30 minutes with Helen Bührs
Published: 19 June, 2017
The life of Helen Bührs is a story of bravery, determination, passion and patience. Helen is the Managing Director and shareholder of Inscape Education Group; the founder of Four44 Creative ecosystems, a space for earners and learners to play, work and train; the initiator of Project81 an empowerment platform for young designers, the founding member of Inscape Exchange, a non-profit organisation responsible for funding scholarships to academically deserving but financially challenged individuals and a wife and mother to four children. Her journey with Inscape started 17 years ago as a part time lecturer. Over the years, Helen has been instrumental in shaping what Inscape is today. She continues to be a positive influence and leader in growing the Inscape brand from strength to strength. One thing that stands out about Helen is her passion for Design and Design Education. The way she nurtures those around her is how she successfully spreads her thinking and passion.
We got to chat with her to find out what she has been working on lately, family and the one person she would like to share a glass of wine with.
Describe Helen in 3 words
Driven, Authentic, Integrity
We are about to wrap up the first semester for 2017, what are some of the highs and lows that you’ve encountered to date?
I have predominantly worked hard this year to increase our brand awareness – both locally and internationally – in an effort to extend the Inscape student exchange programme to more institutions internationally as well as to develop a global network of design educators.
The interactions that I have had with parents, students and staff through our information evenings, lecturer exhibitions as well as our Project81 events have been incredible. Efforts to grow our student numbers towards becoming the largest multi-disciplinary design institution in South Africa have far exceeded my expectations this year. Our Brand Ambassadors have visited 429 more schools from January to date, in comparison to 2016. We have proudly waved the Inscape and South African flag high at various local and international expo’s.
Inscape received two Gold Awards at the Rand Show here in South Africa for the exhibition of Project81 and the Inscape Brand. In addition to that, we received the recognition of an institution for Education Award Fujairah, UAE for our contribution towards Quality Education and Student Mobility. My all-time high has to be the moment we found the perfect home for our newest campus, further details coming soon!
Probably, the time spent away from my family. Whilst I have had the privilege of visiting Cape Town, Durban, Dubai, Berlin and Belgium in the last five months; it has been tough to balance the responsibilities of being a wife, a mother and a career woman. Striking a good work-life balance is something I am constantly aware of and strive towards. #lifegoal
What do you look forward to in the next semester?
2017, is proving to be the most successful year Inscape has had to date. We have experienced the highest student attendance rate in ten years. This tells me that students are engaging in learning and are serious about their studies. As a result, our pass rates at this stage are looking good and I suspect we will have a higher number of students graduating and passing at the end of the year. I am so looking forward to seeing the results at the end of semester two!
We have managed to assist 66 students financially through our Inscape Exchange scholarship programme this year. It is so important to me that we are making a difference in our communities and that we are able to share the opportunity of quality education with those who would not typically be able to access an environment like Inscape.
I am fervently engaging with corporate firms to assist with funding to grow the scholarship program so that we can assist more students. I pray each day that some important guy high up in some company will see the merit of our programme and see the value of design education in growing our economy and making a difference.
How do you see Inscape growing in the next two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
This is an interesting question because I don’t really believe in change. The definition of change is essentially an act or process through which something becomes different. Why would we strive to become different –we love who we are as Inscape?
At Inscape, we are about developing each individual holistically to reach their full potential in society. Why would we change this? There is the common cliché that says, ‘people don’t like change’ – What exactly does this mean? Let’s rather use the word progress, growth or improvement instead of the word change. I have never heard of a cliché that says; ‘people don’t like progress’ or ‘people don’t like to grow’ or ‘people don’t like to improve.’
So, with this in mind, I can share with you our 2020 vision that includes reaching capacity, establishing an international footprint and providing 150 scholarships each year.
To do this, we are extending our programme offering to include additional specialisations of the Bachelor of Design and hope to be offering Postgraduate qualifications including Honours programmes and Advanced Diploma’s in the near future. We are exploring the world to establish a network that will connect design institutions globally, grow the student exchange programme and introduce the Inscape brand internationally. With consistent brand awareness and institutional success (each student or staff’s commitment to thrive), our 150 scholarship target will be quite achievable.
Inscape received two Gold Awards at the Rand Show here in South Africa for the exhibition of Project81 and the Inscape Brand. We also received the recognition of an institution for Education Award Fujairah, UAE for our contribution towards Quality Education and Student Mobility.
How important is Education to you?
Education, particularly design education is my life. Anyone who knows me knows that I have dedicated most of my adult life not only to promoting design and education but to design education at Inscape specifically. My greatest achievement is the success of the people in my care and I take this responsibility very seriously. I am tremendously grateful for the privilege to head up an educational institution that allows me to live my passion each day.
Helen with Husband, Deon Bührs and their Kids; Travelling Overseas
As Managing Director, you probably get emails from people telling you that they look up to you and would like to be mentored by you. If the tables were turned, who would be the one person that you would like to be mentored by and why?
I don’t think one person could satisfy my mentorship needs BUT –oh wow! – I would love to meet Richard Branson for a glass of wine and hear his story, from the heart. I am sure that behind the perfect branding exercise he has experienced some interesting challenges in his career. I would also have tea with Michelle Obama; a woman I have always admired. She is elegant, feminine and graciously successful.
If you were President for 7 days and had to dedicate each day to a cause, which causes would you choose?
When I was recently in Dubai, I learnt that they have a Minister of Happiness. They even have a happiness patrol with branded vehicles. If I were the president, I would implement this thinking. I believe that as with human centered design thinking, if we were to put others at the centre of our thoughts and intentions, we could establish a nation and government that cares for its people and their wellbeing. This would filter to the man on the street and I believe we would see a decrease in the disregard for human life; an increase in respect for the self and of others and their property.
What are the 3 books you would recommend for one to read?
History’s Worst Decisions and the people who made them (Stephen Weir)
At Home: A short history of private life (Bill Bryson)
Mega Change: The World in 2050 (Edited by Daniel Franklin and John Andrews)
Which one of these ladies would you say you share similar traits with –Olivia Pope (Scandal) or Annalise Keating (How to Get Away with Murder)?
A deeper study of these two characters reveals that Pope “thinks fast and effectively”. Her delivery is rebuking and short. Among her secrets is her affair with President Grant. Some of her employees have law degrees, but do not serve as lawyers. Instead, they are “gladiators in suits” who mollify or avert a wide array of crises. Pope’s “intensity” infuses her team with a “sense of urgency” She appears to be a strong leader who is dynamic but at heart she is complicated.
Keating had a difficult upbringing. From a poor home and sexually abused as a child, she rises above her circumstances to become a successful lawyer. She takes a keen interest in the students she lectures and provides them with opportunities to be exposed to the world and to excel. She unfortunately experiences much loss in her life and this has a direct impact on her relationships and her own self esteem. Whilst Keating appears to have it all together, it is clear that she is a mess and this is why we fall in love with her as the main character.
Women who are leaders in business are often scrutiny for character trait analysis and a question like this can be quite revealing. However, we should always be careful to elevate what appear to be successful people by the position they hold, the fashion they wear and the career they choose. I don’t think I share similar character traits with either of these characters. I think they are both just surviving and they rely on their own strength.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with your staff and students?
“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.” – Yogi Bhajan