Gugulethu Ndebele, Executive Director of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG)
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) is a non-profit organisation based in South Africa that provides a nurturing educational environment for academically gifted girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Gugulethu Ndebele in this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, talks about her background, the Academy, its impact, empowering and positioning girls for leadership, challenges and more. Excerpt
Alaba: Could you give a brief background of yourself?
Gugulethu: I was born in Soweto, Johannesburg one of the largest townships in the world and is also the home of two of South Africa’s global icons and Nobel Laureate, Nelson Mandela and Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu. My family is originally from KwaZulu Natal Province and moved to Johannesburg as a result of the Migrant Labour System. Even though both my parents and sibling have passed on, I feel blessed to have three amazing children.
In 1983 when my college, the University of Zululand was invaded by Zulu Warriors (Impis) many of my fellow students lost their lives and am fortunate to be alive even though I lost sight in one of my eyes. Despite all these challenges, I never gave up on learning. I have an MSc in Organisational Development and Change from the University of Manchester, UK and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Wits Business School.
I am passionate about Children’s Rights and Girls Education.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in the non-profit career path?
Gugulethu: I have always been an activist and growing up under the apartheid in South Africa created a passion and a desire in me to stand up and advocate for the rights of disadvantaged people. As a student, I fought for the banishing of Bantu Education and my first work experience was with an Education NGO, SACHED, which drafted the first post-apartheid education policy document. This document was used in the production of the Education White Paper. And so I have always known that change will not come from government alone. Change will come from the vast skills and knowledge that also resides outside of government.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls SA (OWLAG) and the gap its filling?
Gugulethu: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls was established by Ms Winfrey as a gift to Madiba. She opted to build a school for girls because she wanted to contribute to the growth of SA. She is on record that she believes change in SA will come from women. And so she built a school that will develop and nurture young women to be leaders, not only of South Africa but the World.
The schools fills an important gap. Firstly, it is a fact that even though girls are in the majority in schools in formative years, few of them finish Matric and succeed. Secondly, the economy of the country is still skewed towards males, especially in critical skills areas. So as a schools, we support the development of a new generation of women leaders who, by virtue of their education and service, will lead the charge to transform themselves, their communities, and the larger world around them
Finally, the narrative of a South African girl at the moment is dominated by abuse, violence and trauma. And so as a school, we intent to change the narrative of the South African girl to be that of empowerment, success and victory. As the only Trauma Informed School in Africa, we are trained to help girls deal with trauma so they can benefit from the education that is provided.
Alaba: How does OWLAG drive inclusion and position girls for Leadership?
Gugulethu: At the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls leadership is integrated in everything we do. All our programmes are learner driven (with the support of adults). As a school we believe in the importance of empowering young women to lead. Our education programs are also designed to support the development of our girl’s skills and to enable them to provide leadership on every aspect of their lives.
We offer engaging and dynamic activities to motivate and enable our girls to believe in their abilities to catalyse change and to mobilise others to do the same. We continuously challenge them to engage and lead, ethically.
Alaba: As an organization, how do you measure impacts?
Gugulethu: Each area of our work at OWLAG is underpinned by Monitoring and Evaluation. In each area we have indicators for success which we monitor o an ongoing basis. Educationally, we measure impact from Grade 8 because we believe success in Grade 12 depends on the foundational work we do in Grade 8. And so the progress of our girls is measured from Grade 8 and throughout the system.
Alaba: What have been your achievements since your appointment?
Gugulethu: Our results this year were the best since 2013. We were able to not only exceed the IEB aggregate in all subjects, but also overall. We increased the number of our distinctions substantially (we had 197 distinctions, 49 more than last year) and all our girls are registered in University, as we speak. Off course this is not because of me alone, it is because of the amazing work of OWLAG staff, especially teachers and our Support Services. My role is to create an enabling environment for them to do their work and I believe I did that.
In addition, we just had our % year Strategy Approved by the Board. This Strategy will move OWLAG into another level and will position us not just to be the best in SA but in Africa. My dream is to have versions of OWLAG in Africa
Alaba: What challenges have you encountered working with non-profit? How are you overcoming them?
