From a FAMILY of Migrants

Helena Dolny, was born in 1954 the north of England to parents who were second world war refugees which left them hating political extremes, both fascism and communism.
 
Helena took a gap year on finishing school, worked as a volunteer at a mission station school in northern Zambia. In the school holidays she visited Tanzania, Malawi and finally South Africa. It was 1973, the era of high apartheid and a stark contrast to Kaunda’s post- colonial Zambia. This was the beginning of her adulthood and what turned out to be a life-long love affair with southern Africa

In 1976 on completing her degree in Agricultural Economics she went to work in Mozambique and stayed ten years. At the end of 1986 she moved to Lusaka to work as a researcher on post-apartheid land reform. She married Joe Slovo, Chief of Staff of Umkhonto We Sizwe – the armed wing of the African National Congress.

In 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela she moved to Johannesburg which has now been home for the last 25 years. She became a widow in 1995.

In 2008 she married social entrepreneur and radio/tv talk show host John Perlman. She has two daughters: Tessa lives in Cape Town and Kyla in New York. She has three grandchildren, Benjamin, Livia and Charlie.

She works internationally which allows her to be in close contact with her family diaspora.

Helena has always written both academically and for her professional work as an agricultural economist.  But on the death of her husband, liberation struggle hero Joe Slovo, she undertook her first book assignment. She collated his unfinished memoirs and in memoriam contributions which were published as Slovo: The Unfinished Autobiography (1996). In 2001 Penguin published Banking on Change, her personal account of being part of leading institutional change in a state-owned bank which up to 1994 had never given a loan to a black African. On completing her Masters in Executive Coaching, she became Director of Coaching and Mentoring at Standard Bank. She collaborated with a group of team coaches to distill their experience and tools and in 2009 edited Team Coaching: Artists at Work. Her latest book Before Forever After: when conversations about living meet questions about dying has been written over eight years. It is a compilation of 57 short stories aimed to provoke your thinking and encourage you to have conversations and make decisions

Since May 2009 Helena has run her own coaching practice Grey Matters. She works locally and internationally with mainly C Suite clients who are committed to enhancing their leadership behaviors. She also works with clients on Personal Futures when their brief to her is their wish to seek clarity on where to next in their lives.

She’s currently team coach to the senior management team of Sustainable Energy For All a global NGO lead by CEO Rachel Kyte a Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary General. Their mission is to support the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Helena regularly teaches at Henley Business School. She is a member of Time To Think’s global faculty and delivers a range of their programmes. She teaches 1. Personal Mastery, 2. High Performing Teams as well as 3. Communications & Presentations both to the business school and in house to companies.

 

Helena worked with agricultural cooperatives in rural Mozambique in the first years after independence 1976-1981. She participated in a Commission on Rural Finance which was the beginning of a longer experience of creating access to loans.

On moving to South Africa in 1990 she joined an NGO Rural Advice Centre which focused on small farmer support in several regions of the country.

 

Helena planned to study literature and philosophy but after a year as an assistant teacher at a rural mission school in Zambia she decided she’d like to study something more practical that would be useful in a developing country. She won the best student prize when she graduated with first degree in Agricultural Economics from Reading University in 1976.

IN 1981 when the cooperative training centers in Mozambique became the targets of sabotage, it was considered unsafe for foreign technicians to be working in these rural areas. In 1981 Helena became a researcher and lecturer at the Centre For African Studies, Eduardo Mondlane University.

She moved to Zambia in 1986 and established The Agrarian Project with Canadian donor funds, to support ANC policy research on the land question. She also worked closely on the post-apartheid policy with the Macro Economic Research Group. Her own research focused on land markets and culminated in her PhD awarded by Open University UK.
In 1994, she was appointed as Associate Professor at the University of Witwatersrand School Public and Development Management.

In 1995, she left academia and to become an advisor to the Minister of Land Affairs.

In 2005, she completed a career transition underpinned by graduating cum laude with a Masters in Executive Coaching from Stellenbosch University.

