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Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

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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.

Grade 8 2019 Founder’s day

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.

Also Read: Meet Mariatheresa S. Kadushi, Founder of M-afya, A Mobile App Providing Health Information In Native Languages In Africa

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.

Visit: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls

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NGOs - SDGs

Wildu du Plessis: Commitment to sustainability opening doors to post-pandemic capital in Africa

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Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa, Baker McKenzie (Image source: Baker McKenzie)

The industrials, manufacturing and transport (IMT) sector is being hit hard by COVID-19 disruption, but commitment to sustainability could very well lead the sector to recovery. This is according to Baker McKenzie’s report “Sustainable Success: Exploring environmental, social and governance priorities for industrials through COVID-19 and beyond” which revealed that industrialshave taken great leaps forward in relation to environmental, social and governance matters (ESG) in the past decade.  The report outlines how CEOs in the sector have signed up to a new holistic definition of company purpose and most public companies now report on ESG goals. Access to funding is also becoming intricately linked to a commitment to ESG principles, with industrials looking at sustainability initiatives as a way to source capital for projects in Africa.

According to the report, the economic challenges and the huge changes that have turned the world upside down in 2020 cannot be ignored, but the fundamental imperative to embed and prioritise ESG remains — and is arguably more important than ever as the fragility of the world’s current systems and norms is revealed.

The report found that sustainability can be used as a lever of recovery and competitive advantage, where companies proactively consider ESG issues as part of their COVID-19 response and decision-making. Connecting sustainability and business models more closely offers industrials the opportunity to reimagine supply chains, production and revenue streams — the basis for long-term reinvention and success. As such, sustainability is set to be a powerful guiding principle of COVID-19 recovery and a source of advantage for IMT companies. In the fight for post-pandemic capital in Africa, embracing sustainability provides a valuable edge for African industrials. Funding in some areas is already contingent on meeting certain global ESG standards and other investors have followed this lead — requiring documented, planned policies and processes in relation to ESG before investing

Access to capital will be critical to corporate recovery and in ensuring that key industrial and infrastructure projects in Africa can continue. Africa’s leaders have been assessing how best to mobilise capital from local savings pools, shore up development finance from various development finance institutions like the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, and direct capital raised via green bonds towards qualifying projects. 

The market for green and sustainable bonds is set to expand further in the coming years and industrials in Africa are likely beneficiaries of the capital raised. The African Development Bank (AfDB) Green Bond programme, for example, facilitates the bank’s green growth policy by providing capital for eligible climate change projects. Investors are able to finance climate change initiatives via green bonds, which is then allocated to eligible projects.

Green bonds are gaining in popularity across Africa and the larger economies of sub-Saharan Africa have all embraced this.  In 2019, Kenya set up the legal framework and rules for the launch of its first green bond on the Nairobi Securities Exchange,  with the aim of raising capital for green transport, water and energy infrastructure projects in the country. The country announced in 2020 that it planned to issue its first diaspora bond for green infrastructure projects this year, so that Kenyans living abroad could be given the opportunity to participate in the country’s post pandemic recovery via investments in sustainable projects.

Nigeria was the first African country to issue a Sovereign Green Bonds in 2017 and launched its the Green Bond Market Development Programme a year later. The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Green Bond Market is a platform for green bonds in the country and four bonds are listed on the platform. Late last year, the NSE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Luxembourg Stock Exchange to promote cross-listing and trading of green bonds in Nigeria and Luxembourg, with Access Bank’s Green Bond the first to be listed on both exchanges.

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In South Africa, in an effort to drive investment and make it easier to list and trade sustainability-linked instruments, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) launched a sustainability segment for green bonds in June this year. In July 2020, the African Development Bank invested ZAR 2 billion in Africa’s first Sustainable Development Goals-linked bonds (SDG bonds), which were issued by Nedbank and listed on the newly launched green bonds segment of JSE. This bond issuance is expected to create jobs, promote SMEs run by members of under-represented groups in the country, and act as a catalyst for green projects.

Post pandemic, IMT initiatives in Africa are expected to have a heightened focus on improving Africa’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development, via, for example, clean energy, community healthcare, green transport, sustainable water, wildlife protection and low-carbon development projects. Wildu du Plessis believes a commitment to ESG principles is clearly taking centre stage in the quest for post pandemic funding, with access to capital for large industrial projects now likely to contain sustainability requirements.

