Zahra Media Group managed by Gina and her husband John Mullins has its own list of accolades to talk about. But here I’m giving you a glimpse of my coffee-time talks with the Managing Director – Gina Miltiadou.
I was moved to see the time she cared to spend with every single person in the office. But the conversations we had gave me more reasons to be inspired. She spoke with immense passion on how the Vietnamese after hundreds of years of war maintain such peace. How they do not have a word for jealousy in their language as it is a foreign concept for them. She was touched by the zeal for learning she saw in the little kids of Zambia, she talked about the plights of abandoned South African kids who bore the burden of a family at the age of eight..
While we have and we are constantly searching for successful women to look up to, while we discuss the work-life balances and how women can manage a business and a family successfully – Gina’s setting an example of a beautiful new balance – giving back with a sense of being part of a global community.
I have tried, and I have worked with people who have tried. It is much easier to work with charities in your own countries. But trying to operate or fund a charity from abroad needs a lot more work, commitment and patience. This is what awed me about Gina. She was constantly driven by her decision to help the hapless. She wasn’t into mainstream charity – she was an entrepreneur – a successful one at that, she was a mum of two and a doting wife and amidst her daily chaos she invested in the art of ‘giving back to the society’.
Gina’s parents were in the restaurant business in South Africa and charity was a culture she learnt from childhood. From a very early age she was a part of her Parent’s involvement with Rotary. From soup kitchens to litter collection and school book projects, the activities instilled a deep sense of responsibility towards a global society from a very young age.
As part of her career in media, Gina had her fair share of exposure to the challenging life conditions of people in South Africa and her role in ‘Multichoice’ took her across Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria etc) which further intensified her desire to be able to bring a change to at least few of the countless miserable situations she came across.
It was in Australia that she met John Mullins, her partner in all the crimes – family, business and charity! When they decided to settle down in Ireland, they travelled around the world for 6 months and then spent 6 months volunteering full time with a Vietnamese Charity – SCC (Saigon Children’s Charity). What seemed like a walk in the park, later dawned on them as a hilarious challenge when they were assigned to sell Christmas cards – in a Buddhist country!
Impressed by her ideas and initiatives, Gina was invited to create the curriculum for the first post-graduate PR course for the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City (UEH).
She not only drafted the modules for the course and taught them, but also coordinated with multinationals based in Ho Chi Minh City, to get them to be guest lecturers on the course. This gave students the opportunity to get working insights into the PR industry, and also to receive guidance about their chosen career path. All students had to present their final project to a panel which included some of these multinationals.
In 2003, when Gina and John reached Ireland and set up Zahra Media Group, they set up a registered a charity called Zahra Helps as part of their decision to set apart 10% of their income to charity. Zahra Helps’ first project was quite like divine intervention. Gina had met a Vietnamese nun, Sister Clara at an airport looking for directions to her gate and she approached Gina almost a year later when Zahra Helps was just launched. She was raising money to buy lice shampoo and combs to help a hill tribe community of children who were infested with lice. This was a cute little start for Zahra Helps!
In 2004, again through this nun, Zahra Helps was able to help build a road and water system for a Leper Community. There was a leper community whose only source of water was at the bottom of a hill and these sick people had no choice but to climb up and down the hill with large pots of water, risking their lives in the process.
Two years later ‘Zahra Helps’ helped build a community centre consisting of an infirmary, a classroom, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom to house and educate 12 children and serve the wider community. A few years after Gina unfortunately lost contact with Sister Clara but still dreams of going to back to Vietnam to see the work that was done.
“It is always better to work with a reputable third party in a country. It gives you the assurance that the money is administered correctly and also provides local knowledge. So, we turned our focus to South Africa where we could help through Rotary, St Vincent’s de Paul and other NGOs.”
“One of the biggest problems in South Africa is AIDS and it is not uncommon for children as young as 8 to become the head of their households because their parents have died. They have to earn money to feed their family and can’t go to school. The danger of rape and sourcing food are major concerns.”
Zahra Helps along with Tapologo built a day care facility for children in a township called Freedom Park, where the kids were fed a meal and taught vocations to make them self-sufficient and away from the dangers of being out there alone.
In 2017, Prishilla, an employee at Zahra Media Group told Gina about some charity work that she had been doing in Zambia with an organisation called RIZE founded by Neboth Chalwe. Neboth, had built a literacy and training centre in Zambia all by himself and Gina, when she heard about his venture started supporting him in his efforts which includes the supply of proper desks and chairs for students, the rent for the school, teacher’s salaries and financing the food on an ongoing basis for 100 odd students! As we were discussing about it, she was roping in more resources to scale the project and explore the possibilities of a sustainable system for a larger number of students.
When the world is turning more self-centric by the day, we need more inspirational leaders like Gina to look up to. I’m sure we all are familiar of an age and time where our families were larger, the earning members were lesser and still there was a lot more sharing within the family and outside -for those who didn’t have much. Today, we are too busy, and we think of charity when we are decluttering our wardrobes, or we need to include a CSR in our profiles.
There is a happy surge of successful women entrepreneurs today. There is an equally happy trend of women rising as the masters of all trades. Trending questions like ‘how do you manage it all’ and ‘how do you get it all’ should have ruminations on giving back to the society attached. For that, we need more accomplished leaders who are invested in philanthropy like Gina.