“This is the local qualifier for the 2013 U.S. Open. On the tee from Johannesburg, South Africa, ____________!” Applause follows the introduction from the patrons gathered around the tee box. My heart is pounding through my chest and my hands continue to perspire rapidly. I tee the ball up, pause for a brief moment, close my eyes and visualize my family. A wave of calmness and confidence sweeps through my body as flashbacks of various life moments circle through my brain.
I was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia), a country at the time in late 1988 facing immense political uncertainty. The instability led to many fundamental social rights, such as healthcare, being partially neglected and underfunded. In fact, my mother spent extensive hours in labor with me because of an inadequate number of available physicians at the hospital. A series of complications ensued that ultimately forced the doctors into immediate action in an effort to save both of our lives. Their actions were thankfully successful, a miracle one could say; however, not without consequence as I was immediately treated for a bodily incision during the birth. My first few moments alive would prove to be a microcosm of my life going forward, one of incredible opportunism and continual perseverance.
Two and a half years later with Yugoslavia on the brink of a civil war, my parents made a brave decision to seek refuge and migrate to South Africa, a country facing its own political uncertainty with the end of the Apartheid regime. South Africa was our only option due to strict visa limitations. We arrived as a family with three suitcases and limited financial resources. I was immediately enrolled in a daycare in which English and Afrikaans were the only spoken languages; I did not speak a word of either language. My father worked nightshifts, while my mother walked five kilometers with me to school every day, before proceeding to work. Our goal as a family for the first decade was simple – survive.
Shortly after my twelfth birthday, my father’s job transferred him to the U.S. for an undefined period of time. Due to the uncertainty around his transfer, my mother and I stayed in South Africa to eliminate any risk of me having to switch schools on multiple occasions. For the next three years, our small family would be separated by 8,500 miles. Growing up as a teenager without a father figure at home was extremely challenging, yet at the same time, the circumstances forced me to mature much faster. I quickly recognized the importance of discipline, responsibility, and loyalty in my support of my mother.
However, I was also very fortunate in that I grew up in a young democracy under one of the greatest leaders of our generation, and my hero, Nelson Mandela. I witnessed first-hand the incredible way his leadership transformed our country and provided every South African with hope for a more prosperous future. Mandela’s resilience, passion to serve others, and courageous leadership would leave a lasting impact on how I would choose to lead my life going forward. Yet, despite the significant progress in South Africa through the early 2000s, a substantial percentage of the population continued to face challenges associated with inadequate access to health care. Through volunteer initiatives at health clinics while in high school in Johannesburg, I quickly realized the importance of modern medicine. Health care has always been an instrumental facet of my life.
By the start of my junior year of high school, my mother and I immigrated to the U.S. I was initially very excited to move to America, a place that had always seemed unattainable, and more importantly, I was overjoyed to be reunited with my father. However, reality quickly set in and the first six months would culminate into the most challenging period of my life. I was in a complete state of culture shock! I felt intimidated, overwhelmed, and nostalgic, as I craved for the familiarity I left behind in South Africa. However, I also recognized that life in America presented me with an opportunity of a lifetime, a blessing, and I simply refused to quit. Instead, I persevered and put forth a deliberate effort towards adapting to my new surroundings. By my senior year, after only 15 months in the U.S., I was selected by classmates as the Homecoming King. I was delighted to have been able to connect with members of a new culture and develop strong friendships in such a short period of time.
I have lived alone in America since the age of seventeen as I progressed through college and the initial years of my professional career, yet throughout I have continued to feel a strong yearning towards South Africa. My entire family is overseas and I still consider South Africa to be home. For now, though, my goal is to enhance my formal business training in an environment that promotes diversity, across both work experiences and opinions and stimulates an inspiring discussion of complex, global business challenges. After attending an information session on August 16th, 2017, and talking to alums, my decision was reaffirmed that Harvard Business School will offer me the fast-paced, dynamic learning environment that I seek and thrive in. The unique case method approach and FIELD immersive learning experience at Harvard Business School both serve as an enriching opportunity to enhance my analytical aptitude and business leadership potential.
The plethora of professional and social clubs offered at Harvard Business School, such as the African Business Club, will allow me to engage actively with classmates, assume leadership positions, and contribute to the community. Furthermore, The Africa Business Conference provides a tremendous platform to connect with business leaders passionate about Africa, and I look forward to contributing and addressing topics pertaining to transformation and innovation within health care. From an academic perspective, the Health Care Initiative will also enable me to structure part of my business education to focus on health care disciplines such as strategy, management and operations, while surrounded by classmates who share a similar passion for transforming the industry.
My long-term career goal is a health care entrepreneurial endeavor throughout Africa that revolutionizes access to health services on the continent. Over half the population still lacks adequate access to health care. Millions of Africans continue to suffer from preventable diseases. I refuse to simply accept that such statistics should be the norm. Through improved telemedicine capabilities, partnerships with local governments to develop satellite provider facilities, and innovative education, my dream is to drastically improve lives and health care in Africa. The prestigious Harvard Business School brand name and global network, specifically the 452 alums in Johannesburg, will connect me to instrumental leaders who will provide the dynamic support structure necessary as I pursue my goal. My passion and purpose is to make this dream a reality.