Gugulethu: The challenges are relentless. The biggest challenge is resources. Too many good NGOs have closed because of lack of funding. But some of the challenges are self-inflicted.As NGOs, we are always in competition with one another. This is in part due to the limited resources so segmenting your non-profit and identifying your unique selling proposition becomes the focus as it is key to your success.
Secondly, NGOs are sometimes not seen in a positive light by governments. They are seen as competition and at worst as political entities. This makes it difficult to work with government to ensure lasting change. Working together in partnership with other like-minded non-profits and is key in this sector.
Finally, I think as a sector we need to ensure that our work is credible and evidenced based. We need to be accountable to the people that support and fund our work. And therefore collecting and using credible data for reporting is key. People have to trust that what we say works indeed works.
Alaba: How would you describe your leadership style?
Gugulethu: I am an engaged leader. I believe everyone in the organisation has a role to play and that I need to create an environment for them to thrive. I lead by example and challenge my team to strive for excellence.
Alaba: What is your advice for women in leadership position or aspiring women?
Gugulethu: My advice to women is that we need to use our own strengths to lead. We do not need to behave like men to be great leaders. As women, we are nurturers, we are builders, and we are motivators. Let us use those strengths rather than try to be what we are not.
Secondly, it is important that we fix each other’s crowns. When one woman succeeds, we all succeed. So let us not pull each other down. Let us be the big shoulders for other women to stand on.
Alaba: What inspires you and how do you relax out of work?
Gugulethu: I am greatly inspired by the potential of young people, especially girls. At the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls we recruit girls from desperate situations and have experienced multiple traumas in their young lives. Watching them blossom and thrive gets me leaping out of bed every day.
I am also a passionate reader. I love books and my wish is to have books in every household. I believe books open the world to people. So reading is one way of relaxing. I also love travelling and I think my first travelling experience was through books.
B I O G R A P H Y
Gugulethu “Gugu” Ndebele is currently the Executive Director of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Institute for Girls (OWLAG). She joined the organisation after a long and distinguished career as the CEO of Save the Children South Africa, one of the leading child rights organizations in the world, operating in 120 countries.
Previously, she worked at the Department of Basic Education as the Deputy Director-General primarily responsible for Social Mobilisation and Support Services. Gugu was also one of the pioneers of the biggest Adult Literacy Campaign in SA (Kha ri Gude), the Recapitalisation of Vocational Colleges and the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
Gugu holds an MSc in Organisational Change and Development (Manchester University, UK), a Post Graduate Diploma in Adult Education (Wits) and a Management Advancement Progamme Certificate (With Business School).
In 2016 she was appointed Vice- Chair of the UNESCO Bureau of the Global Alliance for Literacy. And in 2017, she was appointed by the Minister of Basic Education as the Literacy Ambassador for the Read to Lead Campaign. She is a Member of the South African Human Rights Commission’s Children’s Rights Advisory Committee (Section 11). Appointed into the Council of Rhodes University by the Minister of Higher Education. A member of the Institute of Directors Southern Africa.
NASME Women Celebrates International Women’s Day 2021 with Empowered Women Event
L-R Mrs Victoria Oluwasanya – immediate past Vice Chairman of NASME Lagos, Mr. Solomon Aderoju – immediate past Chairman NASME Lagos, Otunba (Mrs) Gbemi Oduntan – National Women Coordinator NASME, Sir. Prince Degun Agboade – National President- NASME, Dr. Adams Adebayo – Chairman NASME Lagos, Mrs Wumi Oluwadare – 2nd Vice Chairman NASME Lagos. (Source: NASME/Dr. Jumoke Kassim)
Every March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. An annual call to action for gender parity across the world. These actions range from marches and protests to advocacy and campaigns. This year’s International Women’s Day 2021 theme was tagged – “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” with the campaign theme #ChooseToChallenge. On the 12th March 2021, the National Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (NASME) marked this year’s international women’s day 2021 with an event organised and coordinated by the NASME Women (Lagos WING).
