Alana has over 20 years’ experience in the South African non-profit and business sectors and joined DKMS Africa formerly known as The Sunflower Fund in 2015.
Alana James, who was appointed as CEO of The Sunflower Fund in September 2015, and was appointed as executive country director of DKMS Africa in March 2021. In this position, her aim is to grow DKMS Africa to the point that we have enough registered donors for the many patients who have blood diseases to find a viable stem-cell match.
Alana is a passionate leader, and a creative systems thinker committed to the brands, organisations and teams she has led. Over the last 20 years she has developed a strong international network and offers global experience in Brand Strategy, Development & Turnaround Strategy, Project & Operational Management, Social Ethics & Corporate Social Investment and Operational Efficiency.
Reflecting on her journey, James says that her role at The Sunflower Fund included forging international partnerships, transitioning the Fund from a charity to a ‘business for good’ mindset, and ensuring that patients weren’t turned away without hope. “I was focused on growing the brand and creating awareness around blood disorders and stem cell transplants in the South African population.”
“I chose to do this by way of sharing the challenges, victories and losses of the people that I encountered every day,” explains James. “Not all of them are successful from a curative perspective, but all contribute a thread in the fabric of the organisation’s story. My goal was to tell stories of hope and share the concept of ‘sustainable giving’ with people who want to make a difference. This is still something I will be continuing with going forward.”
James’ passion for uplifting the community began at an early age when she worked with her high school’s Interact Clubs, which facilitated pupils providing support in their local community. Her career thereafter was spent predominantly in the corporate world. As a strategist, James’ work for corporates included brand strategy, corporate culture and events management.
This path set her up with the ideal skills for the role she now occupies for DKMS Africa. “In any job, you must be driven by something that means a lot to you – what drives me are people and having a positive impact,” says James. “However, when it comes to business there has to be a balance. Money is essential, so you have to create a synergy between being all heart and making money.”
NGOs are no different from corporate companies in that they have to make money. The only difference is that an NGO is a business-for-good, so the profits accrued go into projects or back into the organisation and are not distributed to the shareholders.
“One significant difference in managing an NGO is that you feel an added responsibility and accountability in how you handle the organisation’s finances. You’re dealing with other people’s donations and other people’s precious lives, so having a strong sense of responsibility, accountability and transparency is imperative,” she adds.
When it comes to work ethic, James advises: “Do the right thing, passionately and enthusiastically, but always have time for family. I have a progressive, professional approach that encompasses all aspects of business, from devising a strategy to getting out into the trenches with the most junior staff.”
I love surrounding myself with people who know a lot more than I do,” she adds. “Don’t be afraid to not be the smartest person in the room – it’s amazing what you can learn! I pride myself on being resourceful – a useful skill in the non-profit sector – and seeing potential in all situations and people.”
“At DKMS Africa, our patients are at the heart of what we do. In my new role I pledge to continue to try and find innovative and creative solutions for each one of them in the hope of never having to turn a patient away,” concludes James.