charge them a 10% fee of whatever they quote for a job, but this is only for the first job – anything they get off the back of that first job is all theirs. Such is the calibre of our guys that we have had them insisting on giving us the 10% even for jobs that they got off the back of subsequent jobs (for example, Johannes from Sir Lowry’s Pass Village who did such a great job of painting a house that the guy’s neighbour asked him to do his own- Johannes was so appreciative of our initial lead that he insisted we take the 10%. We had to argue hard but we did it and he kept the full fee!)
We have got through the first two steps of the application process, and hopefully it’s just a matter of time before we get the good news that we’ve got the funding and we can really run with this. I am absolutely confident that it’s going to happen, because the way that things have been working out with my yoga studio just seem to be clearing the way for me to continue doing something that I love so much (teaching yoga in beautiful Stellenbosch) whilst also being able to really add value to TRADE-MARK, and still having the flexibility to be present and engaged with my little ones. Even as I write that, I can’t believe how beautifully things are lining up. Eternally grateful.

Yoga being used in the Scottish Premier League?

I was fascinated to note that both the Glasgow Evening Times and the Belfast Telegraph have carried a story in the past 24 hours about yoga being the secret to the success of one of Celtic Football Club’s players in recent matches.

Celtic is a Scottish football club based in the Parkhead area of Glasgow, and currently plays in the Scottish Premier League. The club was established in 1887 and their home stadium, Celtic Park,  is the biggest football stadium in Scotland, with a capacity of 60,832.

How does a yoga teacher/infant massage instructor know all this stuff about footie, and Scottish football in particular? Because I have the dubious honour of being married to a Northern Irishman (The Band) who spent 10 years in Glasgow, and who has inherited his family’s passion for Celtic’s rival team, Rangers.

I have never been particularly interested in football, far preferring rugby (or watching paint dry) to the excrutiatingly bad acting that the players indulge in when they have an ankle tapped or a nudge in the ribs by an errant elbow. Okay, so it’s all about birthright, and I respect the fact that The Band is as passionate about his Rangers as I am about our Bokke. And over the years (and through The Band’s eyes), I have come to appreciate ‘The Beautiful Game’, especially after he took me to a few live matches while we lived in London. I have learnt to appreciate the skill, the history, the heritage, the rivalry, the incredibly sacred place that it holds in many people’s hearts. I still am dumbstruck by the mind-boggling amounts of money that change hands between clubs as players are bought and sold, and I simply loathe the thuggery, hooliganism, racism and (particularly in the Scottish Premier League) the sectarianism that is, sadly, so often associated with the game and its fans, but each to his own. I have learnt to bite my tongue.

‘The Old Firm’, as Celtic and Rangers are collectively known, is one of the most fierce and famous rivalries in sport, and the players are ‘lads’ lads’, to put it mildly. So imagine my surprise when I read that they are using yoga to help their game! I am loving the fact that I have a whole bunch of guys coming to my yoga classes at my studio in Stellenbosch – some real ‘manne’ – and that perhaps, slowly, it is coming to be more accepted and accessible to our hairy brothers, but to hear that it is being a) used and b) publicised at this high level of professional sport is really quite exciting to me.

According to one article, Celtic’s goalkeeper Fraser Forster has attributed his fine form in Celtic’s 11-match unbeaten run to yoga. Forster made a vital penalty save in December during a match against Hearts (another Scottish team), and he reckons it’s all thanks to yoga.  His goalkeeper coach, Steve Woods, has been punting the benefits of the practice, and Forster comments: “I think the lads who have done it have really felt the benefits from it. Yoga has really caught on in recent years, especially goalkeeping-wise. Brad Friedel does a lot of it and he’s still playing in his 40s. Shay Given does it quite a lot too and he’s in great shape at 35″.

Besides the fact that I feel disgruntled by his apparent surprise that someone aged 35 can be in great shape, I find it very interesting that even in this testosterone-fuelled, competitive environment, the benefits of this age-old practice are being felt. Forster goes on to say: “It’s just a case of improving your flexibility and it’s brilliant for a goalkeeper. Stretching that extra inch might make a big difference. It’s something I find beneficial and I enjoy it.”

I would be intrigued as to whether the ‘yoga’ that he refers to is classical yoga, incorporating not just the asanas (physical practice) but also pranayama (breathing) and meditation/relaxation – focusing on the whole mind-body connection rather than just the stretching/lengthening and strengthening (which is really just that – a stretching/strengthening practice, not yoga at all). Somehow I doubt it, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Whatever ‘yoga’ they are tapping into, I can safely say that I know The Band wishes that they had never heard of it, or anything else that improves their performance. For the sake of his happiness (and, as such, my own), I hope that Glasgow Rangers also cotton onto it sooner rather than later, and can start winning some matches again quick-smart!

Read the full article here: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/football/scottish/yoga-is-secret-to-forsterrsquos-top-form-with-celtic-16105247.html