As a kid, Ezlyn Barends use to stay up late with her dad as he studied for his degrees. Having been observant from a young age, she noticed that every time he got a degree, the family’s standard of living would improve. As a result, Ezlyn’s CV includes marketing the world cup, being a technological innovator, having an MBA degree and empowering young women and girls through her DreamGirls Academy.
Now, when you look at Ezlyn’s CV, it is hard to pinpoint what she does for a living. She does however, seem to excel at everything she puts her mind to. The Kuils River born and bred achiever had initially intended to develop a career in marketing, completing a Higher Diploma in Marketing Communications from the AAA School of Advertising and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from IMM. She had also begun building an impressive resume, having worked as an accounts manager on various marketing projects which include managing parts of the advertising accounts for companies such as L’Oreal Paris, Garnier and Dark & Lovely. In 2009, the then 25 year old Ezlyn began working for Matchworld, where she was the accounts manager for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Special Projects. It was also in 2009 that she became an Executive at her father’s NGO, the DAD Fund.
Ezlyn’s father, Lyndon Barends, also has an interesting story to tell. He grew up in a shack in the Cape Town township of Crossroads and worked his way to becoming a CEO at Primedia, one of Africa’s largest media and advertising groups. Because of his history, he wanted to start a fund that would help young people rise above their circumstances through education. Prior to Ezlyn joining the DAD Fund, it was mostly just Lyndon using his own money to fund the education of promising young people. However, Ezlyn wanted to take the fund to the next level and decided that she would professionalise it.
One of the things Ezlyn did was add additional programmes which included offering bursaries, internships opportunities, entrepreneurship training and development and community-based work. She also approached several large companies and convinced them to become sponsors. Of course, given the deep passion she has for empowering women, one of the programmes she set up was the Dreamgirls initiative. She called up a few professional women in her network who she knew; all had a shared passion for empowering women. After an initial meeting, they set up a plan and on 20 November 2011, The DreamGirls Academy was founded with Ezlyn becoming one of its founding directors.
The DreamGirls Academy aims to empower girls and young women through mentorship programmes that place an emphasis on education as a means of becoming financially independent. It also assists in getting them access to education, professional and personal development information and opportunities. The academy had initially started with 30 girls in Johannesburg but soon expanded to include almost 800 girls in Cape Town, Welkom and Polokwane. As it grew and started getting more corporate sponsors, its ambitions grew and one its most ambitious projects is DreamCode BootCamp. The Bootcamp encourages young females to pursue careers in science and technology by providing them with digital skills and teaching them how to code. After having dedicated several years to the DreamGirls Academy, Ezlyn had to get back to paying the bills and like before, the dynamic young professional worked on several projects at different companies.
In 2014, she was a Technology Startup Consultant for the UK investment firm, Kobo Funds, and the following year, she became a consultant for the education investment firm, Innovation Edge. Also in 2015, she started working for Microsoft as an accounts manager for their mid-size business clients followed by a promotion to Business Applications Solution Specialist where she worked with the company’s public sector clients. Right now, her passion for helping communities are being utilised by Amazon, where she works as a Public Sector Account Manager. Her job description is to consult with non-profit organisations, educational institutions and government institutions on how to modernise their technology. Of course, the main theme of Ezlyn’s story is education and she did not disappoint.
In addition to her other qualifications, she completed a Certificate in Impact Investing at the University of Oxford in the UK and in 2014, she completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Henley Business School, also in the UK. She also acquired a Digital Transformation Certificate in Financial Services from Microsoft and Cloud Practitioner Certificate from Amazon.
Ezlyn’s ability to excel at any job she does was recognised by Microsoft when she received the ‘Microsoft Digital Transformation Award’. She was also selected as one of 2019’s ‘InspiringFifty which is an initiative that aims to identify incredible women from around the world that are the key driving forces behind top businesses in the technology industry. It was however her commitment to empowering girls and young women that won her the most accolades.
These accolades include being recognised as one of 2013’s ‘Brightest Young Minds, 2014’s ‘Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans’, 2015’s ‘Top 20 Inspirational Youth in South Africa’ and 2015’s ‘Spark* Cape Town Change Maker of the Year’. These accolades are generally given to young South Africans that have done remarkable things, have become leaders in their areas of expertise and have proven that they contributed to the development of South Africa.
Of her Dreamgirls initiative, Ezlyn says that she wants “to see an Africa where the youth live inspired, prosperous and purposeful lives”. “For this reason, I work hard to effect positive, beneficial change in the communities in which I work,” says Ezlyn. She believes that “with education, hard work and faith in a purpose and vision bigger than ourselves, anything is possible.” She also believes that “Education is Freedom” and should be a right and not a privilege for the few that can afford it.
As a kid, Ezlyn noticed that every time her dad finished a degree, their family’s standard of living improved. She applied what she had learnt to her own life and built up a remarkable set of educational qualifications as well as an impressive professional resume. However, she was not satisfied with just improving her own life. She wanted to improve the lives of others and she did. She started an academy, allowed others to dream and when the world becomes a better place because of educated women, one of the people we can thank, is Ezlyn Barends.