Journalist Mmabatho Makotanyane heard some terrible stories of hardship and abuse during her days as a local reporter. Gradually, she felt the need to do more than simply write about them before moving on to the next sad story.
“As a community journalist I met women in dire circumstances, but as a journalist you have to develop a thick skin and you’re not allowed to be emotionally involved. I felt I wasn’t doing much so I thought what can I do to help?” she says.
She started small by posting encouraging and supportive thoughts and advice on Facebook, and began receiving replies from people saying they felt more empowered since they started following her. That led to her creating her own company, MM Communications, as a platform through which she posts information to promote other women and their businesses. “If there’s someone doing exceptional work, I talk about them on social media and help to build their brand,” she explains.
Next she decided to organise sessions to bring women together to discuss issues of concern, which can range from personal problems, career and work-related issues, confidence and self-esteem to social relationships, finances and parenting. The women are able to learn from others who have faced similar fears or challenges, as well as hearing from professional advisers.
“Because of my background in journalism, I had a pool of women like psychologists and social workers who could be my speakers,” Makotanyane says. She also went through some mentoring herself in preparation, and sought out women in different fields who could be brought on board as speakers.
The sessions proved so fruitful for the participants that she now organises one every three months. Most last for an afternoon, but the format could change after a recent meeting that lasting for a full weekend proved more impactful.
“It’s not just conversations – it’s training women and mentoring them and opening up opportunities and giving them the tools to start their own businesses,” she explains. “It’s done to restore hope in the lives of women because when a woman is down, her family won’t prosper.”
As an example of their success, one participant heard a powerful businesswomen speak about coming from a very humble background, which inspired her to train as a social worker and open her own practice. She now works in partnership with another woman she met at the event. Another speaker described how she had turned her life around, which inspired another woman in an abusive relationship to leave and create a new future.
The sessions benefit Makotanyane too. “I’ve also had my fair share of challenges in life and when I help other women through different challenges, I also help myself, because these empowering sessions are therapeutic with women feeling safe and confident to talk to each other.”
Makotanyane also works as the communications manager for Rhiza Babuyile, a developmental organisation. Its work in disadvantaged communities spans mobile healthcare clinics, skills training and enterprise development hubs that offer mentoring for entrepreneurs. Part of her role is to publicise its successes and inspire others through her storytelling.
There’s this notion that women are jealous of each other, but through our sessions we see women come together with the vision of empowering each other.