Article by: Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa, Baker McKenzie

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NGOs - SDGs

Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

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Dream Girl Global Founder, Precious Oladokun (Image source: Dream Girl Global)

The elimination of gender inequality and achievement of the United Nations SDG 5 on gender equality remains a pressing objective as the global community barrels towards 2030. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online spoke with the Founder of Dream Girl Global (DGG), Precious Oladokun about DGG’s work, gender inequality, and Covid-19. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about Dream Girl Global and the gap its filing?

Precious: Dream Girl Global is a non-profit organization that was set up to contribute towards the elimination of gender inequality, and empower young women as a contribution to the 5th Sustainable Development Goal. Specifically, we carry this out through mentorship projects in a bid to empower young girls, encourage them to dream bigger, and help give them excellent head starts at their careers. We are currently in operation in Nigeria and India.

Alaba: What sparked the interest and how are you funding this initiative?

Precious: I have always had a deep rooted passion for gender inequality partly as a result of my experiences as a female in Nigeria, and partly because of the experiences of many other women across the world. Many countries that are poor today have cultural norms that exacerbate favoritism towards males. Norms such as patriarchy and concern for women’s purity help explain the male skewed ratio in India and China, and low female employment in the Middle East, and North Africa. Also, issues like uneven access to education, lack of employment equality, job segregation, and lack of political representation are major reasons behind this initiative.

So far, we have not needed much funding to carry out our projects. However, when there is a need to, we are going to reach out to individuals and organizations with similar interests to help pursue this cause.

Alaba: How does your organization measure its impact?

Precious: Basically, we measure our impact by setting short terms goals, and once a goal is achieved, we mark it out. This gives a clear picture of our activities and generally helps to measure our impact.

Alaba: Kindly share some of your challenges and successes since you launched?

Precious: One major challenge is the refusal of some people to understand the concept of gender equality, resulting in criticism of the cause. Also, the management of data and information is another challenge (yet in a good way). I would rather prefer to refer it as a learning process.

So far, I have been thrilled by the successes that we have recorded. We have been able to reach out to a large number of people through our social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. This has provided an opportunity for us to educate the masses on the importance of gender equality.

Also, we successfully mentored twenty (20) girls in Nigeria and India during our Pilot Mentorship Project that ended a month ago. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 8% of girls finish secondary school. Imagine what could be achieved if we could start to close this gap and educate more girls.

Alaba: What do you think are the key challenges regarding gender-related issues, both in the workplace and in the home? How might they be overcome?

Precious: In my opinion, the major key challenge is that people do not understand, or more preferably, have chosen not to understand the plight of women. This is particularly prevalent in rural communities. In most societies, there is an inherent belief that men are simply better equipped to handle the best paying jobs. This inequality results in lower income for women, and is one reason why women hardly get recognized among the most financially prosperous persons in the world.

Another challenge is that many men enjoy the dividends of patriarchy, and would prefer to continue to enjoy those. These may be overcome with more sensitization, empowerment of women, and with taking a stand (among other things). By the latter, I mean that people should by their actions and words support gender equality, and call out misogynistic practices.

Alaba: As a social entrepreneur, how has the pandemic affected your work and the organization? How are you prepared post Covid-19?

Precious: Well, the pandemic has not really affected our work per se. Most of what we do involves communication via social media platforms. However, the outbreak of the virus has disrupted our plans to visit secondary schools, low income communities, and households. It is our intention to fully take up these after the pandemic, and we are working earnestly to see that it becomes a reality.

Alaba: What are your three-work-from home tips for founders who are managing a remote team now for the first time?

Precious: Tip no 1: Take full advantage of the internet. The internet is an avenue to explore various opportunities.

Tip no 2: For a founder who is managing a remote team for the first time, you will need to have dedicated, reliable, and self-driven members. You will need people who understand the cause, and are willing to go any length in ensuring that the goals of the organization are achieved.

Tips 3: My last tip is patience. This is a virtue ignored by so many people. Start building, and be dedicated while building. It takes a little patience and it takes a lot of faith but it’s worth the wait.

Alaba: As a young female leader, what drives you?

Precious: I am driven by the possibilities of results, and I am confident that whatever I put my mind to do, I can achieve it. To me, there is no impossibility.

Alaba: What message would you give to younger men and women?

Precious: My message to younger men and women is simple. Build things, watch them grow, and never rush. The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. Another message I feel necessary is the need for younger men and women to develop and build good relationships with people. It will help one go far in life.

Alaba: How do you relax, and what is your favorite tourist destination in Africa?

Precious: I relax by watching movies, swimming, and going to nice restaurants. Regarding my favorite tourist destination in Africa, I would go with Ghana. I have been to a couple of places in Africa, but I find Ghana very interesting because of the people, the culture, and generally everything. But to be honest, there is no place like home. East or West, home is the
best- Nigeria.