Due to the global pandemic (COVID-19), the event took place both physically and virtually in line with the government COVID-19 safety protocol. The physical event was held at the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja, Lagos while several guests joined virtually (Zoom) from different parts of the world. The NASME’s topic was on “Women, Family Law & Property Rights”.
Hajia Yinka Paramole-Shabi, the moderator for the day, commenced with an introduction of guests, speakers and how essential it was for NASME to have a women wing. The purpose of which is to have enviable women in business who can stand out among the male gender. She appreciated the support of the NASME president, a man that has been the backbone for the creation of the NASME Women Wing.
The Host and NASME Lagos Women Coordinator, Otunba (Mrs) Gbemi Oduntan in her opening speech explained why women should start challenging the status quo. She pointed out that women are not here to compete with their male counterpart. But are only demanding for a space on the table because it has been proven that what a man can do, a woman can do same, even much better. She believes 75% of what some women do these 3C’s jobs: Clearing, Cleaning and Chores that are not paid, because the world sees them as the weakest link. She gave some examples of women challenging the Status Quo in their respective industry. She mentioned Capt. Agbelusi who was one of the guests at their event in 2019 and her impact in the aviation industry. She concluded by saying “We need a gender balanced society” and left the audience with these three (3) parting words; Be prepared, Make sure your account is alright and Make the man know we are choosing to challenge.
NASME National President, Prince Degun Adeagbo in his speech extols the key roles women play at home, workplace and in the society at large. He said more women should choose to challenge the gender bias, inclusion and parity. He believes their aspirations can be achieved when women work together through different organisations as NASME and urged them to be a part of the community. Prince Degun admonished the Lagos women wing for their impact. On behalf of NASME, he appeals to the Government but at the federal and state to do everything possible to get more women involved in governance by lowering the bar. In future, he wants to see a woman become the President of NASME.
Mrs. Modupe Oyekunle is an industrialist and currently the National Coordinator of the Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN). She shared her thoughts on why it is important to choose to challenge the status quo with emphasis on financial inclusion and diversity. Mrs. Oyekunle also spoke about the Passage of the bill on women national business agenda with 5 key focus areas; High rate of insecurity, Gender inequality, power and infrastructural facilities. She encouraged more women organization to work together in pursuit of the common set goals.
The Hon. Commissioner for Commerce, Industry & Cooperatives, Dr. Lola Akande was represented by Mrs. Oluwakemi Ogunmodede, a Director in the Ministry of commerce.
Mrs. Angela EMUWA, Chairman at Punch Nigeria Limited appreciated all the men supporting women who are challenging the status quo. She talked about the challenges and biases women face in the society. She emphasized on the role’s women play and why they should be given a space.
Dr. Adeyemi Agbelusi’s presentation was on the topic “Women, Family Law & Human Right” and how the law does not favour the women in our society. In terms of surrogacy, adoption, settlement after marriage divorce, Right & interest to property. He urged women to pay more attention to Cultural & financial intelligence before going into any kind of relationships.
The NASME event ended with an award ceremony where two of its members were awarded a plaque and some cash to support their business.
The first awardee is Mrs. Adesanya Modupe Olusola who lost everything in her piggery business during the (COVID-19) lockdown, as a result of Swine Flu that killed all her pigs. She said the award came to her as a surprise and the fund will put her back on her feet and appreciates platforms such as the NASME that provides women with so many empowerment opportunities. According to her, one way women can choose to challenge is by challenging their children to do great things. She advises women in a male-dominated industry with this saying, “Whatever needs to be done needs to be done well.”
Mrs. Mitana Blessing Matthew, the second awardee is the co-Founder of Authentic Natural products (African cosmetic brands), a company she co-founded with her late husband. She appreciated the support from NASME and promised the fund will be used to boost her business.
The NASME International Women’s Day event is a true indication of women supporting women and we hope to see more collaborations and not competition among women in business in Africa.
