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Dorah Marema, 42

Independent public health practitioner
Green Business College
Limpopo

The greening champion who is making sure that unemployed, underemployed, and those looking to augment their income have the skills to start and operate their own green business.

A rare opportunity to work and learn alongside a social entrepreneur in Sri Lanka three years ago set Dorah Marema on a path to her fulfilling role in the green economy.

As a concept, the green economy suggests that participants are people who care about the impact their business operations have on the environment.

In the context of a developing world, businesses in this sector are often social enterprises that are closely tied to the communities they operate in. This was a perfect fit for Marema, who came from a background of running successful non-profit organisations. But the transition, which included figuring out how to generate income and be financially sustainable, was hard for the then 42-year-old and her business partner Christina Vessey. They enrolled for the Global Social Entrepreneurship course with the Bookbridge Foundation and the University of Basel. It was this course that included the visit to Sri Lanka.

“This was a huge eye-opener for me, because it gave me both the theoretical and practical skills and tools to venture into social entrepreneurship.

“We spent over 10 days in a small rural village in Sri Lanka helping a social entrepreneur from that country to set up and launch his business,” she says.

When the two got back they immediately set about creating the Green Business College, a social enterprise they now operate, which is dedicated to grooming “green entrepreneurs” by pairing practical green skills and business know-how.

This is for the unemployed, the underemployed, and those seeking to augment their income and operate their own green businesses. These businesses include beekeeping, food processing, vermiculture and composting.

“Businesses have a moral and ethical obligation to future generations and other species to sustain this planet. When they don’t act responsibly they will contribute to the growing global climate change problems that are already affecting the entire world,” Marema says.

She continues: “I think, for women, social enterprises are already a source of additional and, crucially, unrestricted income. They provide women, either as employees or business owners, with a genuine stake in the future, because they contribute to new levels of ‘agency’ and trust. “They are also able to produce more innovation, transparency and attention to risk than is produced by the male-dominated leadership of many established business models. They also build confidence among women and provide new role models for the next generation.”

With this in mind, Green Business College offers students more than practical skills in how to derive monetary value out of their social enterprises. They offer coaching and mentoring that produces entrepreneurs who are confident to collaborate on an equal basis.

“It is not uncommon for black women to feel like they have to make others, especially their male counterparts, feel comfortable when they’re in a group — especially if that group is made up of people who look nothing like them. Many grow up in environments that nurture them to be submissive to men even when they are very senior and knowledgeable.

“They are often discouraged from shining and giving themselves credit for being talented,” she adds. Coming from humble beginnings in Kaditshwene village, Mokopane, in Limpopo province, Marema has made a name for herself in the non-profit organisation sector.

Besides a host of awards, including one from the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change’s Women and Gender Constituency in 2015, Marema was president of the Southern Africa chapter of GenderCC, a global network of organisations, experts and activists working for gender equality, women’s rights and climate justice.

She was also the executive director of the GreenHouse Project, a Johannesburg-based non-profit that works on sustainability in poor areas of the city, and is a 2019 Atlantic Fellow for racial equity.

She says her inspiration is drawn from “the women who came before me, on whose shoulders I climbed to get to this place”.

“I also draw my power from the millions of ordinary grassroots women who wake up every day against all odds, continue to work hard to provide for their families, and be the change they want to see in their communities, with very little or no support.”

Author - Sabelo Skiti
Kagiso Musi, 44

Kagiso Musi, 44

Group Managing Director
Meta Media
Johannesburg

An advertising powerhouse who strives to initiate change in an industry that is notorious for non-transformation.

More black women are required in executive positions in the South African advertising industry. That’s according to managing director at Meta Media, Kagiso Musi, who says she regrets not pushing more black women into executive positions in the industry in her earlier years in the sector.

“I focused so much on getting young black women in and training them at a lower level that I took my eye off the ball of executive representation,” she says.

Musi is one of the few women leaders in the advertising industry, and one of the only black women who heads up a specialist media agency. That, however, is not her ticket to the game. She is bold, intelligent, inspiring and she creates change in any boardroom she walks into.

