My Take | Ellen Morta breaks cycles through social connections
‘My take’ is a blog series that explores the real stories of South Africans who are overcoming systemic challenges to employment.
From a young age, Ellen was exposed to the power and impact of youth development, and as a result, throughout her life, she found herself gravitating towards work in the youth development space. She is the regional lead for Harambee Employment Accelerator in the Western Cape, but she didn’t get there overnight. A lot of it happened through connections.
Ellen grew up in ‘Q’ town, a housing development in the Western Cape. “If you know anything about ‘Q’ Town, you’d know that it’s considered to be a bit of gangland, riddled with social ills…As young people growing up in ‘Q’ Town, there were many opportunities to go off the rails.” Ellen credits her social mobility and career trajectory to her mother, Marleen Morta. Her mother was a community worker at Build a Better Society (BABS)- Marleen’s work environment offered Ellen a peek into a different world. “The founders of the organisation were privileged, and they lived different lives than what we were exposed to”, Ellen recounts. Through her work, Ellen’s mom built a network of people who lived outside ‘Q’ Town and that deeply shaped her family life. “Our conversations were different compared to other families in our area. It became a norm to set bigger goals for yourself.”
Ellen’s personality is bigger-than-life; she is confident in her value and unapologetic about her purpose. She says that something profound changes when you connect with who you are – “When you know your worth and your value, you become unstoppable.” Though her journey to becoming the regional lead for the Western Cape at Harambee was organic, it was not linear. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Ellen was involved in various youth organisations, like BABS and Junior Achievement, where she learnt various life skills ,and found opportunities to develop as a youth leader. Through these programmes, she got to meet and become friends with various programme leads, who supported her in getting to where she is now.
Ellen spent two years at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) before she dropped out. She returned to BABS, where she worked piece jobs. Ellen recognises the role BABS played in helping her get her foot in the professional ‘door’, when she received her first gig working as a facilitator for the life skills pilot programme run by the University of Cape Town. She continued to work in the youth development space, except for a brief stint in the corporate world and a period of unemployment. “Each opportunity I received, was presented by people I knew through youth programmes and freelance work”. A special connection was a person she had met at UWC; a lucky encounter propelled her forward in the youth development space.
Years later, one of her older connections told her about a vacancy for a contractual facilitator position at Harambee. When Ellen started out, she thought it would be a short-term project. But she slowly worked her way up the ranks, deeply leveraging her penchant for connecting and building relationships. When the position of the regional lead for the Western Cape became available, she was recommended for the job – a position she currently holds.
Ellen’s love for connecting is reflected in her job at Harambee. But this isn’t the end; she hopes to make the circle bigger and create social connections for other young people too by starting a resource centre for women.
Harambee Employment Accelerator is Part of the Action, having joined Youth Capital’s Action Plan.