She regularly facilitates workshops at Henley Business School

 

In 1994, President Mandela’s cabinet named her as a commissioner on The Presidential Commission on Rural Finance (the Strauss Commission).

In 1997, she was appointed as CEO of The Land and Agricultural Bank of South Africa. The mandate was transformation. Since its inception in 1912 the bank had never made a single loan to a black African.

In 2001, she worked in retail banking as CEO of the Inland West region of Johannesburg for First National Bank.

In 2003 Standard Bank appointed her as Director of Agricultural Banking. Her business unit won an award for the best black farmer economic empowerment deal of the year in 2005

She relinquished her directorship on completing her Masters in Executive Coaching and transitioned to become Director of Coaching and Mentoring.

 

As a student Helena was actively engaged in Southern African liberation activities. She was a member of the Angola Solidarity Committee and the Committee for Freedom for Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. In the late 1970s when working in Mozambique she and her then husband Ed Wethli were recruited by Joe Slovo to assist the ANCs Special Operations Unit.

In 1990, she was a founding member of the ANC’s Land Commission and lead a policy exploration workshop, Breaking New Ground. The subject of her PhD on Land Markets and their relevance to land reform was specifically chose for its relevance to post-apartheid policy debate

Helena was widowed in 1995. Joe Slovo, who she’s married in 1987 died after 4 years after being diagnosed with the cancer, multiple myeloma. Since this experience Helena committed to supporting the right to die with dignity including her support for the legalization of assisted dying.

Her brushes with mortality, her own and those of people around her has left her with a passionate activism around the importance of people talking about death more readily. She believes that more conversations will lead to more clarity about how we want to live our lives as well as pre-empting the conflicts that arise in families especially when conversations have not happened

Helena Dolny, was born in 1954 the north of England to parents who were second world war refugees which left them hating political extremes, both fascism and communism.
 
Helena took a gap year on finishing school, worked as a volunteer at a mission station school in northern Zambia. In the school holidays she visited Tanzania, Malawi and finally South Africa. It was 1973, the era of high apartheid and a stark contrast to Kaunda’s post- colonial Zambia. This was the beginning of her adulthood and what turned out to be a life-long love affair with southern Africa

In 1976 on completing her degree in Agricultural Economics she went to work in Mozambique and stayed ten years. At the end of 1986 she moved to Lusaka to work as a researcher on post-apartheid land reform. She married Joe Slovo, Chief of Staff of Umkhonto We Sizwe – the armed wing of the African National Congress.

In 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela she moved to Johannesburg which has now been home for the last 25 years. She became a widow in 1995.

In 2008 she married social entrepreneur and radio/tv talk show host John Perlman. She has two daughters: Tessa lives in Cape Town and Kyla in New York. She has three grandchildren, Benjamin, Livia and Charlie.

She works internationally which allows her to be in close contact with her family diaspora.

Death has been a constant throughout Helena’s adult life. She discovered she was comfortable close in, and took courses to become a more skilled volunteer in Hospice.
She also travelled to the US and undertook a programme as a Rites of Passage Guide. Just as birth doulas are now more present in maternity wards, she anticipates a growing acceptance of death doulas to ease our dying.

This book happened along the way, when she was asked by her daughter, very much alive, if she did not have something for her to read, that would assist her to be more mindful of the possibility of death, that can happen at any time in our lives.

While Helena’s starting point was a desire to work with Hospice as a volunteer, her own journey of listening to stories as she wrote this book has lead Helena to understand how closely entwined life is with death. She believes we should live our lives ever-ready for our mortality. And that if we seriously live with our impermanence as an ever-present possibility, there are consequences for how we choose to live and our readiness to die.
 
Helena’s willingness to sit with the dying will always be part of her, but after completing this book she anticipates using her coaching skills to facilitate conversations with clients who decide they want support on working out how they want to live and their preferences of how they would prefer to die. She is currently completing a work-book that is aligned to the nine themes presented in Before Forever After which will be available online, together with the option of personal coaching.