“The impact will be felt when the force to change is ingrained in more of us and that’s the work I have to do.”

With two decades under her belt in the advertising industry, she describes her field as having been chosen for her by a higher power. After finishing up her studies at the AAA School of Advertising, which at the time was the only ad school, she entered the job market and was put through a gruelling few years of learning the ropes.

“In the early years of my career, great brands and briefs chose me and some of those still choose me today,” she says.

It took her four years to move up the ladder to make it into a senior management position. Her superiors soon noticed her talent and abilities. Musi recalls how one pulled her aside and told her: “We need to find you another job out of this company, because you’ve reached as far as you can go here in such a short time.”

Since then Musi learned to pay it forward and provide opportunities for growth for others.

Her career has been characterised by growth: growth of the people and organisations she has worked with.

“My proudest moment is made up of a series of moments where we have seen growth in the work we undertake for our clients and accolades of that work belonging to a string of people who put something wonderful together.”

She led media company The Jupiter Drawing Room to great success and moved Wunderman from an unknown amalgamation of digital agencies to being a worthy contender. Now she is creating a challenger media and content agency, while also being a shareholder in the country’s only black skincare range, USO.

She brings other women along; she celebrates and encourages colleagues who need to make leaps and is a strong voice for transformation.

Thando Maeko | mg.co.za
Yandisa Sokhanyile, 36

Yandisa Sokhanyile, 36

Founder of Konecta
Konecta
Johannesburg

The businesswoman who believes that the best invention in our country will come from rural communities as they invent for survival, without support and opportunities.

For techie and entrepreneur Yandisa Sokhanyile, business has always been about making an impact in the community it exists in. From when she was an assistant, as a young schoolgirl in her family’s general dealer in Mount Ayliff, a rural town on the borders of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal, to now running her own business that provides free WiFi at public transport hubs, Sokhanyile still carries this ethos with her.

“I love sharing knowledge and I live for impact. In any space I have occupied I have always used my skills, contacts and position to drive change, especially for marginalised communities,” she says.

The 36-year-old is one of a cohort of young black women making an impact in the ICT sector.

Since registering her company Konecta — a business that builds wireless networks and develops platforms to gather analytics — Sokhanyile has been recognised as one of the country’s 50 most inspiring Women in STEM by the Netherlands embassy in 2019. She was a finalist in the Standard Bank Top Women awards for 2019 and is a member of the Chartered CIO Council, an advisory and advocacy council for the Media, Information and Technologies sector.

She views ICT as being central to South Africa’s endeavours to address cripplingly high unemployment. This, she adds, is especially critical in the context of the fourth industrial revolution and the potential it has to be a game-changer in the rural setting. “When I see how 4IR is being coded and also used as a buzzword, rural communities will be left out, not because they are not capable, but because of the language and code terminology used in information and communication technology. I strongly believe that the best invention of our country will come from rural communities as they invent for survival, without support and opportunities,” she says.

As a result of this, Sokhanyile hosts a tech feature on Umhlobo Wenene, a Xhosa language public radio station that attracts over five million listeners, most of whom are in the rural areas. This reach is important to her, not only for sharing and unpacking developments in ICT in an accessible manner for the listeners, but also to inspire other women and young girls in those areas to see one of their own in this world.

“There is definitely a huge gender gap in the ICT sector, and we definitely need more women to partake in the journey. ICT cuts across every sector right now and has more opportunities.”

She adds: “It starts with us, as women in the sector, to actively advocate for others to come on board, to highlight the opportunities, and give mentorship to those who are still outside. It is not about having a seat at the table, but about bringing others in and building longer tables.”

This is why she is excited about her 4IR feature and the 4IR portal she is launching. This portal will share opportunities, training courses, and a business connector for SMMEs in 4IR.

“We all have a responsibility to pass the baton and to open doors for others. It is a noble thing to do, but a necessity to grow impact as black communities,” she says.

Although business has always come naturally to the mother of one — she registered her first business at the age of 19 and has stakes in other enterprises — she is continually learning about business and leadership. Her inspiration is drawn from her own purpose, which she takes from the direct translation of her name “to add value” to those around her.

