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Lauren Hermanus, 35

Founder and director of Adapt
Adapt
Cape Town

The sustainable development researcher and practitioner engages the messy in-between to find solutions to South Africa’s crises.

Finding solutions to South Africa’s sustainability problems is a messy business. It requires balancing the interests of a number of stakeholders and trying to get them on the same path.

This is where Lauren Hermanus steps in. The sustainable development researcher and practitioner is comfortable — happy even — navigating this complexity.

Hermanus did her Master’s in Philosophy, but she didn’t want to be confined to a limited specialisation. “I wanted to have the flexibility to be engaged in messy, real-world social problems,” she says.

She first worked with a private consulting firm and went on to work with the Western Cape government on greening its economy. She eventually branched out on her own, starting her consulting practice, Adapt, in 2016.

“Just gradually, I think through picking up projects that interested me and by working with people that I really like and wanted to work with and learn from, I found myself where I am now.”

Hermanus now has over a decade’s worth of experience in sustainable development work. She has worked on a number of projects with government and non-profit organisations focused on sustainable energy innovation, urban resilience and green economic development.

She has also worked to address the effects of state capture and corruption in the energy sector alongside the parliamentary portfolio committee on public enterprises.

When you can connect with other people around the urgency of that response and a shared recognition that something needs to be done, that recognition is not an intellectual one. It’s a deeply personal and ethical imperative.

Her consulting work allows her to act as a translator between stakeholders. “People who operate in those different, almost like little subsystems of society, have different roles that they follow and they’re incentivised differently,” Hermanus says.

“So sometimes the logic of the way that people think and approach problems and approach solutions is very different. I actually really like having the role of facilitating the translation between different subsystems, and between different causes. Actually, what I find really interesting is that messy, in-between stuff.” She says for a long time she felt a lot of pressure, especially as a woman, to fit into a concrete set of expertise. “But increasingly, I’m just finding myself more and more comfortable with the fact that actually someone has to specialise in the messy spaces in between, and that is its own area of expertise,” Hermanus says.

“It does mean that I constantly kind of feel like a little bit out of my depth. Because I’m constantly having to pick up new vocabularies and having to become literate in a whole set of new issues so that I can speak with competence and confidence to different kinds of stakeholders.”

Hermanus loves her work, even though some of it — such as attending to South Africa’s energy crisis and Eskom’s death spiral — is pretty dire.

“I think the privilege of my work is that it’s intellectually stimulating. But at the same time it is ethically compelling.”

The issues Hermanus works on demand an urgent response from a whole range of stakeholders. She says she finds joy in bringing people together around this sense of urgency and finding shared solutions.

Author - Sarah Smit
Dr Shakira Choonara, 30

Dr Shakira Choonara, 30

Independent public health practitioner
Johannesburg

Dr Choonara’s empathetic outlook and passion for public healthcare have been shaped by her own experience.

Driven by an interest in creating systems that take the human experience into account, Johannesburg-based Dr Shakira Choonara believes healthcare should focus on a community’s social needs as much as it does on medical skills.

She is an independent public health practitioner working on a range of projects for the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and regional nongovernmental organisations.

Her current projects include providing expertise as the international expert on the National HIV Gender Assessment in Tanzania, the National HIV Gender Assessment in South Africa, accelerating universal health coverage for communities and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa and being a facilitator for the First Lady of Botswana Strategy Development Meetings in 2019.

Her goal to become minister of health in South Africa, at some point in her career, is no secret: “I want to become a responsive leader, which is what’s missing on the African continent. I want to be accessible to young people and bring networks of young people addressing various issues across the continent together by creating spaces where there is more collaboration between professionals who are working on environmental issues and healthcare workers — we should work together to come to the solutions that better respond to our needs.

“I want to empower young people to understand the AU policies and know that they have the power to hold these organisations to their words; the African Union is only as effective as the member states that adopt what it puts out,” she says.

In her volunteering work, she monitors PPE shortages through the Stop Stockouts project; she mentors public health students through Global Health Mentorships; she is a USAID YouthLead peer advisor and ambassador; and also part of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation youth projects.

Choonara has earned numerous accolades, including Africa Youth Awards 100 Most influential Young Africans and Destiny magazine’s Most Powerful Woman under 40 in South Africa.

She maintains that they aren’t worth much unless they speak truth to power, with the public’s interest in mind. Even in her position on the African Union’s Youth Advisory Council, Choonara is vocal in her critique of the implementation of policies, or the lack thereof.

Her passion for public healthcare was inspired by her own experience: growing up in a deprived environment with limited access to dignified healthcare. Helping her late father, who lived with a disability, navigate public healthcare and seeing the difficulties firsthand has shaped her empathetic outlook on the work she does and keeps the urgency of these matters in perspective.