Also Read Egyptian FinTech Startup NowPay Scores $2.1 million Seed Investment

P R O F I L E

Precious Oladokun is the Founder of Dream Girl Global; a non profit organization that seeks to empower young girls as a contribution to the fifth sustainable development goal and is currently in operation in Nigeria and India. She also sits on the international board of Uriji, London, a social media company that helps to record dreams for as many years imaginable and help users earn while promoting their passion. She is the youngest and first Nigerian on this Board.

Precious is currently pursuing a career in Law, and is currently a Bar Candidate at the Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School. Prior to this, she interned at notable law firms across the Country including Olaniwun Ajayi LP, Templars, Banwo & Ighodalo, and Aluko & Oyebode. She has also served as an external support personnel at global Law Firm, White & Case.

In her spare time, she loves to watch movies, swim, travel, learn French, and taste exquisite dishes.

Sign up: Dream Girl Global

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NGOs - SDGs

World Humanitarian Day 2020: A Tribute to Real Life Heroes

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Onyeka Akpaida, Rendra Foundation Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

“You have not started living until you start giving”-Onyeka Akpaida

The humanitarian crisis has always existed and sometimes when it is not close to home; it is easy to ignore. The Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one that has in a morbid way, united us globally.

In the face of this global pandemic, increased poverty and growing insecurity, humanitarians and front-line workers are going beyond their duty call to make life bearable for those who have been most affected by the pandemic and insecurity crisis.

Many of us grew up watching cartoons and movies of action heroes like Voltron, Captain America etc and we all strived in our imaginations to be like them because they were super cool; however, the front line workers and humanitarians knee-deep in responding to this pandemic are definitely the Heroes worth celebrating today as their needs, pains and challenges have taken a back seat to serving others in need.

Let me introduce you to some of our real-life heroes:

Dr Marie-Roseline, a field coordinator with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and an epidemiologist has a first- hand experience in fighting epidemics under harrowing conditions. She led her team during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid a series of violent attacks and this year, WHO sent Marie to the Central African Republic (CAR) to help set up the COVID-19 response.

Here in CAR we have a health crisis in the middle of a protracted humanitarian crisis,” she explains. “We have to build a health system while dealing with an emergency. It makes it very complicated. As doctors, we have committed ourselves to save lives. This is what we do. We cannot leave people to die.”

Nkem Okocha, a social entrepreneur and founder of fintech social enterprise Mamamoni Nigeria went above and beyond for low-income women living in rural and urban slum communities in Lagos state. During the lockdown, Nkem and her team gave relief food packages to these women week after week, putting their safety on the line. As the lockdown gradually eased up, they launched a COVID 19 emergency grant for female micro-entrepreneurs whose businesses were negatively impacted by the pandemic. The grant would help them restart their businesses.

Nkem Okocha, Founder Mamamoni with a female entrepreneur (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

Adaora “Lumina” Mbelu started an accountability group- The Switch-On Bootcamp in April 2020 to teach enhance focus and productivity; ensuring that people could still execute their ideas in the middle of the pandemic. Since its inception in April 2020, the Bootcamp has hosted 2 cohorts and helped over 200 ‘Tribers”. The best part of this story is the group decided to do a Fund-The-Flow campaign as part of their team project aimed at providing sanitary products to adolescent girls and women in underserved communities in Nigeria.

(Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

“Given the priority to food distribution during the pandemic, sanitary needs are ignored and it is important for these women to manage their menstruation and associated hygiene with dignity and ease”

They have given out over 6,000 sanitary pads across 12 communities in Nigeria and they intend to continue this campaign.

The WIMBIZ group and Rendra Foundation focused on forcibly displaced women and their families in Northern Nigeria. The WIMBIZ group and Rendra Foundation provided food palliatives to 290 women in the Durumi IDP camp and 130 Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps respectively.

Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

Today, World Humanitarian Day, I join the rest of the world to applaud and honour every one working in their little corner of the world, going through extraordinary lengths to help the most vulnerable people whose lives have been upended by COVID-19 pandemic. Your response through commitment, sacrifice and tenacity has gone a long way in managing the increase in humanitarian needs triggered by this global pandemic.

Also Read: Africans Opportunities In Africa Matter

Author: Onyeka Akpaida is a financial service professional with 9+ years of experience in financial inclusion, consumer-centric digital banking and public sector engagement in a top tier leading International Bank and the founder of Rendra Foundation where she works to promote financial inclusion for low-income and migrant women in northern Nigeria.

onyeka@rendrafoundation.org

Rendra Foundation

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