“My power comes from God. I never take for granted his grace upon my life and I am fuelled by lots of strong cups of coffee. Leadership is critical in business that entails seeing the potential in your team and developing it, getting people to perform at their utmost best.”

Sabelo Skiti | mg.co.za
Marise Grobler, 47

Marise Grobler, 47

Manager
Urban Concepts
Woodstock, Cape Town

Marise Grobler believes in the power of women and the significant role they play at work and at home. She is the founder of Urban Concepts, an architecture and design company based in the Western Cape. The company has extensive experience working with sensitive sites, such as heritage resources, schools, public facilities and urban renewal projects.

Marise Grobler believes in the power of women and the significant role they play at work and at home. She is the founder of Urban Concepts, an architecture and design company based in the Western Cape. The company has extensive experience working with sensitive sites, such as heritage resources, schools, public facilities and urban renewal projects. She has a master’s degree in Urban Design from the University of Cape Town. The degree not only focuses on designing a building, but designing a whole area; all the outside and inside spaces and how they connect with each other. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the University of the Free State. She is skilled in strategic planning, architectural design and management. Beyond her achievements, Grobler is a tenacious businesswoman.

That tenacity was tested by Covid-19, which locked up a whole lot of businesses as economic activity mostly came to a halt in March. Many had to retrench their workers or subject their employees to salary cuts. But Grobler, while being extremely sick because of Covid-19, was able to manage her company. This helped her save all her employees’ jobs and keep all her existing contracts. Some of them were in partnership with the City of Cape Town, and others were from her overseas clients.

Keeping her company going had a knock-on effect, also saving jobs at the building and engineering companies whose employment depends on her contracts being honoured.

Although her business is doing well, she says the experience of running a company from her bed while being sick has been one of her biggest challenges so far in her career. Another thing that she struggles with is having the skill to be able to say “no”. She adds:

“I will never completely master this skill, but testing positive for Covid-19 certainly helped.”

She describes herself as a woman without an ego, who is a good listener, very observant and trusts her own instincts.

She says the lesson she learned running a business in a male-dominated industry is to avoid trying to act like a man. She has learned to accept being a woman in her industry and embrace the challenges and the positives that come with it. But she acknowledges that she has been very fortunate throughout her career as she has had great support from both male and female role players. Even though this is the case for her, she explained that one cannot shy away from the challenges of being a woman in the workplace. Change can only be brought about by talking about the challenges, leaning on those who understand, and educating and supporting others.

Her inspiration in life is derived from the people she spends most of her time with — her family and colleagues at her company. She believes in teamwork, and her team collaborates on all projects. Grobler says they believe that the success of the business is greatly enhanced by the mutual respect they have for each other, and excellent communication between team members and with their clients. She lives by the quote that “successful people don’t hold grudges”.

Tshegofatso Mathe | mg.co.za
Boitumelo Loate, 32

Boitumelo Loate, 32

Junior portfolio manager
36ONE Asset Management
Edenburg

Boitumelo Loate co-manages funds of over R3 billion and, as a passionate young woman who is not afraid to challenge norms and dogmatic thinking, she hopes to become a face of change.

One of the few women working for a top hedge fund in the country, Boitumelo Loate is a breath of fresh air. Not only is she a qualified Chartered Accountant and has worked for the biggest financial houses in the country, she is also giving back to hundreds of students.

After making her mark at KPMG, Loate is now a junior portfolio manager and an investment analyst at 36ONE Asset Management, overseeing balanced funds of more than R3 billion. She holds two master’s degrees, one in Accountancy and one in Business Administration (MBA) from Oxford University, where she obtained a distinction. She also offers strategic advice to board members of large businesses. She describes herself as a passionate young woman who is not afraid to challenge norms and dogmatic thinking. She hopes to become a face of change, particularly in the asset management industry in South Africa, as not a lot of women work in the field, particularly for hedge funds.

