A young South African beauty with the brains and passion to inspire an entire generation, Raelene Rorke is the epitome of “dreams come true”. This former Miss SA Teen, Miss City Press and Miss SA Finalist is making waves as an ambassador for South Africa, having represented us at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I met with Raelene in a cosy corner bakery in Melville, which she now calls home, to chat about her amazing life journey thus far and the next leg of life as a social entrepreneur, her movement SpringAge and how the youth needs to dream.
Ntsiki: I would like to take you many years back, hopefully not too far back, to 2004 when you won Miss SA Teen. I feel you were very well known and really made the best of your reign. Is it something you always wanted to enter?
Raelene: No actually, I didn’t even know about it. The year I won was the second time I entered; I had entered in 2002 when I was 15, I think, just for fun. I was already modelling quite commercially, so a beauty pageant was not something I was interested in, but a high school friend of mine really wanted to enter, so we went together. Initially I wasn’t sure I liked the process, but I kept making it through to the next round and eventually came third or “second Princess” as they call it. For me it was seeing what the platform had to offer. That year Phuti Khomo had won and I saw all the great things she got to do. I then realised how amazing it was as a platform to use, so I decided to enter again and won.
N: Yes, you took gold.
R: second time around was fun, the audition process was horrible because we had to stand in long lines at Sunnyside Mall. Then it got exciting as it was the first year people could vote, so my whole town of Umtata was painted Raelene and everyone got involved and it became such a journey not only for me, but my family and community as well. It was better because I knew what I was doing and was actually in it to win it.
N: and what great things did you decide to focus on?
R: Throughout my high school career, I had always been involved in charity work-the lions club, the rotary club-that sort of thing.
N: Was that a personal thing or did your parents’ guide you along that route? it is often rare to find teenagers taking time out of their lives to care about other people.
R: I would say it is a leadership thing. My leadership skills were enhanced from when I was a young girl. I have a brother whose two years older than me and it was very clear who was good at what and we were both allowed to excel in our own spaces, so I grew into that and it helped me be a better leader. I was head girl in both primary and high school, I was RCL and such, it is those opportunities early that mould you, but it was natural to me. Yes my parents are examples; they do not talk much, but rather lead by example.
N: That is wonderful, so in your reign you were involved with SANCA and did a lot of talks around drugs and alcohol abuse-why did you choose that route?
R: I struggled to connect with the traditional Miss SA, Miss SA Teen charities or causes, cancer was a major one and Miss Teen normally did that-only I didn’t know anyone with cancer, but I did however know a few drug addicts. In 2004 tik was already a huge problem in the Cape flats, so it felt like the place that needed my attention. It wasn’t a “pretty” cause either so I had to fight a bit to get it, as there were so many other things the organisation would have liked me to do.
N: and how were you received? As it can be quite a pre-conceived idea of “ag you as head girl-Miss Teen, what do you know about us?”
R: I think that is what made it sticky, because I would still wear the cocktail dress and my high heels and tell a real story. I also learnt a lot of the topic, so I told real stories and spoke facts-real alcoholics at 12 years old, real drug addicts at 12 years old-that to me was a reality. Also I come from a rural community so I was not afraid to talk to street kids. The campaign we ran, was of such value and motivation and about making the healthy choice. I am a dreamer, so I incorporated that and I think it is nice to have this glam world meets hard facts about South Africa.
N: That it pretty amazing. Fast forward a few years and you entered Miss SA and you did quite well, making Top 5. What did you want to use the Miss SA platform for?
R: You know how they say “stop while you’re ahead” –laughs- Miss SA was that for me, it was a case of ; why not?! I won Miss Teen, then Miss City Press and growing up I loved the City Press brand, it was that African Renaissance newspaper-and everyone was shocked as to why I would do that. Then to go to Miss SA, I was the only Miss Teen who had ever competed in both pageants and basically all three big pageants at the time. It was more like taking the opportunity and seeing what could happen. And it was a great experience, I already felt much empowered, even though that platform could have helped me do more, I had already established myself.
N: Now the first time you went overseas for the speaking challenge representing your school or South Africa…
R: Actually the first time I went overseas was when I was 7 in 1994 and that is where my love of travelling begun. I don’t even know how my parents saved enough money for us to go. However when I was 14 I got the opportunity to speak at the Championships of the National Performing Arts and there was a number of categories; one could dance, sing, act and then you could also model. They had what they called “spokes modelling”, where you can speak about anything. I spoke about the African Renaissance to about 200 representatives from different countries.
