Absa Jewish Achiever Awards winners – painting a masterpiece of hope
The extraordinary personalities who won the 2021 Absa Jewish Achiever Awards tonight have brought hope to us all. Glynne Wolman of The Angel Network kept hundreds of thousands alive, while Jewish burial societies around the country worked around the clock to help families who lost loved ones.
Thousands of South African Jews locally and internationally have gathered to watch the 22nd SA Jewish Report’s annual gala fundraiser, which was celebrated for a second time virtually.
This year, we focused on celebrating those who have brought hope to us all at a time in which positivity was limited. The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021 has painted a masterpiece of hope when we really need it.
We recognised home-grown South African talent across a spectrum of award categories, focusing on the work done to bring hope back into our lives.
We celebrated business legend Eric Ellerine as Kirsh Family Lifetime Achiever Award winner for his impact on retail and private equity. His name is synonymous with old-school business in South Africa.
Ivan and Lynette Saltzman, the founders of Dis-Chem, were honoured as winners of the Absa Business Icon Award. This couple forever changed the face of pharmacies in this country.
Glynne Wolman, Humanitarian Award winner, epitomises hope. With The Angel Network, she has kept millions of South Africans from starvation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that’s not all…
Professor Lucille Blumberg won the Professional Excellence Award. Blumberg, the founding head of the division of public health surveillance and response, now one of the largest units at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, designed a COVID-19 national hospital surveillance system for South Africa.
The Community Service Award was jointly won by Rebbetzin Rochel and Rabbi Yossy Goldman, the latter now life rabbi emeritus of the Sydenham Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, and the South African Jewish burial societies. In very different ways, their joint contribution was immense.
The Goldmans’ life-long religious innovation and dedication to this community is immeasurable, and the members of the burial societies are unsung heroes in the time of COVID-19.
The Mann Made Media Arts, Science, Sports, and Culture winner is one of the world’s all-time top-selling musicians, Manfred Mann.
From leaving corporate life to starting her own business in order to spend more time with her children, this year’s Europcar Women in Leadership Award winner Cara Saven has created an internationally successful business.
Andrew Canter, Futuregrowth Asset Management executive director and chief investment officer, won this year’s Absa Business Leadership Award. He took a huge risk back in 2016 by defending his company’s withdrawal of funding from South African state-owned enterprises at the height of state capture. He and the company have gone from strength to strength since then.
Entrepreneurship Award winner Barney Isralls has created a company that is helping to create food and water security in Africa.
“For the past 21 years, we as a community have gathered in hotel boardrooms and convention centres to celebrate the remarkable and disproportionate contribution made by the Jewish community to the development of post-apartheid South Africa,” said Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report and the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.
“In a complex and complicated world, hope is a choice, an active decision, a decision to believe that our best days are still before us. We have reason to be hopeful.
“As a community, we have made a profound and disproportionate contribution to the development of South Africa. We have done so in the struggle for freedom; in the development of the economy; and in the arts and sciences, culture, and philanthropy.
“This is us – this is who we are as a community. We are proud, unabashed, and unwilted as we emerge into hope.”
The angel at our table who disrupted mass starvation
Few individuals have saved as many lives as this year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Humanitarian Award winner Glynne Wolman, founder of The Angel Network.
“The Angel Network and Glynne have been angels in our lives and we are standing because of them,” said Clive Mashishi of the Clive Mashishi Foundation in a video at the awards on Sunday, 7 November.
Mashishi marvelled at Wolman’s “passion for helping others, her zeal, determination, and her personal conviction to say, ‘People cannot starve whilst we have the necessary resources to help them.’”
Dorianne Weil, a clinical and organisational psychologist, said, “Glynne exhibits a real resilience and determination. She just doesn’t give up. She is a consummate human being and a real mensch, and it’s fitting that she has won the Cyril Harris Humanitarian Award.”
On receiving the award, Wolman said she felt honoured, humbled, and enormously grateful. “I accept it on behalf of a phenomenal team that I’m fiercely proud of and privileged to work with. I dedicate this award to the countless community leaders we work with who are on the ground and give their all with no thought of reward. They teach us daily about the generosity of spirit. They are the true heroes.”
Wolman launched The Angel Network as a non-profit organisation in 2015 because of the need by so many who have so little. “Initially, we did the nice-to-do things like providing Easter eggs, school shoes, and blankets,” she said. “But we soon found that we were able to do other things like assist with education, upskilling, training, and job creation.”
Unfortunately, the negative effects of COVID-19 meant that The Angel Network had to turn its focus to giving handouts to prevent millions from dying of starvation. “Everything was urgent,” recalled Wolman. “We had to feed people and help them stay warm. People were becoming unemployed. There were many more people that needed assistance.”
Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “Towards the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the terrible suffering around us as a result of the lockdown. We looked to find the person and the organisation that could help us get the food to beneficiaries quickly, directly, and responsibly. That was when we connected with The Angel Network and the phenomenal Glynne Wolman. She is a social disrupter who has changed the way that charity is given and poverty is alleviated.”
Said Mashishi, “The Angel Network helped us to help our people and give them hope. It has donated equipment, food parcels, and shoes to us.”
Hella Ledwaba, executive director of the non-profit Vuka Skhokho, said, “We had only been able to work with a few waste pickers here and there, but after connecting with Glynne, we were able to see them regularly and be close to them.”
Hayley Glasser, who sits on The Angel Network’s executive committee, said, “Glynne’s belief in others and her ability to help them believe in themselves is a defining characteristic of hers. It has contributed to making The Angel Network the success it is today.”