NASME is the Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses across all sectors of the economy, creating business opportunities as well as providing solutions to individual member’s challenges to ensure the success of every business venture in Nigeria. Their vision is to be the voice of Nigeria Entrepreneurs advocating for conducive environment while partnering with MSME promoters to ensure the emergence of large pool of viable technologically empowered MSMEs. NASME promotes the empowerment of Nigeria’s MSMEs as a means of achieving sustainable employment generation, economic growth and development in the country.
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Priceless Women Initiatives founded Hon. Oyinda Adegoke
NASME Women… Upwardly mobile!
More Picture from the event
L-R: Mrs. Esther Ebeh, Ms. Oyelola Fadaini, Yeye Dupe Dada, Mrs. Matilda Taiwo & Ms. Yinka
Women are Essential to Africa’s Recovery Plan
By Mark Elliott, Division President of Mastercard, Southern Africa
I was having an engaging Zoom chat about financial inclusion last week with a senior female executive when we were interrupted by her charming toddler who had other priorities. After some on-screen introductions and my poor attempt to entertain her child, she shared a personal reflection. Despite her partner being in an adjacent room, the little one tended to knock on her door frequently.
As we are now seeing in the data, the pandemic’s effect has added to the pressures experienced by women. Often women have had to pick up more household chores and childcare duties, and many have had to face unemployment as their jobs are 1.8x more vulnerable as they tend to work in sectors that are hardest hit by the economic downturn such as retail, restaurants etc. According to the UN Women, the pandemic risked turning back the clock on gender equality by 25 years.
But, if we collectively activate the power of women’s contribution in Africa, and encourage them to reach their potential, companies log increased performance, societies become more productive, and economies thrive. In fact, Africa could add $316 billion or 10% to GDP by 2025 if each country makes advances in women’s equality to match the country in the region that has achieved the most progress towards parity (McKinsey 2019).
Amidst recovery, we now have a chance to hit the reset button in all industries – across the board, and across boards. It is time to ask ourselves if we have the balance that Africa needs – and prepare to do what it takes to get there. It will require collective action from corporates, governments, NGOs and communities to make it happen. There is much work to do. Gender inequality in work and society loom large, and interventions are critical.
Opportunities to Advance Gender Equality
Unleashing potential and unblocking much needed growth can be actioned across three priority areas: youth, women entrepreneurs and women in the workplace.
1) Youth – Africa is home to 19 of 20 of the world’s youngest populations which should present a tailwind of productivity opportunity. However, with youth (15 – 24 years old) unemployment as high as 2% in countries like South Africa there is an urgent need to align academic and technical skills with employment realities. Encouraging girls to participate in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects is key to develop critical 21st century skills girls need for their studies and career success. Bringing more female youth into technology fields and achieving gender parity will only make companies stronger and products more relevant to women as customers.
2) Women entrepreneurs – According to the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, Africa has the world’s top three countries when it comes to women entrepreneurs (as a percentage): Uganda (39.6%), Botswana (38.5%) and Ghana (36.5%). Despite some positive trends, the report also notes the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women entrepreneurs around the world, with 87% saying they have been adversely affected. Overrepresentation in sectors hardest hit by the economic downturn, the pronounced digital gender gap in an increasingly virtual world, and the mounting pressures of childcare responsibilities are only a few factors that have left women particularly vulnerable.
Despite the obvious challenges, the report highlights a number of opportunities for women in the COVID-19 era, particularly in online shopping and digital commerce. As a non-exec board member of Junior Achievement South Africa – a non-profit organisation that is playing its part in preparing the youth for the 21st century through entrepreneurial training and financial literacy programmes – I have seen how versatile and resilient women entrepreneurs can be in the face of adversity. Shortly after the pandemic started, I had the chance to mentor a woman who pivoted her fashion business to produce face masks and set up an online store. Ensuring access to technology or digital solutions, affordable data and modern trade resources as well as business training will empower more women to succeed in business.
