The Daily Journey of an EdTech Leader in South Africa
Leana de Beer is the CEO of Feenix, CEO and founder of WaFunda, and Non-Executive Director of Nava.
Feenix was launched in June 2017 as a response to the #FeesMustFall movement that spread across campuses in South Africa during 2015 and 2016. This movement highlighted the extremely high cost of tertiary education and the impact financial stress has on student success rates.
We had the opportunity to connect and talk to the invigorating Leana de Beer on her daily journey and regular points in her day that she takes inspiration from. We also got the chance to learn about how she navigates the age old question of Tea or Coffee and what she loves most about her work life.
Grab a cup of coffee and jump into the first part of our two part blog series with Leana de Beer.
Q: What is the first thing that you do in the morning to get your day going?
I was asked this question during a recent podcast and the concept of sleep science came up. I am obsessed with sleep science because I have never been a morning person and I am frustrated with the current 5am club-trend, especially in the business world.
I think forcing people into a box or pattern is complete nonsense. We are all different and we all have different rhythms – which means we all need different things. My sleep chronotype is one where my energy picks up during the day and is highest at night. So I have designed my day accordingly.
Mornings for me are usually quite slow as my energy is low. I sleep late and I hate doing any work before 8:30 am. I do most of my deep work in the afternoons or evenings. My routine in the mornings is very simple; I wake up and do the bare basics and get to work. I have accepted that I am a slow starter. However, I do make up for it as the day continues.
Q: Is there a regular breakfast that you like having included in your schedule?
Breakfast is probably the one meal I have most control over so I try to start my day off healthily.
I drink a big glass of water the moment I open my eyes and then I try to do hot lemon water after. What I eat does depend on how I am feeling and how much stress I am experiencing that week; if I need a bit of comfort I prefer eggs, otherwise I do a quick smoothie that is full of goodies, lots of vitamins, plants and natural medicines. Whatever gets me going.
The rest of the day kind of plays out depending on the day. So I try to set myself up smartly in the mornings. For example, I really love coffee but if I start with coffee first thing, I tend to drink more coffee during the day. At the moment, I’m trying to cut my daily coffee intake to three cups, which is already a lot.
Q: Are you a tea or coffee person, but from what you’ve already told us it sounds like you’re a coffee drinker?
I actually love tea as well. I drink tea at night when I’m trying to slow down; I drink herbal infusions to get myself ready for bed and meditation, and when I get sick the only thing I want is rooibos (red bush) tea. However, during the day, especially fast days, coffee is my go-to.
A while ago this video of a US Navy Captain surfaced where he said that you have to make your bed in the mornings. Making your bed is the first accomplishment for the day.
“You have to make your bed in the mornings.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s such a small thing to do each morning but you can start seeing how it impacts the rest of your day. The state of my house is usually a visual expression of the state of my mind. By organising or cleaning my house, I trick my brain into feeling calm. You learn how to implement these little behaviours and patterns and how it can positively affect your body to react in a certain way.
Q: What music artist or song best describes your leadership style?
We are such multifaceted people and picking one song is deciding to speak to only one of our many parts. Music is incredibly important for my motivation and energy, and I use it as a stress reliever. Sometimes when I am exhausted or had a busy day and I didn’t have time to exercise, I put on music and have a boogie in my kitchen.
Lately, I have been obsessed with Alicia Keys’ newest album. My friends are so tired of hearing this album, but she has this ability to create music that is very personal and intimate but somehow still universal. She is inspiring to me as a leader because she comes across as both strong and kind and I really love that.
“She (Alicia Keys) is inspiring to me as a leader because she comes across as both strong and kind and I really love that.”
Then sometimes you need some Lizzo to sort you out and get that feminist boost. Music is a creative outlet. I often look at Colors Studios or Tiny Desk Concerts for inspiration or new voices from all over the world. Colors Studios is this fabulous platform that showcases diverse talent, a lot of people of colour and often music from non-mainstream places.
Q: What inspires you to work every day and throughout your career, that keeps you going?
I’d say there are two main things that always inspire decisions I make in my life and career. The first is self-actualization. I am driven by wanting to be the best version of myself and I generally have a really good sense of myself; what motivates me, what stresses me and what things I need to propel myself forward. Improving myself includes mental, spiritual, emotional or physical elements.
I tend to get bored quickly. If I successfully completed a challenge or conquered something, I need to move on to the next thing. I like to stretch myself which can become a negative thing if I don’t take adequate time to rest, breath and celebrate.
The second is community. I’m very much someone who is driven by service to the community. Community looks different for all of us but over the course of my career I have always asked; how can I be part of a community, how can I be of service to the community and how can I be in a position where I amplify the community’s voice.
“Community looks different for all of us but over the course of my career I have always asked; how can I be part of a community, how can I be of service to the community and how can I be in a position where I amplify the community’s voice”
Those are the two core factors I take into account when I make decisions. It inspires me to continue to do the work I do.
Q: Are you team Google or are you team Apple?
I am a big Apple fan. I only work on Apple devices and my whole office works on Apple computers but we use Google Suite software. So I would say both.
Q: What do you love most about the work that you do?
I feel lucky to be able to work in the EdTech space. I get to work with an incredible bunch of people, all passionate about education and young people. It is also wonderful that we play in this hybrid environment of non-profit, social impact and technology. We get to implement principles of technology, agility and innovation, things that are part of start-up culture but then we are able to balance it out with activism, grassroot and community thinking and approaches from the non-profit sector. We can draw strengths from different models, which is really cool.
I also have a very supportive board and trust, which allows us enough room for experimentation and testing, and they allow us to do work that is representative and based on inclusivity. The best way we can live this out in the culture is through complete top down support. It is refreshing and exciting. I love that I get to do work everyday that opens up opportunities for other people.
Thanks again to Leana for sharing her daily approach to life with us. I deeply resonate with her approach to life and work, and it definitely resonates with how we at Mobile Guardian a company seek to learn from and impact the people we have working relationships with.
The Feenix team was founded on the belief that access to education should not be dependent on wealth. Leana’s belief that technology, collaborations, and hybrid models of education are crucial to drive social and environmental impact in our future, around the globe.
If you’d like to find out more about Feenix or WaFunda and the incredible work that they do, visit their website at www.feenix.org and www.wafunda.com, and learn more about how they impact the world of education in South Africa.
Thanks again to Leana for taking the time to chat with us, and keep an eye open for the second part of this two-part blog post.
In the next post, we discuss more about Leana’s professional life and how she approaches her impact on the EdTech world of South Africa and beyond.
Team Mobile Guardian