N: Wow! How did you think of that topic, I mean at 14 the last thing anyone would expect would be “the African Renaissance”?
R: I don’t quite remember, but I suppose my dad had a part to play in it. I use to participate in a number of public speaking competitions, so we were always on the lookout for good topics. I think when I was 11 I spoke on racism, our topics were always quite controversial and we would pick them together. At the time, Thabo Mbeki had just come out as the African Renaissance man, so it was at the top of everyone’s mind I suppose.
N: You have also been a South African representative-twice I think- at the World Economic Forum, how did that come about?
R: That was a pretty awesome opportunity. That was born from my Miss Teen; a lot of things come from and happen from that year. Firstly I got to travel this country like nobody else and meet so many incredible people. Another amazing thing that happens is that you get known by a number of brands and the International Marketing Council of South Africa, who is in charge of SA’s reputation in the world got to know me. The WEF takes place in Davos, Switzerland every year and you have all these economic kids and leaders from around the world. It was a very important time for SA to showcase itself to the world as powerful as we were about to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup and we needed to show investor confidence. So they put a team of people together who would best represent what South Africa was about and what our young people were about; that is why I went. It was rather amazing, because there you are in this place and there’s Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg-such an amazing opportunity!
N: In your leadership, have you always planned to represent South Africa on this scale and be a world ambassador?
R: I think it is the power of dreams. Your dream is big, I do not know if the world sees it as big, but it is to me and I have always followed my dreams. One of those dreams was to be that person who speaks to people around the world about important topics. That being noticed is only additional. Our dreams are so unlimited.
N: It is very easy to think your own dreams are small, because to you they are simple. I suppose all of that put together lead to the birth of SpringAge; tell us about that, what it is all about?
R: Throughout my years I have always been an ambassador and that role has always been there, for my school, for my community and as Miss Teen I got to know the youth of this country well and the love for my country has always been there, as well as that travel bug I got when I was 7. This passion has grown over the years and me sitting back and reflecting, I have been able to articulate that. I wanted to build something that encompassed all the above. SpringAge was born out of travelling in New York, which was just after Davos and I looked at youth leaders worldwide and the impact they have in their countries. I thought to myself “Raelene it’s time for you to start something”. After consulting with a number of people and thinking about it, we created it. Basically SpringAge is a movement about young people-young South Africans who are leading their lives. There is a group that is not prey to unemployment. They lead they lives and take initiative, they trust their ability to make a change, they are dreamers, they are doers, and they follow through. They have such incredible characteristics and I said I want to find more of them, because people do not believe they exist. Government doesn’t believe they exist. So let’s start a movement and find these young people and not only introduce them to one another, but also use them as a resource to the country. These people love this country, but because they are global in the manner in which they think, they will do what they want to anyway-they will build their companies and go live overseas and will not be limited by anything. So how do we make sure we stimulate them enough in our home country-to live their dream, but also build South Africa? We also create a space called Spring Break, where they can get together and not only link up, but we have invited government and commercial organisations to be a part of this and then create something-not just talk about it. So in this space we create projects and deal with poverty and encourage ideas.
N: That is mind-blowing, how often does Spring break happen?
R: Well thus far we have had 13 and SpringAge was born 18 months ago and we’ve been doing it since we figured out SpringAge.
N: Basically one almost every month.
R: About, yes, getting things wrong, learning and testing and now we have 5 projects born out of that. Spring break happens when there is a question. All we need is a question, people and a place. We hunt for those questions at corporate or national organisations-energy, agriculture, how can we help you with your question-we have these young people who will find solutions and start these projects and the projects are owned by them. Even with enterprises, we get those running.
N: How do people get involved, do they have to have something already running or any credits to their name?
R: We always say you should have started something-it doesn’t have to be a huge organisation, be it at your school or university. At Spring break we have a mix of young people, students, mostly young professionals, entrepreneurs and always young people from different countries so we can have a global benchmark. They can go on our website, but we also seek them out. In my head I have a number (laughs) there are 6.2 million of use, of those there’s the top 20% of the million strong youth that are SpringAge and just because you are clever, does not mean you are SpringAge, you have to love this country and want to do something for it.