3) Women in the workplace – While Africa has above average board representation of women at 25% (McKinsey 2019) compared to the global average, it lags in executive committee positions and women coming into middle management positions. Gender equality in the workplace requires an adjustment by all of us if it is going to become a reality in the near term. At Mastercard, we have grown our female workforce across Africa by 370% over the last 5 years and across the Middle East and Africa, our team is 42% female. While there is still room for improvement, we have made meaningful interventions:
- We closed the gender pay gap to ensure that women earn $1 for every $1 earned by men.
- Recognising that women may take a professional step back if they have children, we introduced 16 weeks of paid parental leave for both men and women. Eighty percent of men from across the business take their paternity leave, helping us develop a sharing environment, redress the balance between maternity and paternity leave, while also ensuring that same-sex partners aren’t left behind.
- We have a dedicated Mastercard Women’s Leadership Network – a global network with local chapters in South Africa and Kenya that are tasked with developing and advancing women into leadership roles supported with training and mentorship opportunities.
- We have evolved the recruitment process, designing 50/50 gender slates for all roles. The best person will always get the job but the process has been redesigned for greater fairness and opportunity.
Companies must make gender equality a priority, commit to KPIs and measure there progress. Much acclaimed Jane Fraser shattered the glass ceiling a few weeks ago by becoming the first women to lead a major US bank as the new CEO of Citigroup – a ceiling that has already been shattered in Africa. This is a positive step, but we can agree there is much more to do beyond these first milestones.
As we position our businesses for recovery in a post Covid-19 world, we should be doing so with vision and goals for gender parity. We need to provide girls with access to education from an early age so that they can develop the skills needed to be the leaders of tomorrow. We need to provide better access to financial and digital tools, support women in starting and growing their businesses, and foster a workplace where all employees feel valued, respected and empowered to reach their greatest potential. By doing so, we can create a more equitable and prosperous future for us all.
How these Nigerians in Diaspora are seeking inclusion and social justice for persons living with disabilities in Africa
Green Onyx Foundation co-Founders, Nwamaka Agbakoba and Ijeoma Popoola (Source: Nwamaka Agbakoba)
Green Onyx Foundation is dedicated to supporting the holistic well-being of individuals living with disabilities or are affected by disabilities. The foundation is on a mission to ensure; in the places where they work, that vulnerable populations living with special needs are safe, supported and adequately cared for.
About The Foundation
Green Onyx Foundation is headquartered in the United States. We work primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa with footprints in the United States and Canada. Oftentimes, individuals with disabilities are overlooked and are not celebrated for their unique abilities and allowed to bloom as they were purposed to do. In providing support(s) as an organization, we hope to bring regeneration in a sector so often overlooked.
Although their project plans are Africa-wide, the first projects kick-off in Nigeria because both Founders are Nigerian by birth. They had also previously pooled their personal efforts together on social media to benefit the inclusion space in Nigeria. Their decision to work together in Africa is simple. Both know and understand how challenging navigating disabilities and achieving the highest possible quality of life is. It is quite the challenge in places like Nigeria. In more developed nations, the journey to inclusion has not come without a fight for persons with disabilities to be afforded human rights at the very minimum.
Some of this has only been achieved through self-advocacy. Where there are such high incidences of poverty and the public sector just does not work for various reasons, how do you start to advocate for these rights? They see themselves as a support to handhold and show what is possible through education. At the same time, they are wise enough to understand the issues in the land. They want to provide practical support to families where possible, and to disability support services such as orphanages that rescue children whom their families cannot care for. These children staying with their birth families sometimes endangers them. Some of the pressure on families is societal so attention needs to be focused there as well.
Green Onyx Foundation is committed to making an impact seeking inclusion and social justice for people living with disabilities on a national and international level.
How They Work
The Foundation sponsors and creates educational, advocacy campaigns educating on various types of disabilities and healthy attitudes towards the same. They act as a resource center for parents with special needs kids, seeking out and passing on resources to enhance their children’s quality of life.
Their aim is never to duplicate efforts where they are already existent. Green Onyx Foundation (GOF) in instances where services are existent, will partner with, amplify, and provide backing through collaborations, capacity building and/or channeling funding to verified local organizations that provide critical support services to persons living with disabilities, building inclusion, creating awareness, and supporting entrepreneurial activities in the disabilities sector in Africa.
