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Femada Shamam

CEO Tafta (The Association of the Aged)

Femada Shamam has a background in social work and management and has dedicated 21 years to the non-profit organisation Tafta (The Association of the Aged). Tafta supports 1500 people under roof and a further 3500 older people within the community.

She took on the role of CEO in April 2017. Femada says, “My initiative is to lead with passion and lead my team so that they can give effect to the purpose, which is to bring dignity, growth and a meaningful life to all older people. If we are able to do that, I think that we will then all really live in a wonderful world.”

Femada’s role includes representing Tafta on various local, provincial, national and international platforms such as: International Association for Ageing, the Commonwealth Association for Ageing and Global Aging Network. She serves as the Africa Ambassador to the Commonwealth Association for Ageing.

Femada lobbies and advocates for the rights of older people by looking at how we can develop the non-profit space and in making sure that we can service the most vulnerable in our community, develop best practice models through learning from others and supporting those who want to take forward the aging agenda.

A great achievement

“I don’t believe that what I do is extraordinary,” commented Femada. “But what I do is give of myself 100%. I think that the manner in which I lead the organisation and how we drive the aging agenda will make sure that we have maximum impact on the lives of older people. When I get into a lift with an older person, and they talk about how their lives are better because of Tafta’s interventions, that for me is a great achievement.”

There have been many people who have journeyed with Femada and supported her career. “Fundamentally, I have been supported by my mum – she had a foundational impact on my life and believed that nothing should limit me. She believed that we should do whatever we wanted to do with passion, and to do it right or don’t bother at all. That is the philosophy I live my life by; I make sure that I am not wasting my time or other people’s time.”

In addition, Femada says that she has learnt from the older people. “Older people lose their filters. While they’re very generous with their compliments, they’re equally generous with their criticism. When I get things wrong, they tell me, which I love listening to because I learn a little more.”

Changing the narrative

Femada believes that people over the age of 60 can have the greatest impact on the lives of others because they generally no longer feel bound by social norms. In addition, she says, “Can you imagine if we were able to tell older people that they were entering the best time of their lives. It’s about changing the narrative – we can live with the idea that there is hope right until the end.”

Commenting on challenges that she has faced along her career, Femada says that the first challenge was growing up in a society that does not value caring for others. This meant that it was very difficult to create a niche for herself, as there was stigma attached to the career that she chose.

The second was working through the head and heart conversation. “People assume that because you are compassionate that you have no business sense. My response was to do my Bachelor of Commerce degree so that I could understand how to lead the organisation better. I don’t think that the balance between head and heart is mutually exclusive. I think that both combined are quite powerful and that is how I lead my team. It is important not to be apologetic for caring about our elders, our colleagues, and about the people in our community. You can take that compassionate care, apply it in a business world and achieve great results.”

Setting the foundation

Femada’s biggest goal is to be regarded as an influencer in the way that the world sees older people so that change occurs. This is especially relevant to creating infrastructure such as housing and transport that is accessible to older people. Secondly, she wants to create a space for the mentorship and guidance of future leaders in the aged care sector. Femada wants to set the foundation for people to respond to the needs of older people as their population grows.

On the personal level, Femada’s greatest responsibility is to be the best mom and wife that she can be. “I take that very seriously and that balances out all the other roles that I have. I have an eight-year-old daughter and I want to make sure that the example that I set is one that she would be proud of and one that ignites her passion to follow whatever she wants to in her life.”

Never be afraid of learning

Her advice to other women is to be true to yourself and start small. Femada’s goal when she started at Tafta was to be the best version of herself. That passion was viewed by others as good, and the opportunities opened themselves. Secondly, she says, never be afraid of learning – both informally and informally – ask people for advice.

“There will be times when you fail. Fail fast, get over it, move on to the next thing. I firmly believe that it is in our failures that we learn our greatest lessons.”

“The third thing is to forgive yourself, you will make mistakes, don’t dwell on them. We are here for a short moment in time, and we can’t waste our energies on things that we can’t control. Live in the moment; do the best that you can, because the only control that you have is over your own actions,” concluded Femada.

Femada Shamam
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