By Natalie Tannous
So I’m moving from my current role as strategic marketing and communications manager at ACE to a new senior operations officer. When my boss Ruth Stewart suggested I write a legacy blog post, I was unsure. After all, it sounds rather grand to call any of the work I’ve done with this group of people a legacy. Besides, while I’m taking on a new role, I’ll still be working with my current teammates. Still, since she asked and I love writing, here we are: this post is my attempt to capture what my legacy at ACE has been (so far…).
My work in communications for ACE has always felt like it existed at the intersection of ‘this would be nice to have’ and ‘no one else is sure how to do this but it needs doing – can you help?’. Living professionally at this intersection has turned out to be amazing because over the last ten years, I’ve done all sorts! I’ve done live interviews with industry experts as a studio co-host. I’ve written everything a person can write – tweets, leadership emails, blog posts, opinion articles, academic papers, organisational or event reports, video scripts, website content.
If it has words in it, I’ve likely written it.
I’ve designed and facilitated online murder mysteries, in-person escape rooms, and virtual pizza-making parties. I’ve collected qualitative data through in-depth interviews, analysed data thematically, and written findings in reports. I have even – and this is REALLY shocking – conducted grey literature and – GASP! – academic searches, screened, and coded for systematic reviews. I even vaguely remember a time I was part of a critical appraisal! I’ve designed party invitations, policy briefs, project flyers, and reports. I’ve agonized over Oxford commas in every piece of writing I’ve ever copyedited, and I’ve become intimately familiar with Word as a processing tool I remain a Word Wizard. I’ve designed operations processes, brainstormed communications strategies, conceptualized (and featured in) adverts, and marketed massive online events.
I’ve learned about and enhanced the voice of a special organisation so well it’s difficult for me to know where I end, and it begins.
But as exciting as all of this work has been, I don’t see any of it as my legacy. My legacy starts with a funeral. Dressed from head to toe in black, I entered a dark funeral home in Braamfontein 11 years ago. The room was stuffy, and the coffin took up less space than I thought it would; it looked very small. I looked around at the seats facing the coffin and could count on both hands the sum of the people in attendance. We were gathered in a room to mark the end of a person’s life, and so few people had come out to remember that this person had lived.
My heart broke at the thought of a life lived – the strife, effort, and inconvenience that staying alive can be – ending so unnoticed, so uncelebrated. Could this life have touched so few others in meaningful ways? There would be no sharing of memories, no tears for the years that should have lay ahead, no gratitude for the years that lay behind. I felt this thought slice through my grieving heart and birth an important realisation: we all die alone, but for the people we’ve shared our lives with. And in that sharing, every one of us has the potential to meaningfully reach someone else and break through their aloneness and ours.
So, what has this got to do with ACE and the work I’ve done there? Good question.
We share a massively significant part of our lives with our colleagues. They are the people we complain about to our families (let’s be honest). The issues that come up at work are the ones we work through with our friends. The virtual or physical spaces we arrive at every day have a tangible impact on how we feel and our mental health. This inordinate amount of time spent with people we’d like to pretend are strangers presents each of us with an opportunity to build a legacy in people, in relationships. At any rate, it has presented me with that opportunity. And working at ACE where relationships are nurtured and prioritized has meant that this opportunity has manifested in a very tangible way: through a wellbeing programme.
ACE has enjoyed a wonderfully agile and responsive evolution as a research centre, guided through all and any changes by a principled leader who holds us fast to our values as a team. In the bubbling cauldron of ACE’s becoming and with that realisation taking root in my heart, I asked to spearhead a wellbeing programme at ACE in early 2018. I wasn’t qualified for it. I didn’t have a plan for how I’d do it. I didn’t know about any of the research about the importance of wellbeing to work productivity and business sustainability.
All I knew was that I spent a lot of time with my colleagues and that this time spent together could contribute meaningfully to their and my experience of life, or not.
And over the last four or five years, because of this commitment and a weirdly unwavering enthusiasm, Wellbeing@ACE has grown into a programme that is spearheaded by a group of new faces equally excited at the opportunity to humanise work and appreciated by many who work at ACE.
Team members at ACE participate in the practical things our programme does to protect their wellbeing – walks, hybrid working, socials, various clubs – to varying degrees. Sometimes, participation fades, enthusiasm lags, and energy dwindles. But I don’t think that matters. The power of our programme – and the legacy I hope I can claim from it – is that it holds us all accountable for one another’s wellbeing.
Through the creating and sustaining of our wellbeing programme, we anchor ourselves to the understanding that none of us can be well in isolation; we need one another to be our best.
If I have a legacy at ACE as I move on from my current role, I hope I can say that part of it was supporting an environment where people I work with knew that they matter and are important. Where they felt safe to disagree and be different. A space where people could admit when they were scared and celebrate when they were happy. This has been ACE’s legacy in me. I know (from having written it so many times) how pivotal relationships are to the makeup of ACE as an organisation. Working at this organisation has allowed me the privilege of discovering my love for humanising working by championing a culture of workplace wellbeing.
I hope the fruits of this legacy will come to bear many years from now, in a room where I take up too little space, and which is crowded with the many people who were touched in a meaningful way because I lived and worked with them.
 Employee wellbeing (including leaders) is essential to effective, productive businesses. The argument for this fact is beyond the scope of this post.
About the author
Natalie believes that when you humanise work, you get the best from people, which is best for business and our world. She has worked at the Africa Centre for Evidence for the last ten years, having worn many different hats. In the last two-and-a-half years, Natalie has worked as the strategic marketing and communications manager at the Africa Centre for Evidence and for the last four years has headed the Centre’s wellbeing programme.
The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Centre for Evidence, the Africa Evidence Network, either sets of advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the aforementioned parties. This blog post does not constitute medical advice; guidance for your healthcare practitioner should also be sought when determining whether or not to vaccinate against C19.