TFC Fellow Tenele Dlamini | Fairgrounds Nashville

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 1.46.26 PMCould you briefly share you academic and professional background?

I hold a double major Bachelor’ of Arts degree in Social Sciences in Economics and Statistics from the University of Swaziland (UNISWA). Over a few summers while in undergrad, I worked as a research assistant and eventually a supervisor at a leading market research firm in Swaziland. After graduating university, I started work at the Swaziland Development Bank as a customer service consultant. Eventually I helped train new customer service staff. One and a half years later, I won a Fulbright scholarship and left the bank to enroll in the Graduate program of Economic Development Program (GPED) here at Vanderbilt. Currently I’m one of two student representatives of my program and represent my program in the GSC.

What was the path that led you to get involved with the TFC?

In my final year of high school, I was the vice president of the school’s junior Rotary Club. At UNISWA, I joined ENACTUS, a global nonprofit organization that gives university students a platform to use entrepreneurship to create community development projects. Economic and Community development have always been important to me and the kind of career I’d like to have. Joining TFC was a natural next step for me when I started at Vanderbilt. The biggest thing I’ve been a part of at TFC is being a member of Vanderbilt’s Hult Prize team.

How was your experience as a TFC fellow this summer? Please share some details regarding the project you were working on.

This summer was actually as fun as it was educational. Eileen, Charles, Justin and I were a group of interns working through the TFC on a project for the Fairgrounds Nashville. The Fairgrounds faced one major issue; it had gone from earning around $10-million-dollars in revenue to just less than $3 million. It was also about to receive some funding for a major face lift. Our challenge was to identify revenue generating solutions that could be implemented almost immediately and to develop a more efficient financial reporting system. Each of us had a particular part of the project to manage. Needless to say, I felt out of depth at first as I had never done any kind of project management before. Also, working with the city government entity was another challenge all on its own. Fortunately for me; my team, TFC, the Fairgrounds staff and board member who had hired us provided as much support as I needed. Between all the meetings, conference calls, research and report writing, I sure learned a lot. One of the most profound lessons was how I was empowered to take the lead on my part of the project and engage board members and city government officials. Coming from a small developing country, I was definitely intimidated at first but soon overcame that throughout the experience.  I had a dynamic team that was an absolute pleasure to work with and helped me learn a lot of the things that I learned.

What advice would you give to people who hope to pursue a TFC fellowship?

The biggest piece of advice is; put yourself out there! I repeat, put yourself out there. The best way to learn new things, discover things about yourself that you didn’t know you could do and change the world, is to get out of your comfort zone. Trust me, it’s a whole new world that’s a lot more fun out here. At career workshops they always say, leverage your network. Well I did leverage my one network (as intimidating is it was at first, with practice you get over it), who was Mario and TFC at the time. As a result, I had a very educational, unique and fun experience over the summer that opened a door to a whole different world.