She went on to obtain her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand, and says that she resonates with the students who were fighting for affordable tertiary fees, because she too was once unable to afford the registration fee.

“I hope that more leaders who find themselves in positions where they can affect change take the time to reflect on the circumstances they come from and aim to achieve more for people living in similar or worse conditions. The work we do shouldn’t only improve our lives; we need to keep the focus on making an impact on the community.”

Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha | mg.co.za
Jacki Mpondo-Hendricks, Almost 50

Jacki Mpondo-Hendricks, Almost 50

President: Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry / Social Entrepreneur
Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Johannesburg

A woman who truly personifies holistic leadership through ubuntu and a Covid-19 survivor who is not willing to just be a bystander.

If there was one piece of advice that Jacki Mpondo-Hendricks could give to her younger self, it would be that life and anything worthwhile does not have any short cuts; you have to see the process through to reap the rewards.

With more than 25 years of experience in both the public and private sectors, Mpondo-Hendricks knows that short cuts, not working smartly enough and not allowing yourself enough time to understand the dynamics informing the “rules of the business game at play” are unlikely to work in your favour.

Mpondo-Hendricks was appointed as the first black female president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce (JCCI) in 2019, something she says is one of her proudest achievements. In her role as the head of the JCCI, Mpondo-Hendricks works closely with the team on local and international stakeholder relations, networking for market access, lobbying, training and capacitating SMMEs for inclusive global trade and investment opportunities.

The Eastern Cape-born Mpondo-Hendricks is a businessperson and social entrepreneur. She has had roles in South Africa’s creative industry, ranging from being a producer, talk show host and actress to being a founding member of the Independent Producers Organisation of South Africa and one of South Africa’s first black female television and film producers.

She has interests in various businesses focusing on global business development. Her many achievements include globally promoting trade and investment for South Africa, leading Gauteng and the City of Johannesburg through 14 000 sister chambers and strong relationships with more than 135 embassies. She hosts between three and 30 international trade events a month, and fosters funder relationships with various international donors.
She successfully implemented the SMME Global Business Accelerator Incubation Programme, which has more than 75 beneficiaries who have created sustainable businesses and employment for close to 1 000 people.

Development in Africa and inclusion in the world remain one of her goals. Although the outbreak of Covid-19 has delayed the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, which would accelerate the trading of goods and services among countries on the continent, she still believes the agreement could unlock Africa’s development potential after the pandemic.

“I want to meaningfully contribute towards the facilitation of an inclusive economy for mainstream beneficiation by all currently marginalised people, youth, women, the disabled and the elderly from rural areas and townships, and so create an Africa intratrade ecosystem through market innovation and disruption,” she says.

“[I] ultimately [want to] restore the dignity of our people through economic freedom.”

As a Covid-19 survivor, Mpondo-Hendricks has distributed 90 000 meals, sanitary pads and disposable nappies for both babies and the aged across Gauteng through a Covid-19 relief programme.

“Always show compassion, for love is the ultimate currency of life.”

Thando Maeko | mg.co.za
Nhlakanipho Zondi, 33

Nhlakanipho Zondi, 33

Product Marketing Manager at SYSPRO and founder of Inspired by Love
Inspired by Love and SYSPRO
Randburg, Johannesburg

Helping women become the best version of themselves is Zondi’s purpose in life.

“Speak up – your voice is valuable,” says Nhlakanipho Zondi, the founder of Inspired by Love. This is a brand that celebrates the power of love and believes in its magnificent ability to bring out the best in every person and relationship.

Zondi definitely uses her voice and has been able to make a name for herself in the business world. The Inspired by Love network mainly provides an opportunity for young professionals to be group mentored by some of the most impactful industry leaders in the country. Zondi mentors young women to use their voices and speak up for themselves.

Initially, Zondi founded the brand as Inspired Weddings. However, she decided to rebrand it because she didn’t want to only focus on weddings. Along with her business partner Gladys Semeya, Zondi wanted to focus on love holistically and everything that is inspired by it.

Together, Zondi and Semenya create blog and YouTube content, and host workshops all with the aim to help women become the best version of themselves. Along with founding Inspired by Love, Zondi is also a product marketing manager at SYSPRO, with more than seven years’ experience in the software industry. With a strong marketing background, Zondi has managed to translate all the training and experience she has into a successful business.

Zondi is particularly passionate about mentoring young women to find their voices. One of the reasons is something she experienced while growing up. “I am naturally still a shy person and wish it is something I had learned to overcome at a younger age,” says Zondi. She wishes she had been told to speak up and believe that her voice was valuable.