Loate also educates. She says her biggest win is being able to teach more than 400 students at the University of the Witwatersrand and Wits Business School, another 100 students at Jeppe High School for Girls, where she studied and was head girl, and a further 400 accounting trainees at KPMG. She says that, by educating students, she aims to inspire a desire to learn, to achieve and to have sparked an unquenchable yearning to grow.

“My goal has always been to let others see my passion shine, to radiate my goodness, my intellect, my enthusiasm and, most of all, my integrity. This goal has so far ensured that I have become a role model for others and have inspired others to be the best they can be”.

She added that the day she realised that her goal had been accomplished was when KPMG awarded her the Trainer of the Year award in 2014, which she still regards as her greatest professional accomplishment in the field of training and development.

One of her biggest challenges was taking up a management position for the first time to oversee Investec’s financial products audit while at KPMG. She explained that doing a course at Oxford University relating to the new way of work, politics and business strategy helped her to grow as a professional woman. She says the school is positioned to tackle global challenges which resonate with her. It was at the school where she learned about topics that mattered to her, such as how inclusive work environments are created, how to come up with strategies that tackle the challenges from the bottom up and seeing problems through a problem-solver mentality rather than as a victim.

She lives by these words: “It’s not the lights all aglow and the material stuff that counts, but it’s about the hearts we touch and the people we know.”

Tshegofatso Mathe | mg.co.za
Farah Fortune, 40

Farah Fortune, 40

Director
African Star Communications
Johannesburg

Being a powerful woman is only valid if you use that power to help other women; Fortune uses her work in public relations and events management to champion the development and talent of women, who are frequently sidelined in these male-dominated industries.

Armed with just R1 000 in her pocket, a laptop and a cellphone, and sitting on her bedroom floor, Farah Fortune famously started African Star Communications in 2008.

Over a decade later, African Star is one of the continent’s leading public relations and events management companies; it boasts musicians AKA and Cassper Nyovest; actresses Pam Andrews and Terry Pheto; Miss SA 2007 Tansey Coetzee; presenter and MC Liezel van der Westhuizen; model and footballer Ryan Botha; radio host Mpho Madise (Mo-G); and comedian Jason Goliath on its long list of high-profile clients.

The company has also worked with various corporations such as Ice Watch; African Romance for Miss World 2008; a Special Olympics Campaign; the Coca-Cola Confederations Cup 2009; Vuvuzela Eat & Sleep; Nandos Peri-Deli; and The Dudu Zuma Foundation.

Fortune says African Star was born out of the need for more women-owned and managed PR firms in the country. African Star only hires women, as they have fewer opportunities in the world. This is a deliberate move by the company, which aims to break the barriers of entry into male-dominated industries.

“I want to create a legacy of being a change-maker, not just within my industry, but [also] within the realms of possibilities for women. I want to make sure women are no longer underpaid, overworked and under-valued. I want to be remembered as the woman who opened doors for other women.”

Creating jobs and watching people’s dreams come true through the work of African Star is one of her proudest achievements. Creating a women-only work environment is another achievement Fortune is proud of.
“I knew if I didn’t create my space no one would create it for me,” she says.

“Being a powerful woman is only valid if you use that power to help other women,” she continues.
Apart from her day job leading a reputable pan-African PR firm, Fortune is also a sought-after public speaker who was recently invited to speak about her work at TEDX Port Elizabeth.

Fortune has also received numerous awards, including being listed in the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans in 2011; in 2012 she was featured in the Annual Cool & Black Directory. She was also named as one of the Top 50 Most Impactful Social Innovators (Global Listing) by World CSR Day and World Sustainability.

Giving back to the community remains close to her heart and this year for her birthday she made a pledge to raise R100 000 from donations to assist young girls from disadvantaged communities in three cities with sanitary pads — and she reached that goal.

“My daughter is my biggest driver: I’m building to make sure she has an example of what hard work, tenacity and ambition can get you. It’s important to me,” she says.

Thando Maeko | mg.co.za
Yolanda Cuba, 42

Yolanda Cuba, 42

Group chief digital and fintech officer
MTN Group
Johannesburg

Cuba describes herself as a hands-on leader who’s constantly learning, tech-savvy and fearless in her decision-making — qualities that have served her well.

