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Team building for social and environmental change.

By Taryn Van Neel and Sarah Waries, 27th August 2021

It’s not just fun and games.

At Shark Spotters, we are passionate about creating employment opportunities for people from marginalized communities in our operating areas. The tragic legacy of Apartheid in South Africa has resulted in high levels of unemployment, with over 11 million people (20% of the population) living below the poverty line, surviving on less than USD $1.90 per day. We are therefore committed to doing our part to create sustainable jobs in the blue economy, and currently employ 40 men and women, all primary breadwinners in their families, to conduct our shark safety, education, research and conservation activities.

But is just creating jobs enough? Not for us, we want to create CHANGEMAKERS as well!

Photo © Shark Spotters.

Working at Shark Spotters is not just a job that provides an income for our staff, it is also about creating knowledgeable and passionate ocean guardians that share their love and enthusiasm for sharks and the ocean with the wider community. This ensures that they have a positive impact on their social and natural environments, making the world a better place, one spotter at a time!

How do we achieve this? Through continuous staff training and skills development programmes, that not only nurture individual potential and empower the staff but also contribute to operational capacity and excellence, ensuring that we have the best staff providing the best possible service to the recreational water user community in Cape Town.

While we conduct formal and accredited training activities on a continuous basis, the highlight of the training calendar is without a doubt our annual team-building day! This is the only day during the year when we get the entire staff complement together to celebrate the success of the previous 12 months and look forward to the coming year. But this hallowed day is not just about fun and games (although that is definitely a part of it!), but also an opportunity to learn, engage with each other, and expose the spotters to new ideas and environments they haven’t experienced before.

This year was an extra special team-building event after the challenges of the past 18 months saw the spotters spending extended periods of time in lockdown and dealing with the stress and uncertainty that a global pandemic brings. As expected there was a lot of anticipation for the event and thanks to the efforts of our wonderful education staff the team was not disappointed when the day finally arrived in June!

In collaboration with Iziko South Africa, we set out to complete an “Amazing Race” activity through their natural history museum as part of an innovative “outdoor” learning strategy. The training programme was presented in a unique way that enhanced our team’s knowledge of species identification and species diversity. The learning environment and activities we conducted were focused on being active participants by enriching their learning experience through means of problem-solving, decision making, communication and teamwork. The team were split into groups to make sure they worked together with people from other departments/operating areas, therefore needing effective cooperation to achieve a common goal. There was a healthy dose of competition thrown in that saw everyone racing around the museum trying to be the first team back with all the answers (Our CEO was definitely the most competitive of all!). Most of the spotters had never been to the museum before so it was fascinating to see them engaging with the exhibits and learning about everything from the origins of the universe to dinosaur and hominid fossils, our terrestrial and marine fauna, and even how the legendary anti-apartheid icon former President Nelson Mandela had influenced the naming and protection of a number of indigenous South African flora and fauna. At the end of the activity, both exhausted and elated, the team all agreed that the programme was successful in enhancing their learning experience and wasn’t just limited to one content-specific outcome.

Team building. Photo © Shark Spotters.

Thereafter, we headed to the amazing City of Cape Town Smart Living Centre and Green Point Urban Park, where we continued with our programme as we explored and observed the natural biodiversity in and around the vicinity. We concluded the day on a high note, as our CEO, Sarah Waries, presented on our fundamental work, emphasizing our vision, aims and goals as we continue to work together to provide the best safety, research, education, and conservation practices for people, at the same time protecting our oceans and sharks.

Overall the day achieved the objectives of team building and fun, as well as increased knowledge and skills development. The team left on a high note, already waiting in anticipation for the 2022 team building day!

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Prudential Investment Managers South Africa for their funding contribution towards our training and skills development programme. This day would not have been made possible without your support and commitment.

Thank you also to the Iziko Museums South Africa and the City of Cape Town’s Smart Living Centre for your contribution and support towards ensuring that our training programme outcomes have been met.

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