Zolani Metu

20 Nov 2023
20 Nov 2023

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Even the most privileged individuals in society experience some form of injustice or unfairness in their life, and the universe tends to reward those who do something to shield the next person from such injustice.

What do you do?

It’s unusual to find a social worker in banking, right? Well, the corporate world has massive room for social and behavioural scientists. My role involves helping the bank make meaningful social investments that help improve the lives of young people in South Africa, while developing a talent pipeline for the financial services sector. I manage three portfolios including education development, entrepreneurship development and university bursaries.

The work requires an understanding of social systems, strategies for social development and a passion for working with people. While others may see corporate social investment as merely a “feel good field”, our work is data driven, and as a consultant I am responsible for ensuring that interventions are supported by research and that they have measurable socio- economic impact. These are basic competencies that any social work or humanities graduate should have.

My training in social work equipped me with competencies in assessing needs and developing interventions at individual, family, and community levels. Psychology was my second major, and it has been instrumental in refining my assessments of interpersonal dynamics in the work environment and in building meaningful partnerships which help meet the bank’s strategic objectives for CSI. While I went on to specialise at master’s level, I believe any social work undergraduate from UCT should be able to do the work I do.

What led you to found Decolonial Mental Health?

I founded DMH upon my return from working in Burundi, inspired by the realisation that psychotherapy tends to be detached from the reality of most people of colour. The company was founded to ensure that the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour and learners from quintile 1–3 schools can have access to affordable and relatable mental healthcare services. As the business evolves, improving access to care for these three key populations and South Africa at large remains at the heart of what we do.

What are some highlights of your career so far?

I never dreamt of the global recognition that my work has seen. From presenting at a global conference in Miami, USA, to being recognised as the only South African on Global Citizen’s Top 9 African Activists in 2022 – it all feels surreal. These are opportunities that young people from Philippi and Mdantsane, where I come from, hardly access.

In 2021, I was also listed on the M&G Top 200 Young SA for my role in private healthcare. In 2022 I was nominated for the South African Social Media Awards (SASMA) for the Mental Health Activism I do via my TikTok Platform, which has over 104,3K followers.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

We’re often sold the glamorous side of entrepreneurship, and not the sleepless nights, rejection, failure and self-disappointment that comes with the entrepreneurial journey. I was trained in being a therapist, not a business director, so running Decolonial Mental Health has been a great challenge. The business has immense potential for growth, and it is only now that I am learning different business growth strategies and basics of closing deals.

What advice would you give to current students?

If you can, read “The Go Giver”. Otherwise just read the book’s first law (The Law of Value). Thank me later.

I believe in creating opportunities to be of service to others in a way that doesn’t deplete your own internal resources.

Even the most privileged individuals in society experience some form of injustice or unfairness in their life, and the universe tends to reward those who do something to shield the next person from experiencing such injustice. Choose to be a shield for other students when the opportunity presents itself.