N: I would label you as a social entrepreneur. Have you always had the idea to link what you love with your profession, or has that been a natural progression?
R: I do not know if it has always been an idea, but I would never do anything I did not want to. It is about trusting yourself and what you want to do. I do not know everything, but I know how to find things and God is with me. He would not give me a dream if I could not achieve it.
N: What is Raelene the business woman like?
R: (giggles) I am still trying to figure that out. I think it was about two years ago that I really dedicated myself to being an entrepreneur. I dream a lot, but never about practical stuff. I have never had a job in mind, but I have loved the business side of things and I have dedicated the next 15 years to being the best social entrepreneur I can be. I work for a consulting firm, am hard-core sales person and then have SpringAge projects. So I am very focused and execution driven. I am getting better at interpersonal stuff, as I am good at working alone, but a lot of things I do have teams and I am getting better at that.
N: Right now you’re working towards building a legacy. When you are, say 50, and you look back on your life, what is the legacy you want to have built?
R: I want to be an example of a dream comes true. I dream a lot and I am conscious of when a dream has been realised or has come to pass. I feel a lot of people do not respect their dreams or give themselves permission to dream, therefore never realise those moments when dreams come true. Do not worry how you are going to get there, dream it and live it. I mean many people do…
N: More people don’t though.
R: Exactly, just allow yourself. I want to be that example.
N: In all your travels you have met such amazing people, celebrities, diplomats, “regular” people, statesmen; who have been some of your favourite?
R: Honestly, when I was Miss Teen, I got to spend such quality time with Nelson Mandela and he is as amazing as people say he is. What I decided to do was write him a letter in case I forgot to ask some questions from being star struck or time ran out. He is from my home town, so I spoke to him like that. He was humble and warm towards me. I know quite a few, who are not famous; another person is Warren Hero, who to me is like a leadership coach. He has taught me a lot about striking a balance between leadership, life and your own affirmations. Also a few business people I spend time with, there are too many.
N: Okay, now your blog; “Raelene’s World”…
R: (gasps) Yes, I have not updated it in ages, because I cannot remember my password.
N: (laughs) This follows you on your many travels, one time you are in Chili then Brazil, what is it all about?
R: I love to write and I was excited about your title “Inspired4Writers” and I honestly do not write enough, it is just for me to write. It unblocks me and I am living my dream, so it is nice to share it.
N: What have been some of your favourite countries?
R: Cuba, it was very different for me, I was also introduced to Che Guevara. I did not learn about him in history, but understanding this country and its revolution and how people live differently. Morocco as well, it’s Africa but not Africa-their whole story is amazing as well, how they are Spanish and African, but don’t see themselves as African. I love the colours, their food, the country, the Atlas Mountains and desert, the camels, incredible beaches and the people.
N: Some of the topics you do motivational speaking on are; “value yourself and make healthy decisions”, “how big is your world” and “the biggest brand-you!” why these topics?
R: Value yourself and make a healthy choice, is a continuation of the work I did with SANCA. It is just about looking after yourself and this body that carries you and your dream. I have a passion for that, not just taking care of your body, but your brain and spirit as well. How big is your world-dream, dream, and dream! Make your world as big as you want to and create your own playground and if you just create it in your brain it will come to pass, just enjoy your dream. It’s funny because once you put it in front of you, you are telling God what you want and opportunities meet you. The branding one, I actually had to do a talk on branding, not that I am a brand guru, but the biggest brand is you. The manner in which you carry yourself, you must be true and authentic to yourself. No one can imitate you, it takes work, but the diamond in you is just amazing.
N: What is your biggest dream for our country?
R: For people to just love our country and respect it and for us to respect and love one another. Also, to not be desensitized to each other; we need to see each other as human beings and we need to respect ourselves. We also need for people to step into who they are. Also, I want for us to participate globally and feel at home anywhere in the world, because we are a world class country.
N: What is the one truth that you hold on to?
R: “If it’s in His will”, if He gave me this dream He will make it come to pass and allowing Him to work through me. If He says let it be, then it shall be.
N: Lastly for our topic of this month, “You were made for such a time as this, because…”
R: I have everything within me to find solutions for some of our biggest problems.