I recently interviewed Bronwynne Oosthuizen, the passionate and exciting new community manager of EWB-SA. As the community manager, Oosthuizen will manage all the relationships and communications for EWB-SA as well as develop and introduce new systems to improve its internal workings. Whilst attending the University of the Pretoria, Oosthuizen cofounded EWB-UP and also functioned as the treasurer of the student chapter for the duration of her studies.
Her interest in community development began at a young age while growing up when she was exposed to the gross inequalities in South Africa and the country’s immense need for development, not only in terms of infrastructure but socially as well. Oosthuizen has always been looking for ways to support her community and to address these issues. She feels that EWB-SA has given her the most appropriate platform to do so, by allowing her to play a part not only in building a better future for young engineers but for all South Africans. Her diverse career path which ranges from an engineering student to a teacher, from a salesperson to an entrepreneur has afforded her a unique combination of skills which allows her to see any problem from multiple perspectives.
With regards to balancing her responsibilities between her day job and her work at EWB-SA, she says that you should, “do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Life usually only feels like a balancing act when there is something weighing you down.” She has many projects in the pipeline and hopes to share some of these with the rest of the EWB-SA family soon.
When it comes to facing any form of discrimination in the workplace, she feels that although, “ it is not guaranteed that confrontation will result in an immediate change… I do feel it is important to never allow anyone to define your worth based on gender, race or anything else.” Her advice to aspiring engineers is that they should, “Talk to everyone [they] can and learn their stories. Inspiration and motivation come from unexpected places...Don’t ever give up. IF YOU FALL YOU CRAWL!”
So join me in welcoming our inspiring, creative and somewhat zany (as can be seen from the accompanied photograph) new community manager through the interview below.
1) Describe your professional journey.
I have always wanted to become an engineer and was lucky enough to get a study grant for my first couple of years studying Mechanical Engineering. Unfortunately my study grant did not cover my full degree and with the hectic battle to study full time and work full time to cover my studies I had to eventually concede to the financial strain and delay completing my degree. I have however remained in technical fields with a focus on development and digital marketing.
2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?
I have always wanted to do more and make a bigger impact in the community. At the University of Pretoria I was a co-founder of EWB-UP and acted as the treasurer during my studies. After university I was looking for a platform to develop and heal the world around me. EWB-SA was gracious enough to welcome me back into the EWB-SA family and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to rub shoulders with these inspirational people and play a part in building a better future for South Africans as well as our young engineers.
3) As the new Community Manager of EWB-SA, describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
As the Community Manager I manage all relationships and communications for EWB-SA. I am responsible for developing and introducing new systems to improve the internal workings of the organization and ensure that everyone within EWB-SA has sufficient tools to promote growth for EWB-SA and our associated chapters.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
In all of my experiences growing up, it has always been apparent to me that there are gross inequalities and an immense need for development in South Africa not only in infrastructure but socially as well. During my high school and varsity years I have always sought out ways in which I might be able to support my community and address the existing issues.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills to assist/ empower communities?
Studying engineering does give you a predisposition to a process of problem solving however I have been lucky enough to have worked in a variety of capacities from a cashier, to a sales person, to a teacher, to an entrepreneur. I do feel that this odd combination of skills allows me to see any issue from many perspectives and that allows me to talk to anyone about almost anything. Although I might not be qualified to give sound technical advice I can speak to more empathetic motivations. As I have found with a lot of my students, most people just want to be seen, heard and shown how inspirational they themselves can be for their community.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
I feel the best thing anyone can gain out of EWB-SA or any of our chapters is the opportunity to meet people who share a similar mission in life to leave this world far better than when you arrived. EWB-SA provides an amazing opportunity for everyone to talk to all kinds of people from all different walks of life and appreciate your differences and diversity.
7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
Do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Life usually only feels like a balancing act when there is something weighing you down. If there is one piece of advice I can give it would be to never compromise your happiness or wellbeing for money.
8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering/work space?
In both engineering and all other fields I have found it extremely challenging. I had my first taste of misogyny as a studying engineer and continued to encounter sexism in every industry since joining the work force. Engineering has been marked as being male dominated but I would not say that any woman would be able circumvent sexism just by avoiding technical fields.
It is however imperative that woman in all industries confront this issue even though it is often extremely uncomfortable to do so. In any instance of discrimination it is not guaranteed that confrontation will result in an immediate change, however, I do feel it is important to never allow anyone to define your worth based on gender, race or anything else.
9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
I have a lot of things in the pipeline and hopefully will be able to share these with everyone soon.
10) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
Talk to everyone you can and learn their stories. Inspiration and motivation come from unexpected places.
Always be willing to change your mind. If you can’t admit when someone has a better idea you, than you can’t become better.
Don’t ever give up. IF YOU FALL YOU CRAWL!
Bronwynne Oosthuizen interviewed by Dhruti Dheda