A doctor with soul
A medical doctor frustrated by clinical practice, Dr Shereen Usdin set about exploring ways to make a bigger impact in society.
She joined forces with other like-minded colleagues to create the successful health promotion NGO The Soul City Institute, most famous for its popular social dramas.
Combining mass media, community mobilisation and advocacy, it has grown into the biggest NGO of its kind in Africa.
What kind of leader are you?
I’ve always disliked authority. Any paternalistic, top-down style of leadership puts me off. I have different styles depending on the work and the team, but favour a participatory, democratic way of doing things. I strive to have the vision and inspiration to transform through collaboration.
What are the key messages of Soul City?
We aim to improve the quality of life and health of people in Southern Africa through programmes that promote active citizenship and principles of social justice.
Our current campaigns deal with HIV prevention and alcohol abuse.
All our programmes also address gender inequality.
What are you most proud of?
When people tell us how much Soul City has changed their lives and when I see how, even in the remotest part of South Africa, people know us and value what we are doing.
I also love the work Soul City does with children. When Soul Buddyz, a TV drama about young school children in a club who do great things in their community, was first on air, children approached us saying they wanted to form their own Soul Buddyz clubs at school.
There are now 8 000 of these clubs across South Africa, mobilising almost 200 000 children to learn about their health rights and to take action in their community to achieve them.
Growing the organisation has been a 20-year-long career highlight! I’ve taken on many different roles at Soul City as it has developed, so I feel like I’ve changed jobs a number of times.
But I’ve always done something that excites me anew.
My current challenge is mobilising resources for Soul City. Despite reaching about 80% of South Africans, the funding base for non-profit organisations is dwindling.
We need to see greater contributions, especially from the private sector.
Two things i’ve learnt the hard way
1. John Lennon sang, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ I regret that
I haven’t always lived in the now.
2. My greatest weakness is thinking I’m a fantastic multitasker, while in reality I do a lot of things in half measures.
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