Women of OpenUp: Lailah Ryklief

Meet Lailah Ryklief, our Operations Manager

Tell the us a little about yourself

My name is Lailah Ryklief and I am the Operations Manager here at OpenUp. I am pragmatic, meticulous and diplomatic. I am passionate about the preservation of human values and approach everything in life from a point of humanity and kindness.

What are you working on at OpenUp? How does that work inspire you?

My primary role is in current operations, alongside which I lead OpenUp’s data storytelling programme (https://openup.org.za/trainup/). The programme is targeted at the empowerment of citizens, journalists, civil society and local government, and our curriculum is developed to impart and enrich the competencies and skills of anyone looking to communicate information in an effective and easy-to-understand way. Right now, I find inspiration in streamlining OpenUp’s operational processes so that it meets our institutional goals and complements my co-worker’s diverse personalities and workflows. I believe in building experiences and spaces that fosters growth, collaboration and participation.

Tell us about a failure you’ve had and what you’ve learnt from it?

People are not perfect. We want to encourage people to own their failures/ challenges and to remove the shame associated with struggling. This question is part of that effort. By you sharing a time where you failed and grew/ learnt something, you’re contributing to that dialogue.

I do not fundamentally look at my life through the lens of failure and success. But if I am to answer this question, then I would say that there was a time when I made a career choice that went against my gut instinct about the path that was best suited for my personal and academic growth and development at that point in time. For the first time in my life I allowed a superior to convince me that my choice to pursue a Post-Graduate Diploma in Digital Archiving wasn’t as valuable as an Honour’s Degree in Media. Through this I learnt that just as we have a vision and dream of the future we want to pursue, others might have a different vision for our lives. After kicking-off my honours I quickly learnt that my needs and interests wouldn’t be met and vowed that no matter how unexplainable and divergent my choice might appear to those around me, I am most aware of my own needs and requirements for growth. And that those with the capacity to truly guide and support me will ask me the difficult questions needed to interrogate my decision, rather than sell me a dream of greener pastures and job security.

How did your work begin at OpenUp?

I found my way to OpenUp when I applied to join as a participant in the first cohort of the launch of then Code for South Africa Data Journalism Academy — the first of its kind on the African continent. My application was well received and I walked through the doors of Codebridge in February 2016. Within the first month of a three month programme I was offered a formal position to join the Academy team as a newsroom developer. I had always wanted to use my skills for the betterment and improvement of society and my exposure, through OpenUp, to the world of civic technology truly opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities I would have to enact this. I have since moved around the organisation, and almost four years in, I have taken up the responsibility and challenge of managing our organisational operations.

How is it being resourced and sustained?

Personally, my cultural and religious background keeps me grounded, humbled and reminds me that my character, above all, is my true life’s work. To compliment this, I have an amazing family, trusted peers, and co-workers together with whom we work to guide and support each other in the various aspects of our livelihoods. We provide a platform that nurtures and refines our individual voice, but also holds each other to account. This is the highest form of support I could possibly have asked for.

Would you describe any aspect of your work in particular, as a Feminist Reality? What aspects of this make it a feminist experience for you?

As a female of colour on the cusp of 30, the position I am able to hold shows women that equality between the sexes and among our diverse industries can and does exist. I am fortunate enough to have been granted the opportunity to play a critical role in decision-making and strategic planning at the highest tier of the organisation. My daily contribution is explicitly valued and supported by everyone I work with, and in return I strive to return and preserve this sentiment amongst those in my workplace. In this way, OpenUp allows me to live my feminist reality and be a role model for and alongside everyone.

What comes next for you? What’s the world you’re trying to build?

I strongly advocate for a wold that is founded upon the principles of Character Refinement. Every illness, challenge, misunderstanding and intolerance stems from our collective underdevelopment with respects to character development.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers or in particular with our female readers?

To truly be a living embodiment of our feminist reality, we need to take responsibility and accountability as role models for our society. If we can’t make positive contributions through our many actions, interactions and conduct — how can we expect our greater society to change?

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