An infectious passion for tackling disease
Internationally distinguished but refreshingly humble, Professor Lucille Blumberg, epidemiologist and former deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, has devoted her life to the study of infectious diseases.
“Lucille is tireless,” says Professor Marc Mendelson, the director of infectious diseases and HIV medicine at the University of Cape Town. “She is the go-to person in South Africa if you have a problem in infection – she’s my go-to person. She brings together an amazing ability to amalgamate clinical expertise with the laboratory side, and most importantly, the public-health side of infectious diseases.”
Mendelson was just one of the many medical experts and professors who paid tribute to Blumberg, who received this year’s Absa Professional Excellence Award – From Covid to Hope. Among her myriad achievements, Blumberg has most recently been instrumental in developing a system to document South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She realised right at the beginning of the pandemic that as a country, we didn’t have a hospital surveillance system and so she very quickly mobilised and spoke to the right people to make sure that this happened,” says Professor Lynn Morris, the deputy vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand. “She recruited volunteers, who were inspired by her vision and call for action to help her set up what is now called the Datcov Hospital Surveillance System.” This system collects comprehensive, real-time data on morbidity and mortality including demographic, clinical, and treatment information, and it’s shared through daily and weekly reports.
The Datcov system has very quickly become a vital source of information and continues to guide the national response to the pandemic. “Lucille is extremely passionate about everything she does and will stop at nothing to make sure that things happen as they should,” says Morris. “She’s a force of nature and a can-do person – just the sort of person you need in an emergency.”
Having started her career in clinical medicine, Blumberg later discovered what she calls, “the magical world of microbes”. An exciting field that always offers something new to discover, the study of infectious diseases combined with the management of outbreak responses remains her passion and one for which she is internationally respected. Indeed, Blumberg has done extensive work with the World Health Organization and other international bodies on globally important outbreaks and epidemics.
“I’ve been working in outbreaks for almost 20 years and never came across anything like COVID-19,” says Blumberg. “It’s changed all our worlds and it’s required a tremendous effort, huge resilience, and extra resources. It’s put vaccines on a new trajectory and brought many different players together.”
In accepting her award, Blumberg said, “Public health is never about one individual, it’s always about a team and making a difference to community lives.” She paid tribute to the SA Jewish Report and the webinars it hosted for lightening the dark days of COVID-19, her beloved mother for teaching her all the important things in life, and her team who helped establish the Datcov system.
“I want to recognise the wonderful nominees, especially the healthcare workers who have shown great courage, worked long hours, and saved many lives on the frontline,” she concluded. “They are the true heroes. We will get through this, we will continue to show great resilience and come together as a community. It’s vaccines that will open up our world and allow us to travel and dream again.”
Transforming spaces for working moms
Cara Saven, the founder and chief executive of Cara Saven Wall Design, isn’t just fulfilling her company promise of “transforming spaces around the globe, one wall at a time”, she’s also working to change the corporate landscape for working mothers.
“Cara’s created her business around doing the work and being a mother all at the same time,” says Stacy Closenberg, the company’s sales and operations director. “In this business, we’re all mothers, all doing this massive juggle between trying to run the business as well as fetching from school and running around. Cara’s given us the opportunity.”
Indeed, Saven started Cara Saven Wall Design 15 years ago out of a desire to be available to her children. “I’d entered the corporate world and while I loved my job with all my heart, it had no place for me when I became a mother,” Saven said upon accepting her Europcar Women in Leadership Award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards on 7 November.
“I wasn’t yet living in a society where they saw the benefit of retaining mothers in their ranks. So, I did what many women in my position who refused not to see their babies until 18:00 did, I quit, and figured out another way to make money.”
In doing so, Saven decided to employ fellow mothers. “I decided I would grow my company with the most competent people I knew – mothers – women who had mastered the art of efficiency and time management. So, we got building. With schoolwork and snotty noses and homework thrown in between. With flexible hours or working from home, we built.”
Today, Cara Saven Wall Design is an internationally successful business, offering a range of more than 1 000 wallpaper designs as well as customisable options. The company’s growth has been exponential. “Cara went from operating in South Africa only, to opening up international branches, with agency agreements and printers in the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates,” says Bryce O’Donnell, the managing director of Construct Capital. “She did this all in such a short space of time, it was inspiring to watch.”
“Not only is Cara exceptionally talented, she’s always striving to better her product, herself, and everybody works around her,” says client Andy Graff, of Andrea Graff Interior Design. O’Donnell agrees. “She lives and breathes her brand. The way she runs her business, the way she treats her people, the service they provide, there’s no doubt that she embodies excellence in everything that she does.”
Saven’s employees echo these sentiments. “Cara has been a personal leader who is inspirational and motivating,” says Creative Business Director Megan Sherratt. “I’ve seen the company grow exponentially, and I believe this is from the passion, the dynamism, as well as the hands-on approach she takes in managing her business. Her positive nature is what makes her grow.”
In her acceptance speech, Saven spoke of “lucky women”, women who have more opportunities than the female generations that came before them. She believes COVID-19 and the resultant fusion of our work and home lives has “broken down the illusion that we don’t have private lives that are happening while we work”. It gives her reason to believe that her daughters won’t have the same struggles she did. “They will be lucky enough to live in a society that doesn’t offer only two choices for corporate women, nine to five or quit when they have children. They are lucky women.”
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