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Making her mark in Germany is Boitumelo Pooe who is a PhD student under the Faculty of Management Sciences at the Durban University of Technology (DUT).  

Last year in March, she received an opportunity of a lifetime to research and teach at the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) Ravensburg University in Germany for a three-year scholarship programme.  

She is currently researching the critical success factors of fashion design entrepreneurs and the influence of external support policies. It’s a cross cultural study between Germany and South Africa. The focus is to find out whether external support does have an influence on critical success factors on fashion design entrepreneurs. Also, looking at how external support can be better co-ordinated so that there are no wasted resources.  Pooe, originally from Tshwane, left for Germany in March 2020 during the COVID-19 Level 3 lockdown. She boarded the repatriation flight to Germany as she was not willing to let COVID-19 stand in the way of her dreams.  

“One of my supervisors, Professor Thomas Dobbelstein from DBHW Ravensburg and his wife were supportive, they made me feel at home and calm about things. Thomas helped me to find an apartment closer to the university and furniture for my apartment. The International office also helped me to settle in. When the hard lockdown started my movements were limited. When I first arrived in Germany restaurants were still open, I was still getting used to the environment. At the moment I feel like I am in a fishbowl but it helps me with my writing, I am quite far with my proposal. Settling in has been good and I have been connecting with other PhD candidates,” said Pooe.  

She said what she misses the most about South Africa is the traditional food especially pap. Apparently she asked her supervisor, Prof Dobbelstein to bring it for her in his recent visit. He had only brought 1kg of maize meal, which Pooe said was not enough and had wished he brought a 5kg bag. Another thing she misses is the sun in December as she said spending full winter in Germany was a shocker.  Her challenge has been the language factor as her language classes were put on hold due to lockdown. She has also not been able to meet the students she teaches face to face.   

“The language classes were stopped at the time I was learning the basics in ordering stuff around Germany. I had learnt little bit, to get my coffee order and to say thank you and hello. I have learned so much and I am so appreciative of it. I have been earning a lot about Germans every day, their culture and language. Learning how to manage three supervisors. I am blessed to have such a great relationship with my supervisors,” said Pooe.  

Speakin about her love for fashion, Pooe said she initially studied Fashion Design and Retail Buying Diploma at Damelin. Then she went on to work in retail, but while she was in retail she realised that she always had questions. She said she was always inquisitive and really wanted to know deeper about the industry and not just the pretty clothes or the retail outline or the flow of retail.  

“So I decided to go back into studying. When I initially started studying Fashion Design at Damelin, my mother said she would let me study anything if I promise to study as far as I could. She always motivated and encouraged me to go back to school. I then went to the University of Pretoria to do a Degree in Consumer Science Clothing Retail Management and once I was done there I went into academia, I lectured at Lights Off, after then I moved to Cape Town where I worked for the South African Fashion Council. When I left the South African Fashion Council I recognised the gap for fashion designers to be assisted with the business side of things, especially when it comes to finding funding and applying for funding. I opened my open fashion consultancy business called Sesi Tumi and I was lecturing part time at the Design Academy in Fashion as well as AFDA,” explained Pooe.  

Futhermore, Pooe said while working at the South African Fashion Council in 2017, she applied for her Masters at CPUT and completed it in 2020. She then left her job to focus on her Masters.   

“While I was doing my Masters and running my business, my supervisor came across an opportunity for me to go to Sweden and present my paper there because they found it very interesting. I actually got the opportunity to go to Sweden, while we were there the advert for the RBHW Ravensburg came out. I was very adamant that I wanted to do my Doctoral studies in Sweden. In Sweden I was told that I would have to wait for a couple of years since the university that invited us was facing financial constraints. That also discouraged me, I applied for the opportunity at DBHW with DUT not knowing that they would give me a chance,” said Pooe.  

She said being in Germany has grew her love for not only her country but her continent, Africa. Pooe said being part of this programme will help her grow her service for her country as she always strives to change people’s lives. Lastly, she said she was proud of DUT’s ENVISION2030 for decolonising education.  

Speaking about Pooe’s determination, Prof Dobbelstein said inviting somebody to leave her native country South Africa to work and live for three years in Germany is a high responsibility. He said it is important that you do not only look at the academic qualification of a person.    

“The personality has at least the same importance, if not a higher one. You can train somebody research methodology but it is much harder to train somebody work ethics, motivation and being focussed on the things you do.   The panel agreed in the first interview that Tumi is the right and best person for the position of PhD research assistant at our university in Germany. Because of all the formal COVID-19 rules that started in Germany, it was quite tough for Tumi. But she never disappointed us and always did an excellent job. Personality and academic wise she really is a great enrichment for our university. I hope she maintains her charming personality, her humour, her work motivation, her joy of working and I am optimistic that she will finish her PhD with a happy landing in the given time,” said Prof Dobbelstein.  

Pictured: Boitumelo Pooe  

Simangele Zuma   

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