Having travelled an already admirable career path, Yolanda Cuba now has a role that’s cemented her as one of South Africa’s most important and formidable businesspeople. On choosing to stay in the telecommunications industry after her tenure as chief executive of Vodafone Ghana, she says the decision came naturally, as she’s found her sweet spot. At MTN, her role is to assist with the strategic expansion of the network’s financial services and digital transformation.

“My role is around specifically driving the digital operator,” she says. “How we drive MTN to more of a platform business, as can be seen by us building a mobile money platform that is open to all networks, not limited to MTN customers, and building Africa’s super app in Ayoba, which is also an open platform.”

Cuba describes herself as a hands-on leader who’s constantly learning, tech-savvy and fearless in her decision-making — qualities that have served her well, especially when she was asked to become chief executive at the age of 29. “My biggest lesson as a leader is that it doesn’t matter how good you think you are; real progress and success depend on working in teams,” she says. “Your biggest asset is your people, and they choose to come to work for you every day. Treat them as such, so that they can choose you every day.”

Her education — she has a bachelor of commerce in statistics from the University of Cape Town and an honours degree in accounting from the University of KwaZulu-Natal — gave her the perfect foundation for her beginnings in the fast-moving consumer goods field.

Cuba is passionate about improving the state of telecommunications in South Africa. She loves the field, as it provides the lifeline that emerging markets need to leapfrog their economic and social development. “With so many people in Africa still not connected, the telecommunications market still has a lot to do,” says Cuba. “My job, every day, is to ensure that people are connected to the people and the things they love and that they’re able to transact, educate, entertain and improve their economic position. That job doesn’t stop, but evolves as we get more and more people connected. I’m excited by the prospect of being part of the 4IR journey and being key in driving it for the continent.”

Her vision for Africa as a whole is to have digital and financial inclusion, with every child adequately educated so they are able to innovate and take full advantage of the digital world.

“My dream is to see every African connected and to have regulations and policies that are progressive, to enable innovation and not hamper it. I want to enable small and medium-size businesses by making it easier for them to connect to their customers and even see them go beyond connectivity through open application programming interfaces, digital marketplaces, easy-to-consume clouds and AI-enabled business tools. Ultimately, we need to increase productivity and the economic outcomes for Africa, improve education outcomes and reduce unemployment and the under-employment of our youth.”

Buntu Ngcuka | mg.co.za
Moipone Nana Magomola, 70

Moipone Nana Magomola, 70

Chairperson of GIBB Holdings
GIBB Holdings Pty Ltd
Johannesburg

As a lawyer and leading businesswoman with a career spanning leadership roles in widely varied industries, Magomola has created positive change in her many spheres of influence.

Moipone Nana Magomola’s career has taken her to leadership positions in a wide variety of industries, and in each of them she has made a positive impact.

Currently the chairperson of GIBB Holdings, Magomola had an impressive education that’s served as the foundation on which to build her career: she first obtained a BSc from the City University of New York, then an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as executive development diplomas from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the National University of Singapore and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (University of Pretoria).

“I often say that I found my voice in New York. My time abroad emboldened me. When you’re outside of South Africa, you begin to see things from a different perspective. You see women making strides in their career and it inspires you.”

As far back as 1995, Magomola served as a board member for both major local and international companies such as Transnet, the Industrial Development Corporation and Reebok.

“I’ve been on boards for many years,” she says, “and chaired several of them, and I’m happy to see more and more women in positions of power, especially in industries that were previously closed to women, such as engineering.”

Having worked for Eskom in the late 1990s, Magomola saw firsthand how few female engineers there were in the industry, so to help make her workplace more equitable, she started a programme with some of her colleagues: “We started a programme to fill management positions with women. These women weren’t trained engineers, but were taught the requisite concepts they would need to manage a team of engineers. Half of these women were from rural areas and some of them now hold leadership positions in companies across South Africa.”

