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An Interview With Yase Godlo, Manager of Mandela Day

Kanzi Kamel By Kanzi Kamel Published on July 18, 2016
This article was updated on August 2, 2017
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Yase Godlo is the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s manager of Mandela day and outreach programs. He’s been with the foundation for over a decade and was fortunate enough to be there while Mandela was still personally involved in the foundation. He offers a unique insight into Mandela’s work, his approach, and his drive.

Godlo’s enthusiasm for the Mandela foundation’s work is evident from the moment he begins speaking, but it runs deeper than that. Beyond his clear passion for his work, he also speaks candidly and comfortably about Mandela’s aspirations and his legacy. Given that the goal of Mandela Day is to “activate” Mandela’s legacy, it seems that there are few people in a better position to do so than Godlo.

How did you become involved with Mandela Day? 

Y.G: I was recruited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2004 to work with finance, actually. Over the time I’ve naturally grown into working in other spaces. I was motivated by other work that we do around national programming and, eventually, after developing my skills in other fields, was given the opportunity to work with Mandela day. I think the organization saw an immense growth in me, as well as the ambition to want to do more, with myself, but also with the projects to develop the communities that we work with. 

"The overarching theme of Mandela Day is to take action, inspire change, and make every day Mandela Day."

How has Mandela Day evolved since its inception? 

Y.G: Mandela Day was inaguarated by the United Nations in 2009 and, since then, the [Nelson Mandela] foundation has been tasked with finding a space to facilitate it. It has been a day to honor our founder, but also encourage people to become involved with the community. When we first started, there was a different image and brand to our campaign that that of today; Mandela Day has evolved into mobilizing the global community to do good. People everywhere have different expectations of how the Nelson Mandela Foundation should be involved in Mandela Day, but we've found a way to engage people. It's my role to ensure that we have strong relationships with international organizations that can initiate Mandela Day activities. We've successfully done this with the help of the South African embassies in over 106 countries across the world. It's also been effectively accomplished through the Network of Cities – all the mayors and metropoles around the world – that have shown huge interest for Mandela Day each year. But most importantly, we teach people that to understand the ethos – the values of Mr. Mandela – is to understand that you must do it every single day. The overarching theme of Mandela Day is to take action, inspire change, and make every day Mandela Day. Because when people begin to do something good, they feel like they haven't made a big or sustainable impact on the world. So we say to people that, when you make a contribution, make sure you've made a difference.

What is this year's theme for Mandela Day? 

Y.G: Last year's Mandela Day theme was centered around Millennium Development Goals. In 2016, while we're still incorporating aspects of last year's theme, we're also focusing on the environment. The environment has been one of our three strategic focus areas, and is one of the most important ways people can help change the world. So we decided to focus on cleaning up. Our rivers and dams here in South Africa are incredibly dirty, and people need education and awareness on what it means to keep a clean environment, and how to take care of Mother Earth in order to ensure that the next and following generations can enjoy the world as much as we do. So the environment has been key in this year's campaign. Social development goals are still our reference point: Education, literacy, and food security. But the most important thing about those pillars is to create a sustainable and measurable impact – planting food gardens, instead of just delivering food parcels; building libraries; organizing spelling bees. We've come to realize that if we excite children about education in a competitive way, the come to understand the importance of language and words. They begin to want to go to a library, read a book, and find new words. They grow, every day, without ever having to leave the library. It's a huge focus for us.

What vision do you have for Mandela Day? 

Y.G: Over the years, I've had the honor of seeing him at home, with his grandchildren, and seeing his leadership in action in various meetings. I've come to understand that my role, not only as a member of the Nelson Mandela foundation, but also individually, is to honor the legacy of Mr. Mandela, and to encourage people to practice his ethos every day. Around the world people understand Mandela Day differently. I hope that with the help of the foundation, people will come to understand that what is important is not how much people do, but what they do, and how meaningful it is. Our vision is to ensure that people can, at any given time, have the opportunity to celebrate Mr. Mandela, and to honor his teachings. They can do it with their hands, their heads, and most importantly, their hearts. If your heart wants to celebrate it the correct way, then you will.

Mandela Day marks the birthday of South Africa’s Nobel Prize winner and former president. If you’d like to read more about Mandela Day and the Mandela Foundation, you can do so at NelsonMandela.org.

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Egyptian-American food enthusiast born in Chicago, raised in Beirut, and living in Dublin. Multitasker at Bookwitty. Intimately familiar with the term "identity crisis".