As a young boy growing up in the Eastern Cape, Sven Weidner always wanted to lend a helping hand to those in need. He believes that no effort is too small to make a change. “It does not always need to be a financial donation; one can also give some of one's time."
Today, this Matie alumnus, who is currently living in London, is all set to raise money for Stellenbosch University's UK/EU Bursary Fund. Sven will embark on a 100-kilometre walk to raise funds and in the process hopes to lose some of his unwanted kilos and to help Matie students in need.
Please tell us about yourself.
I am a born-and-bred Eastern Cape boy, first generation, and am passionate about South Africa. My parents emigrated from Germany in the 1960s. We spoke German at home, and I was sent to an Afrikaans school and an English university (then known as UPE). I graduated with a B.Com in 1995. Whilst studying and having to pay university fees, I combined my love for the sea with my lifesaving skills, first as a sport and then as a career, which funded my B.Com.
In 1995, I joined the Corporate Finance team of First National Bank. Whilst working, I completed a postgraduate Diploma in International Banking. I realised that a career progression would mean having to work in a larger city, and not wanting to work in Johannesburg. In 1998, I left for London with one backpack and £1 000 in my pocket.
From 1999 to 2000, I worked on international projects in various investment banks, spending a year in Frankfurt, Germany, on a project. However, I did not feel intellectually stimulated and bored and with the intention to surf as much as I did at UPE, I headed to Cape Town in January 2001, enrolled for a full-time MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and lived in Blouberg. I obtained my MBA degree towards the end of 2004 after completing my MBA thesis.
After my year at USB, I returned to Europe and worked in various risk management roles, one in Düsseldorf, Germany, were I lived for five years. In Düsseldorf I met my wife, who is also a German-speaking South African, and we shared similar experiences of our hybrid cultures. We relocated to the United Kingdom in 2009 due to a career opportunity and live in Sunny Surrey with our 12-year-old son, nine-year-old daughter and thirteen pets. (9 Khoi fish, one bird , 2 hamsters and one cat)
I currently work as a senior risk consultant for a large insurance firm, implementing a model risk management (MRM) framework. I am also trying hard – but failing dismally – to complete my doctorate (DBA) in MRM through the Bradford Business School. I plan to graduate in June 2021 but think after that I will stop studying for a bit. Another objective of my mine is learning to speak Italian in this isolation period.
What is the 100-kilometre challenge, and why are you doing it?
The challenge serves a twofold purpose: I have gained a nasty 20 kg in weight in the last five years, and last year I joined the Stellies Alumni gatherings. My dear friend Darryn Havenga told me of the current dilemma at Stellenbosch with students sometimes needing to go without food for a day or days. I was shocked to my core and immediately wanted to do something about this and to become more involved in giving to the United Kingdom-registered Stellenbosch University Charity to alleviate this problem.
What have you been doing to train for this challenge?
Isolation has been a blessing in disguise. With more time on our hands, I have become a serial walker. On weekdays, I walk one to two hours every day and on weekends, I walk three to four hours. I recently got lost and ended up walking for five hours as unbeknown to my family, my mobile had run out of battery and they assumed that I had chosen a longer route. I now walk with about two maps when I go on my strolls.
Do you remember when you first started being philanthropic, and what made you do it?
Growing up in the 1980s in the Eastern Cape, I experienced very tough times from a political and economic perspective. Hardworking people were laid off due to factories, such as Ford, closing their plants in Port Elizabeth.
Even as a child, I noticed the suffering and hardship that people and especially children had to endure with entire families not having any food to eat. My giving to others started when I was very young; my mom told me a tale, and when I was 12, I told her that I was going to do something about the poverty in the Eastern Cape. This issue had made me quite sad. My mom started noticing two things happening around the house – we were forever out of tinned food, regardless of how much she bought, and every time the doorbell rang, I would dash to the door to open it.
I was handing out food cans to people who knew I was donating, and I thought that it did not matter how small my effort was, it would make a change. It did occur to me at the time that the abundance of food cans miraculously never ran out, and it was only after I was 25 that my mom admitted to her buying five times as many food cans than necessary for our own use behind the scenes to sponsor my charitable initiative.
Do you think people have to be rich in order to be philanthropic?
No, definitely not. I still think, as I did as that kid handing out the canned food, that everyone can make a difference. No effort is too small to make a change. It does not always need to be a financial donation; one can also give some of one's time, such as mentoring a young Stellies student, for example. I also do all my Amazon purchases via Smile Amazon, and Stellenbosch University Charity receives a percentage of my purchases on Amazon.
How or where can other Maties help you in achieving your fundraising goal?
I have set up a 'GoFund me' web page for donations. Please click here to read more.