Despite the willingness of the public sector to employ a more diverse workforce, the private sector was slow to follow. “If you look at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, it’s still very much male-dominated,” she says.

This was confounding to Magomela, given her belief that diversity breeds innovation. “People from different backgrounds bring different perspectives, which ultimately affect the bottom line for the better,” she says. What’s more, several recently published academic studies support her statement. “When you see this, one wonders why the private sector has been so slow to adopt change, especially since it’s been proven to be more profitable.”

In 1999, she was honoured by President Nelson Mandela as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and later as deputy chair of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust. More recently, Magomola has worked as the director-general for the Office of the Premier in the North West provincial government and subsequently as the executive director of the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation. Her career has seen her overseeing many diverse businesses and entities, in industries as varied as pharmaceuticals and athletic products.

Magomola has never faltered in her self-confidence, saying: “A credible business plan and an understanding of your customers is key to success in any industry.” After a moment of thought, she adds: “Ethics and integrity take first place.”

As a lawyer and leading businesswoman, Magomola has a career that speaks for itself. In addition, her work for the Business Women’s Association, which she co-founded and of which she is a lifelong member, and the International Women’s Forum (IWF), where she serves as global director, has established her as a significant voice in the South African business sphere. In 2012, the IWF honoured her and her work by selecting Magomola to be the recipient of their prestigious “Women Who Make a Difference” award.

When asked how other women can achieve her level of success, she’s remarkably humble. “My advice is to believe in yourself,” she says. “You’re here for a reason. Do not let people discourage you. Get a good education and work hard.”

James Nash | mg.co.za
Mathabo Kunene, 80

Mathabo Kunene, 80

Executive Managing Trustee
The Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust/Kunene Museum
Durban

For decades Mathabo Kunene has been building South Africa one business and foundation at a time. She is stalwart and has a wealth of knowledge she is using to build the country’s future powerful women.

At 80 years of age, Mathabo Kunene does not plan on stopping anytime soon. Kunene wears many hats. Her mantra, which has constantly inspired her to achieve all she has, is: “If my mother could do it at the height of apartheid, I at least owe it to her to do much more for our people.” Kunene is an activist, a businesswoman, a social entrepreneur, a community worker, a patron of the arts and so much more.

During apartheid she says her mother started a school in a small house in the early 1950s. The school grew from having one teacher to having almost 300 pupils. Kunene says this is something that drives her to excel; and she didn’t just sit and watch her mother. Kunene was actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the United Kingdom and the United States between 1976 and 1994.

She participated in many community projects, which she continued with upon her return to South Africa. To list all her achievements and organisations she has been a part of would fill many pages.

But as Kunene says herself,

Dreams; dreaming, wild, and wonderful. Don’t be afraid to entertain big dreams. Then focus on one and be prepared to fulfill it.

She has always had big dreams and has gone out and acted upon them.

In 1996 Kunene founded Akhona Trade and Investments, which was one of the largest women empowerment groups in KwaZulu-Natal at the time. She was also the founder and chief executive of Nandi Heritage House in 2000. Kunene says she named the company Nandi Heritage because “all I would do when feeling distracted or threatened, was to invoke the powerful focus and fearless spirit of Nandi, the mother of Shaka”. This served to centre her and keep her going during the difficult times.

After the death of her husband Professor Mazisi Kunene, a famous South African poet, she founded the Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust in his memory, to preserve the volumes of writing he has contributed to the heritage of South Africa. Kunene counts the economic success she has achieved since her husband’s passing, when she managed to hold the family together, as one of her greatest achievements.

She managed to unbundle one of the companies she created and used some of those funds to “plow back to my immediate family”. For her 76th birthday, Kunene was featured on the lifestyle show Top Billing. She says this was a moment of pride, but not for the reasons you would imagine.

She turned it into a fundraising auction. The funds raised from her party were later used to contribute to a multimillion-rand infrastructure development at a high school.

This is a passion of Kunene’s — paying it forward. Along with her fundraising work, she also mentors many young women who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs and businesswomen.

Fatima Moosa | mg.co.za