Phindile Phiri, Senior Communications Manager: Brand Experience at The Coca Cola Company, wears her culture with pride. Having recently completed her Honours degree in Psychology, and being fluent in six languages (including South African sign language), communicating kindness and care is a deep-seated value for this village girl from the heart of Zululand.

“Where I come from has grounded me and it’s my pride. I carry within me the dreams of a little girl from rural KwaZulu-Natal that was not aware of the different cultures and ethnicities that surrounded me.

Being raised by a doting father who modelled integrity and accountability, but most importantly the importance of education, accountability, and family values, fills Phindile with gratitude. “I’m my father’s daughter who carries the values of her community very highly. My father shaped me to have a great work ethic, humanity, and to be humble. That’s something that I’ve carried with me to this day.”

It’s her father’s encouragement that gave Phindile the boldness to work hard in pursuing her dream of establishing a life away from her family nest; bringing her to Johannesburg. The city is worlds away from Phindile’s rural, convent school upbringing, but living in this fast-paced city has not diminished her connection to her roots.

“Since I moved to Johannesburg I marvel at the fact that you can walk  past someone without greeting them, because where I come from, you were taught that an adult is an adult, and you respect them regardless of whether you know them or not.”  

Phindile finds great satisfaction working for a company that continues to provide cultural growth and global exposure to many different people and countries.

“When you meet different people your stereotypes are broken; you learn, your perception of the world changes and you begin to fully understand others from learning their cultures. I’ve been able to travel to some amazing places because of Coca-Cola,” she enthuses.

Despite her busy schedule, Phindile’s number one priority is being a good mother to her son.

“I’ve learned the importance of a good support structure, and that may look different for everyone. This, for me, consists of a group of women that have taught me what it is to be a mother, while mothering offered me the mothering support I needed myself. I would not be able to seamlessly do such an important job without their support; especially my son’s paternal grandmother. My philosophy in life is that if you’re going to be a woman in the workplace and not be questioned about your capabilities, then you need to be realistic about what you’re putting on your plate and understand the implications on the other areas,” she explains.

With all the balancing that mothering requires, Phindile has also learnt that forgiving oneself is key because guilt can creep in when one is multi-tasking. But the seeds of her faith that were sown in a convent school environment provide her with peace. “Knowing that God has a plan for my life, and a plan for every single human being anchors me. I don’t need to try to manipulate outcomes and circumstances, but I can focus on serving and being a light to whoever I’m interacting with.”

Serving others is Phindile’s primary value, in addition to kindness, integrity and making a difference. “I always want to be a light to those I come across. Whatever our interaction might have been – even if it was two minutes - I want to know that if you were having a bad day that if I could have said something to make it better, that I said it.”

The few years in boarding school guided Phindile to independence and nurtured her caring spirit including the value of looking out for the women around her. Being away from our mothers, the girls learned to take care of each other, combing the younger ones’ hair, washing their socks and helping them to put their shoes on. A nurturing trait she had also learnt early in life from her mother’s sister, who had a hand in shaping her independence including teaching her how to change a light bulb and car tyre.

Today, she is still looking out for the women around her. Phindile’s matric dance dress drive for underprivileged girls is successfully sourcing matric dance dresses for those who won’t be able to afford their own.

“Knowing that someone is looking out for you rebuilds your faith in humankind, because there’s very little that’s building that. We all need those rainbows and rays of sunshine to show us that it’s not all bad.”