The first year has been one of putting formal structure around the Foundation, getting to know the organizations in the space, what their initiatives are and building strategies for engagement. They have executed pilot projects to understand what works and delivers the greatest impact in an ecosystem where there is so much lacking both on private levels as well as from a public sector perspective. By this they mean that you can speak all the grammar that you want on a high level until you are blue in the face, but if you are not supporting in ways that a person can have basic sustenance, then you will very soon start to find that you no longer have an audience. Their approach to tackling disabilities is therefore multipronged.
Impact Story and Aspirations
To date, they have been able to raise approximately NGN 10 million in friends and family drives. The funds they have raised have gone towards cash donations, food items, rent, holiday donations, pandemic relief, and physiotherapy for children in a special needs orphanage. What they have also done in some instances is to directly match donors in the diaspora who want to give to causes in Nigeria but might have been burned previously due to lack of integrity. Based on the relationships they have built in the sector; they are able to responsibly match make donors to causes within the disabilities sector leading to higher levels of impact and accountability recorded.
They have also provided mentorship to persons with disabilities as well as support providers in the space. Their hope is that as the team expands, they will have the bandwidth to undertake more mentoring opportunities through staff and volunteers. Research is another area of interest to them because having quality data will attract more willing and better guided donor funding as well as investments into the market. They say investments because there is a need to build universal infrastructure to accommodate everyone including people with disabilities. Accessibility is a fundamental right and we also must remember that not everyone who lives with disabilities lives in poverty.
Their hope over the next nine months of 2021, is to have formed at least three Corporate partnerships to raise funding that will enable them to begin to create content for television, radio, social media, and print in English, pidgin and at least the major Nigerian languages to formally kick off their campaign for disability rights. Their messaging as always will be to deliver education and advocacy in the simplest, most relatable means. They also hope to have made the connections needed within the public sector to help facilitate the bits of our work that the private sector cannot achieve.
About The Founders
Nwamaka Agbakoba has a business background with a BBA, Finance from Kent State University, Ohio and an MBA, Emerging Markets Finance from Kogod School of Business, American University, Washington DC. Nwamaka has spent several years working in the International Development sector including at the World Bank and on programs in Nigeria funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Outside of her formal career working in the International Development and financial sectors,she pride herself on being a serial entrepreneur. The common thread between the ventures she has been involved in is social justice.
Working on disability issues comes from a personal place for her. She identifies as a person living with disabilities. The conditions she live with are Rheumatoid Arthritis and a chronic lung impairment. She is also a Mom whose young child lives with Cerebral Palsy and a couple of co-occurrences. The awareness of these societal issues and her personal issues cemented her interest in focusing on helping other parents and persons living with disabilities navigate this difficult road by educating themselves enough to find a voice to become their own advocates.
Ijeoma Popoola is a very strong advocate and resource for persons living with disabilities. She has experience as a Special Needs Educator with a Severe/Profound Special Education certification. Ijeoma has three master’s degrees in Special Education Administration, International Relations and Human Relations. She is currently a Doctoral candidate pursuing an Ed.D in Educational Administration and Leadership. Her Doctoral research is focused on special education in Nigeria. Ijeoma is also Founder for Mrs. IJS Kids which is a knowledge house that disseminates information on building an inclusive educational system both from the public sector and educator perspectives.
Ijeoma’s journey to working on disability issues started as a burden on her heart to be of more assistance to her neighbors. As a Mom of three daughters, she strongly believes there is a Proverbs 31 woman inside each one of them that will drive change in the world to include persons with disabilities in every career field. Ijeoma’s passion continued to grow after she took on a job teaching in the public-school system in Oklahoma. The rapport she was able to build and the ensuing impact on kids who have severe disabilities, and their parents was an affirmation on what can be achieved with the right tools, systems, and nurture. It prompted her to keep enhancing her knowledge on inclusion in the educational system.
Connect by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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