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Case Study: Elspeth Boynton

Personal details
Degree:Undergraduate credit (UG Visiting) Arts Profile picture
School(s): General degree - arts
Year of Graduation:Jun-2010
National of: United States of America
Employment details
Organisation: diiVe
Job title: CEO and Co-Founder
Occupational Sector: Business Management
What has been your route to getting your current position?
My route to my current position has been anything but conventional. I graduated Brown University in 2011, with a degree in Classics and Political Science and had no idea what career would fit my pursuing passion to work in and with communities and drive a positive social impact in the world. I began traveling and working in NGOs all over the world until I landed in Cape Town, South Africa. I fell in love with the people, the culture, the rich diversity and the excitement of working in an emerging market, with exciting opportunities in the impact space.

As an aspiring polymath, I have a diverse set of interests which led me to do advocacy work in the social justice space, coordinate a tourism business with a focus on community impact, as well as tag white sharks off the coast of Mossel Bay alongside premier biologists looking at ecological diversity. Realizing that I wanted to narrow my focus, I completed a Masters in Economic Development at the University of Cape Town, and moved into the private sector as a Business Consultant at EY, a global accounting, tax and advisory firm.

As a business consultant, you work on improving and developing the people of the business to improve the overall performance of the business and support the implementation of strategy through the enhancement of its employees. As the work was completed mostly in Southern Africa, and South Africa in particular, the focus was on improving service delivery, whether it be financial aid, effective sanitation initiatives, accessible healthcare or good governance. I worked with dynamic, cross-functional teams collaborating with executive leadership designing and implementing large scale cultural change programs, executive and middle management leadership development programs and talent management strategies. 

Through my consulting experience, I worked with leaders across sectors struggling to adapt to a rapidly evolving, digital future, that requires a new set of knowledge, skills and ways of working. To solve the global, complex challenges of today’s world, leaders need to work in adaptive teams, collectively innovate, connect deeply to others, and leverage their digital knowledge in novel ways. Thus, our programs centered around building tech, innovation and leadership capability in management teams so that they could successfully perform in our digital age and drive organizational growth.

However, if we were preparing our current organizational leaders for this future, who was preparing our young leaders who are just entering the workforce? This question is how I got to where I am today. I left EY several years back to build a business called diiVe that focuses on building young leaders (university students and recent graduates) agency, so that they possess the right skills, mindset and set of experiences to enable them to navigate our fast-changing world with the right pr
What does your job involve ?
diiVe is a competitive, digital leadership program based in Cape Town, South Africa for university students and recent graduates. We are dedicated to developing young global leaders with the digital knowledge, societal commitment, future direction, and business skills necessary to adapt, collaborate and lead in the fast-paced, global environment. We recruit high performing students from top universities such as Harvard, Oxford, the University of Cape Town and St Andrews

As a Co-Founder and CEO of relatively young, global business, I am quite busy. I develop the strategy of the business with my Co-Founder as well as manage its implementation. This involves everything from business development and partnerships with leading universities to marketing and sales, to financial forecasting and budgeting to management of employees, services providers as well as the network of entrepreneurs we work with. I also assist with building the curriculum with our tech experts (who teach our blockchain, data science and digital consulting courses) as well as facilitate some of the leadership modules on the course. At the same time, I still enjoy consulting, and continue to work on projects that involve digital transformation, collaborative innovation and incubation, and developing purpose-led leaders.
What are the best bits of your job ?
Running a business means you get exposure to all elements of business, which can be exhausting but also a major learning experience like no other. You learn how an entire business fits together from strategy to running logistics on the ground. As a female tech entrepreneur in the start up tech hub of Africa, I get to work within an incredibly talented and driven ecosystem that exists in Cape Town, and get exposed to new and cutting edge thinking and innovation that focuses on driving accessibility, affordability and inclusion. This type of innovation really excites me.

However, most importantly, the best part of my job is watching our students grow through our program. Our diiVe graduates leave our program with strong, marketable skills (both in tech and leadership space) as well as a stronger sense of self and connection to personal purpose. Many leave having expressed that they leave with a much perspective on the world, its challenges and their place in solving those challenges and collaborating with others and know what direction they want to take now with their lives. When a student expresses that they had a transformative experience on our program, have made life long connections, and now are confident that they can find meaning and drive impact in their future makes all the hard work I put in worth it. They are so talented and I am just so excited to see what positive change our graduates drive in the wider world.
Why were you successful?
I think that life is a journey, and there is no real end point. There are successes along the way, which included launching our first diiVe cohort, to collaborating with Harvard University. I think that being successful more broadly in life is really about personal fulfillment, growth and aligning personal purpose to broader world challenges that we are facing, which are too complex to tackle as a single person, organization, or even nation. Aligning what makes you tick, what makes you personally come alive to the work you do, and being able to do that work surrounded by outstanding people, teams and ecosystems is how I have defined by success. I get to live my purpose, and help young people find theirs.

This kind of success is only realized through a lot of personal, reflective work: i.e. time and energy to identifying what you what and aligning that with where you go. It is also supported by intensive collaboration with others. I find that I leverage my university connections, my work connections, my personal one, my ones to the entrepreneurial ecosystem within which I operate. Building long lasting relationships is key to building a business, and key to broader success as challenge are far to complex now drive success alone. The ability to constantly learn, be adaptable, fail, and learn from failure is also key and something that is not taught enough. Once you accept that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, you can go so much farther with your own growth.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
I think that my education at universities, like St Andrews as well as the other places I have studied (Duke, Brown, and UCT) has also given me a global perspective and an ability to think critically and differently, and I lean on my education often to draw on those experiences to drive innovation at work. Also, being surrounded by intellectual and curious communities at these various universities is so vital to broadening your own learning and helps to build a more empathetic understanding of diverse opinions and viewpoints, which only further spurs my ability to collaborate across borders.

I draw much on my problem-solving skills from my Classics degree, which taught me how to analyze, discover deeper meaning, and find connections and links at work (just as I had practiced through translating ancient texts). Studying politics and international relations gives you a big picture view which helps when you are doing strategy work, as well as knowledge and understanding of systemic, transnational issues that impact all organizations of which make up my clients.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
Starting a business is very hard, and I would encourage students to ensure they find mentorship early on, learn from others who have done it previously and tap into supportive entrepreneurial hubs that exist all over the world. As an entrepreneur myself, you work crazy hours, and having a level of personal resilience, an ability to say “no” and carve out “you” time is critical for your own success as well as your health (mental and physical).

For any young person interested in consulting, I would thoroughly encourage they try the industry out. As as consultant, you learn all aspects of business, you learn how to work in diverse teams, you get exposed to so many sectors, as well as how to build your own adaptability, innovative mindset and ability to collaborate effectively and implement projects.