Struggle and success, selflessness and self-preservation, control and surrender—this year has been all about balance for Boitumelo Sebambo. From becoming CEO to witnessing education be redefined, it took slowing down for her to realize how much she could achieve.
To Every Story
From a career perspective, this year has been really, really good for me. I’ve moved twice in roles. I started the year in technology, then I moved on to the pharma side of our business. Now I’m the CEO of our biotech company, 3Sixty Biomedicine. It focuses on allopathic medicines and manufactures herbal and traditional based medicines and products. We’re also investing in natural and organic science solutions for poorly met medical conditions and have an entire range of women’s health products.
Being in South Africa, we were really just watching the pandemic story from the outside for a long time. I kept reading that South Africa’s disease profile is really risky. We have a high HIV and TB prevalence and they’re associated with an increased risk for COVID-19 mortality. When it finally got here, there was a feeling of: “Our health infrastructure is not ready, we are not ready.”
I’m extremely proud of it. It’s a career pivot that I would have never expected, but I’m like, “This is it. This makes so much sense.” Pharma is an essential service and hasn’t been negatively impacted by lockdown. Every industry now, as I look, is eventually getting into some kind of biotech. Apple plays in the health space with their wearables and now, as they progress further, there’s more and more space in there.
The term “social distance” does not consider the fact that a lot of people live in confined spaces. What does social distancing look like in squatter camps and high-density neighborhoods, where there isn’t any sanitation or facilities in the tiny cube or shack that you’re stuck in?
I’m on the board and fundraising committee of Kgololo Academy, a school in Alexandra, Johannesburg. It is a woman-run school and 99% of the educators are women. My Hult Alumni Chapter won $500 at the Global Alumni Day and they were kind enough to donate that money to Kgololo Academy. That’s a much bigger resilience story—how that school just kept adapting and reinventing themselves.
The most difficult part for me has been managing the whole balance around self-preservation and selflessness. How do you take care of yourself, but also show compassion toward everybody else? I kept going back to: “Well, you actually have more than you need, but somebody else doesn’t.” This year has reminded me of my privileges.
A lot of the parents lost their jobs this year, so they couldn’t pay school fees. They wanted to take kids out of school, which meant teachers’ salaries got cut, but we couldn’t compromise the kids’ education. There was nobody going to school physically, from March till now. Globally, people talk about e-learning, but you can’t have e-learning in a community that doesn’t have money for data. It’s challenging to have e-learning in community with low literacy levels.
One of the first books I read in lockdown was a book by Pepe Marais called Growing Greatness, which was given to me by my friend, the founder of YuGrow. He talked about discipline and routine. I got into the routine and tried to stick to the same time to wake up, exercise, meditate, all of that. The truth is, I was trying to control things and who was in charge of me. Then my partner and I got COVID, the routine fell apart, and I had to rebuild.
It was teachers relearning how to teach and teaching parents how to teach. They moved what would ordinarily be on a piece of paper to WhatsApp and delivered the lesson plans to the parents that way. Some parents phoned and said, “I don’t have WhatsApp, it’s too expensive. I don’t have Zoom, it’s expensive.” So some class notes are on text messages and SMS and there are voice notes to the children too. They’ve taught the kids that this is a new way of learning. You don’t come to school, but this is how you learn. This is what needs to be done.
I was never greatly in harm’s way, it was really about surrendering to the universe and realizing I just need to do what I can. Whatever is not in my power, I shouldn’t hold onto it. Because that restricts adaptability. I keep telling everybody, my word for the year is “surrender”. One of the things I’ve learned is that I simply didn’t realize how active my mind is until this year. You hear about the power of the mind all the time, but it’s not fully revealed until you’re going at a much slower pace in life. That lesson has done wonders for my career as much as my personal life.