Even though Zondi has inspired so many young women, she still expresses surprise when people agree to get involved with the network. She says that, when the network’s Johannesburg mentor, Mapule Mzimba, responded to their group mentorship request with a simple, “yes, I’ll do it”, she was surprised. “It blew my mind as it is often a negotiation process with mentors of her calibre for them to buy into our vision and commit to participating.”

Fatima Moosa | mg.co.za
Mpho Manyisa, 26

Mpho Manyisa, 26

Sponsorships Consultant for Group Marketing at Discovery
Discovery
Johannesburg

Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development: This is what drives Mpho to achieve inclusive and quality education for all.

Mpho Manyisa has a stellar list of achievements. From being part of Cosmopolitan South Africa’s 25 Under 25 next generation of fierce women making their mark in Africa list (2019) to being a McKinsey Next Generation Women leader finalist. But her main drive is to initiate tangible change through her involvement in various initiatives. Manyisa says she is passionate about education and the development of young people. As a candidate fellow mentor at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, she engages with emerging young leaders to enable them to be future high-impact and responsible entrepreneurs in the country. She has also been selected as a One Young Ambassador to be part of the SAICA & Chartered Accountant Worldwide Finance & Business Task Force with an aim to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Her work there focuses on achieving inclusive and quality education for all, reaffirming the belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development.

She says she is a woman now because she had the opportunity to be guided by strong women.

“I believe that empowered women empower women, and having women who believed in me and my potential made me a much stronger woman. I now realise that my responsibility and role in other women’s lives is equally important to ensure a culture of empowered, strong women,” she says.

But she is dismayed about how women are treated in the country in the workplace and at home. She says the statistics related to gender-based violence are horrific.

This can be changed, she says, by creating platforms where uncomfortable issues and topics are raised and discussed within our communities and societies, helping to normalise the voices of victims.

“This should be followed up by action plans to respond to these issues women face. The public and private sectors have a role to play and need to be more accountable for the issues women in our country face.”

Manyisa says that growing up in two different worlds was a challenge for her. She was raised in a township in Johannesburg and attended an IEB private school for 14 years. Although difficult in the beginning, the experience has shaped the woman she is today.

“My self-discovery began at a young age because of cultural disparities, but being brought up by a strong-willed woman, I was able to be self-aware, which assisted my growth in this journey,” she says.

She lives by a quote by Victor Frankl: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

She says she believes that a person’s circumstances don’t determine their future, and if they live with purpose, they can achieve the impossible.

Tshegofatso Mathe | mg.co.za
Laurel Oettle, 38

Laurel Oettle, 38

Director, the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA)
Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA)
Pietermaritzburg

A powerful woman who believes working together can help solve South Africa’s land reform challenges.

When Laurel Oettle started working at the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) in 2015, she found the 45-year-old organisation in a disastrous state. AFRA was facing massive financial difficulties; it was on the brink of closure and was retrenching a large portion of its workforce.

Oettle was recruited as a director of land rights for the organisation, with the single aim of turning it around. Thanks to a much-needed donation from a person who believed in AFRA, Oettle and her team were able to lift the organisation out of the gutter.

Four years later, the organisation celebrated not only its 40th anniversary but also its successful turnaround; it had rebuilt a base of funds, had a substantial financial reserve, a dynamic, creative, united and expanded staff team, and a renewed national impact.

Oettle says this achievement was one of the proudest moments of her career, as it continued her mother’s legacy — she had worked at AFRA until the age of 55 before passing away in 2011.

AFRA is the oldest formal land rights advocacy non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the country. It focuses on addressing the pressing issue of land rights in the country, with an emphasis on rural communities and women.
Oettle has an extraordinary ability to bring people from all walks of life together — from rural homes, government board rooms and international agencies — and to use their combined energy to further the interests of the rural poor, particularly those living in abject poverty on farms.

Oettle believes in the power of partnerships to make a difference in society. These partnerships with local and international organisations in the complex arenas of land and agrarian reform have helped her to make a meaningful contribution in the sector.

Recently, Oettle established and chaired a multi-stakeholder platform for land and agrarian reform policy roundtable series, together with the minister for agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, and the Food and Agriculture Agency of the United Nations.

The platform brought together leaders from both government and civil society to discuss the challenges facing land reform in the country. This led, in 2018, to the establishment of the Land Network National Engagement Strategy of South Africa (LandNNES), a network of more than 20 civil society groupings, including non-governmental organisations, social movements, national alliances and community-based structures.

“I hope above all else to continue to help create new and innovative spaces for different individuals, organisations and sectors to come together and find enough common ground to work together towards making South Africa a more just and gender-equitable country, rather than each being trapped in and fighting from their own corners, making limited progress.”

Thando Maeko | mg.co.za