Taking a look back – Rivka tells her story
As the WRC CEO, Rivka Kfir prepares to hand over the baton to her successor, she reflects on her journey in the water sector and the time spent at the WRC.
Rivka Kfir has been the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Water Research Commission (WRC) for the past ten years. She is about to hand over the administration of the office of the WRC to her successor. A special farewell lunch was arranged by the WRC staff to bid her farewell on 27 July 2011.
The CSIR shaped Rivka’s character as a scientist and manager for 21 years
Before joining the WRC in July 2001, Rivka had worked for the CSIR for 21 years. She initially joined the CSIR National Institute for Water Research (NIWR) as a doctoral student. Here she initiated a comprehensive study comparing indirect and direct re-use of water and also conducted pioneering research on direct reclamation of sewage effluent into water of potable quality.
Rivka’s DSc study (in Medical Microbiology), obtained from the University of Pretoria in 1981, focused on the detection of potential carcinogens and toxicants in water. Her studies resulted in a number of publications in Water Research, an internationally acclaimed journal. Direct reclamation of water was at that time in its infant stages with the Windhoek Reclamation Plant being one of the 1st direct recycling plants in the world. After completing her doctorate, Rivka spent two years doing ’post-doc’ studies at the National Chemical Research Laboratory (NCRL) at the CSIR.
Although her initial intention was to focus on fundamental immunology and the establishment of new immune-based detection methodologies, her research soon took her back into the water field, specifically on blue-green algae .The research team at the NCRL in cooperation with researchers at the NIWR succeeded in isolating and identifying the structure of the toxic component of Microcystis aeruginosa (a world-first discovery). Microcystis (a prominent blue-alga) blooms were at the time covering and clogging some of South Africa’s main dams. This was at the time when South African research into the field of algal blooms and algal toxins was recognised worldwide as advancing the frontiers of science. Rivka’s studies focused on developing an immune-based method for detecting this algal toxin and the development and use of monoclonal antibodies.
Rivka occupied several offices at the CSIR; she re-joined the NIWR in 1986, initially as a Group Leader of the Microbiology Group and, upon changes in the CSIR’s structure, as a Manager of the Health Programme of the Division of Water Technology. This was a highly productive period and the group was well recognised nationally and internationally and conducted a large number of research projects. The research addressed various aspects of water quality and its implications to human health. A wide range of land and water uses (from domestic to agricultural use) were addressed and, in addition to conventional water microbiology and chemistry. The group focused on toxicology and biotoxicology. The use of genetic engineering for the detection of viruses and the development of a new methodology for the detection of protozoan parasites in water was also ventured into. In addition, a new field of research addressing risk assessment was established which formed the basis for water quality guidelines.
The CSIR offered Rivka an opportunity to further her studies in management
During 1994-1996, she completed her MSc (Cum Laude) in Management at the University of London, UK, as part of the International Executive Masters Programme at London Business School. During this period she was functioning as Acting Director of the Division of Water Technology at the CSIR. She managed 210 staff members (scientists, engineers and technologists) all dedicated to water research. Upon completion of her MSc in Management, Rivka decided to specialise in research management.
From 1996-2001, Kfir strayed from the water field into new ground. From 1996-2000, she moved to Corporate CSIR and functioned in the position of the CSIR’s Technology Manager, a strategic position that covered the management of CSIR’s investment in research, ongoing assessment of fund allocation and the development of strategic concepts and investment decision frameworks and processes. Dr Kfir developed competencies in R&D and Knowledge Management and was lecturing as an invited professor at the University of Pretoria.
She became very active in the field of R&D Management both locally and internationally and took part in and actively led the Knowledge Management group during many International Management of Technology Conferences. She further specialised in managing intellectual property rights and various aspects of establishing early stage seed funding and venture capital. In 2000 she moved from the CSIR to the National Research Foundation as an Executive Director: Knowledge Management.
Rivka takes the position of the CEO –returning to water research
The five years outside the water sector served well in preparing Kfir for her return to the sector. In 2001, she was appointed as the CEO of the WRC, a position that required her knowledge of water and water research and her competencies in business and R&D management as well as her skills in knowledge management, organisational management skills and the understanding of fund management. Using the competencies and skills acquired mostly at the CSIR, Kfir has successfully taken the WRC through a comprehensive phase of strategic refocusing, restructuring and transformation on the way towards fulfilling its mission as South Africa’s hub for water-centred knowledge, innovation and intellectual capital.
Rivka leaves behind a vibrant and dynamic WRC, well recognised in SA and internationally, with a strong management team and excellent staff members. Rivka’s openness to the staff has been amazing, she has been a friend to the WRC people and has shown sympathy in difficult times and also a firm hand when it comes to work.
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