Lwethu Zwane is the first head of investment of one of the G7 government departments operating in South Africa — a position involving working with government agencies and private sector stakeholders to increase investment in South Africa. Prior to this, she held the position of trade coordinator for southern Africa with a remit spanning 14 countries, responsible for (but not limited to) strategic coordination of the government’s trade efforts. This role came on the back of a two-year stint driving the pilot for a regional network across southern Africa.
In 2017, Zwane was chosen as part of the first cohort of a select group of emerging leaders across Africa to participate in a 12-month programme. This programme, designed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is for young professionals who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to contribute to organisational change. For Zwane, trade and investment is critical to long-term, sustainable economic growth and development, especially considering the growing and untapped commercial opportunities across the continent. She has her sights set on unlocking the power of trade for youth and gender inclusion within the economy — and feels strongly about expanding the opportunities for women entrepreneurs and the tremendous impact this would have on African growth. Although, she adds, “this requires the active participation of all stakeholders within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, financial institutions, government and private equity”.
Considering that women entrepreneurs often face an uphill struggle in Africa, despite the research showing that women often generate better investment returns, Zwane is proud of her contribution towards engaging global businesses, investors and banks to remove barriers for women entrepreneurs, and to proactively include women-led and gender-smart businesses in their supply chains. High-quality investment has the potential to transform the South African economy while promoting growth, diversification and job creation. Zwane believes that these goals cannot only be the government’s concern and it is crucial to centre mutually beneficial partnerships within trade and investment, especially in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis, a second recession in two years, growing unemployment, unsustainable poverty levels and persistent inequality.
Despite still considering herself a work-in-progress and having to regularly rein in her imposter syndrome tendencies, Zwane’s achievements fall nothing short of spectacular. In 2020, at the first UK-Africa Investment Summit, she was awarded the Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner’s Award for her contribution to facilitation of access to international markets, global supply chains and investment for African women entrepreneurs. Zwane continues to shatter perceptions of the kind of high-growth businesses that women entrepreneurs are building in Africa and exposing financial investors to opportunities or biases posed by gender in their investment analysis.
Zwane encourages young women to have the audacity to be great and to go out there and conquer. “I would advise younger women to not shy away from ‘stretch’ opportunities. In fact, seek them out and do not be scared to fail. It’s how one learns and develops skills. Advice I sometimes need to remind myself to take in my own life every now and again!”
I advise younger women to not shy away from ‘stretch’ opportunities. In fact, seek them out and do not be scared to fail. It’s how one learns and develops skills.