MELANIE VENESS has been the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, now the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business (PMCB),since February 2011. She is the treasurer of the KwaZulu-Natal Business Chambers Council and serves on the KZN Economic Council. Previously, Melanie was the director of Pietermaritzburg Tourism.
Melanie is exceedingly passionate about South Africa, which she describes as, "her beautiful country that she will defend to the last". She thinks this passion comes from being the daughter of a game ranger at Hluhluwe and growing up close to nature. Melanie says she is cause-driven rather than profit-driven, which is possibly due to her Irish upbringing.
Unsure about what career to follow, Melanie worked for the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for a while before going to university. She loves the theatre, but her parents persuaded her not to follow acting as a career. Melanie explained that while numbers make sense to her, people fascinate her. She became the director of Pietermaritzburg Tourism after gaining experience in the finance world where she worked for ten years. Melanie was persuaded to apply for the Pietermaritzburg Chamber CEO position which, "has just been a fantastic fit". She guesses that a range of opportunities, networking, and engaging with people, contributed to her landing where she is now.
As part of her quest to grow, learn and better understand, Melanie has recently graduated with B Comm in Industrial & Organisational Psychology. "Which just goes to show that you are never too old to learn!" she commented.
Advocate for business
Melanie is a team player with plenty of passion, vision, and energy. She is a creative, hands-on organiser, with a flair for marketing and a 'can-do' attitude. She ensures that the PMCB is an effective voice of business addressing all issues, including those that businesses find hard to raise. "My job is to advocate for business and to help develop an easier business environment."
PCMB offers networking and training opportunities, and Melanie is directly involved with skills deve-lopment. The development of business is key in alleviating poverty and addressing unemployment; in her capacity as CEO she plays an important role in this area.
Leave the world a better place
Currently, Moeletsi Mbeki who she considers a friend and mentor serves as a source of inspiration for her. Mbeki has helped her understand South Africa's history and where the country's people came from. She admires him for his willingness to debate any issue and question things held as truths. Something Mbeki said that she remembers is, "when entering a potentially explosive situation, be 100% prepared to be convinced of the other person's point of view. If after really listening and considering you are not convinced, then prepare yourself to convince".
While Melanie has been nominated for several awards, there is much she still wants to achieve. "I am driven to make a difference in my country; leave the world a better place, starting in my city. I want to see real difference on the ground; greater equality. The inequality in the country is inexcusable."
One of her dreams is greater access to decent schooling and more opportunities for everyone. She wants the diversity of the country to be acknowledged and the value thereof recognised. "I'm not capable of solving all those problems, but I can make a difference and try to bring people to make contributions around issues that are as meaningful as possible."
Women bring a different heart to the table
As a woman, Melanie can't state if men and women experience business differently but admits that perhaps women need to work harder to get the same credit. She believes that the perspectives of men and women are different, the one not necessarily better than the other. However, their diverse perspectives are needed for a 360-degree view. "Women bring a different heart to the table," she says. Research confirms women are good at things like networking, business relationships and negotiations.
The advice she would give her younger self is to question her truths; not take anything as a given. "When your truths are faulty, your behaviour is not appropriate. Form your own opinions, develop your own view of the world. Don't just talk to like-minded people, talk to divergent people to get as many different perspectives as possible."
Finding space for everything and everyone
For Melanie, achieving a work-life balance involves fulfilling different roles and finding space for everything and everyone. She grew into her career and was there for her children during their foundational phases. Working made her children confident, capable, and independent, making Melanie proud of the people they have become.
She adds that in some spheres of one's life you belong to others as someone's mother or wife, but it is important to grow in a space that belongs to yourself, filled with meaningful things. This makes you a better person for yourself and others. Melanie is grateful for the way things worked out for her.
She concludes, "It is not only important to balance your work needs with your family needs, but you must also do things that are important to you, you have one life, you may as well enjoy the journey." For her, there is no end to her journey. "There is a vision and a dream so it will hopefully always be a process of continuous improvement for me."