One thinks of PlayStation as light entertainment, something bored teenagers spend way too much time on when they ought to have their noses in books. Turns out it’s a lot more than that – as I discovered in chatting to Craig Cudita, donor support officer for JAM International.
JAM has been at the forefront of the war against hunger in Africa since 1984, when founder, Peter Pretorius, was left stranded in Pambarra, Mozambique and witnessed the horrific effects of malnutrition and starvation in rural communities.
He and his wife Ann committed their future to joining the struggle to reduce hunger in Africa. Today JAM operates in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Sudan, and has made huge strides in a range of programmes, including nutritional school feeding, water and sanitation, agriculture, school makeovers and skills training.
Craig, an energetic young pastor motivated by a strong desire to follow God’s leading in his life, joined the JAM team just under a year ago. His passion and enthusiasm for the work he does are palpable. Without passion and a love of people, he says, you will not survive in the NGO sector, because the obstacles are huge.
Craig qualified in Business Sciences at Monash, majoring in Marketing Management, later attaining an Honours in Marketing Communication. With these qualifications he could have gone anywhere, commanded the kind of salary we expect in the commercial sector. But when he heard of Peter Pretorius’ amazing life story and the work JAM was doing, he knew that this was where he would be investing his time and energy.
He could not have found a better fit. JAM is a large and well-functioning NGO with decades of experience in Africa, trusted by many regional governments for its integrity, practicality and the depth at which they engage with communities.
Where does PlayStation fit into Craig’s life? I was surprised to find that such a passionate and motivated young guy enjoys electronic mayhem in his spare time. His explanation was revealing:
games on PlayStation have tasks and challenges which one must accomplish. There is always an aspect of competition and
adrenaline in these games when you compete at the highest levels. Just like life! Life is about tasks,
challenges, competition and fun. When you
take this approach to the workplace, you will enjoy it all and thrive at the
Well said. Does passion alone keep one motivated? What about salary? I asked Craig what he thought about salary gradings in the NGO sector.
‘No, obviously salaries in the NGO sector are not what one might expect in the commercial sector. But it should be about the passion and the big idea of changing lives.’
Most who work in NGOs will recognise the truth in this – few go into NGO
work to enrich themselves. It’s always something deeper – something ultimately
far more satisfying. The knowledge that one has changed a person, school,
community or, in JAM’s case, a whole country for the better is in fact priceless.
How long does Craig intend remaining in the sector?
‘As long as I can grow and learn. I intend to learn as much as I can so that what I give continues to be of value.’
Craig has already experienced the valleys of NGO work – the hard slog of keeping funders aware of their work and motivated enough to support it. He also mentions the challenge of getting everyone – whether funder or community member – to become passionate about a project, to see its potential and to throw their weight behind it.
To date JAM feeds over 1,2 million children every day in Africa, with 120 000 meals a day distributed in South Africa. Food comprises a nutrient-dense, specially formulated porridge that yields 75% of the macro- and micro-nutrients needed per child per day. Food is always their entry point into a community, but is never sufficient for lasting change – hence the emphasis on micro farming, irrigation and skills training. Sadly, JAM’s founder, Peter Pretorius, passed away in August 2018, but the work continues, and is in fact expanding rapidly due to the value added by young, enthusiastic graduates like Craig.
How will the CSI sector retain people like Craig? NGO work is not easy and can be thankless. If we as a society wish to keep the Craigs of the NGO world inspired, committed and engaged, we need to raise the profile of this sector, according it the honour it is due. We need, also, to ensure that the work done by people like Craig is recorded, the highlights and common pitfalls documented, so that we have helpful information to pass on to the next generation of change agents.
Passing on the skills
One of our goals at FACES OF CSI is to ensure that those in the CSI and NGO sector pass on their skills and insights. This will be critical to the rising generation of matriculants and graduates, who increasingly seek work that is meaningful and contributes positively to the state of our country and our world.
Some of us hold high standards that young employees find tough to handle. My own belief is that if we’re fair, keeping a strong focus on skills transfer, we can demand high standards of work and still retain young people – the key is to have a strong development focus for each person.
always had a high turnover of PAs. But one really stands out. A young guy;
Lubabalo Mpolongwana, who took the constant abuse (as some might have seen it)
but was like a sponge, constantly sucking up everything he could in terms of
knowledge, ideas and skills. Some years after he’d left for greener pastures, I
asked if he’d like to work as my PA again, to which he replied, ‘Love to – but
you can’t afford me now.’
Wow! Just the sort of answer I like to hear. That for me, is powerful. I know that Lubabalo learned from me, then went on to apply what he’d learned in a sector where he could command the sort of salary package he deserved. I held no grudge at all; I knew I’d played a role in his life and that his leg up started with what he learned in my office.
I am convinced that we in the CSI sector need to have this attitude. Let’s value the young, enthusiastic, hard workers; demand a lot, but teach a lot, too. No job in South Africa today is complete without a skills transfer focus. Craig Cudita, with his healthy love of challenge, competition, learning and fun, is the kind of person our industry needs. And if one day he leaves NGO work for other endeavours, he will owe his marketability to what he learned in those first years.
of us should be passing on a legacy, so that, as the saying goes, ‘we lift as we