On Tuesday, 23rd March the South African Chamber of Commerce UK took its Annual Gala Dinner online. Reluctant to see another cornerstone event fall victim to the pandemic, Chamber Chairman Sharon Constançon and her dedicated team took the decision to move the event into the virtual space and host the dinner via Zoom.

by Sharon Constançon

For many of us, certainly for me, this was the first occasion I’d had to dress up for in a year – really since last year’s Gala Dinner, which we serendipitously scheduled just before the lockdowns were announced. I was dressed up all the way down to my heels, although as we hilariously found out later into the evening, some only managed it down to the waist. Apparently, some of us have experienced so much personal growth during the lockdown that our clothes don’t fit as well as they used to.

My inspiration for continuing our annual Gala Dinner event was born out of seeing how impacted so many of us are by the continued global lockdowns. People’s creativity, positivity and ability to remain mindful and self-controlled is being negatively affected by feeling under pressure by the demands of work, over exposure to Zoom and a loss of work-life balance.

So, with dinner as a focus, the desire to do something different, to network more effectively, and the challenge of turning video conferencing from being part of the problem into part of the solution, the challenge was on.

The virtual dining tables (breakout rooms) allowed us to put smaller dinner groups together to have social conversations as you would around a table. The focus on the food and wine pairing inspired many conversations and as we compared our own palate’s reactions, opened new understandings of how they interplay, with seasoned industry experts on hand to guide us.

With thanks to our expert speakers; Jacko Maree began by giving the case for a positive outcome in the future for South Africa and Dr Leila Fourie informed and entertained as she shared the analogy of evolution, change and regeneration represented by the story of the Protea and fire. Out of what might first appear as a disaster, new life is born.

The evening was compared beautifully by Palesa Madumo, who kept the programme moving fluidly and to time.

When finally the end of the evening came, some had not had enough and stayed on for a further 90 minutes of more wine, stories, discussions and proposed solutions to South Africa’s challenges, generally bringing pleasure and enjoyment to all who remained.

Watch the recorded highlights below:

Our audience was from both South Africa and the UK, including representatives from IOM, Guernsey and Jersey. Bearing in mind the two-hour time difference, the South African end of our dinner showed amazing stamina right up to the last.

Organising this dinner was a challenge, it was a very different solution, befitting the very different times we are living in. Honestly, some said it couldn’t be done and others said it shouldn’t be done, but to combine two of my favourite quotes from Madiba, “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up”, and “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Without the support of all who attended, this small dream could never have become a reality, so I thank everyone who made the effort to attend for that, and most importantly, for sharing their company and time with us. I hope everyone felt as uplifted and refreshed after the experience as I did.

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