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.
Crtve DEVELOPMENT launches WE!ARE to promote climate change awareness in Africa
Crtve DEVELOPMENT CEO, Dr. Okito Wedi (Photo: Supplied).
In addition to making profits, it has become a necessity for businesses and organisations to embrace a consistent, policy-driven culture of giving back to the community where they do business. The reason is that a policy-driven socially responsible endeavour is a sustainable and socially responsible endeavour. Businesses that have this corporate mindset are the ones that eventually provide solutions that truly meet the needs of the community they serve, even when they are profit-driven.
As a platform that showcases African businesses, innovations, and entrepreneurs, Business Africa Online (BAO) is excited to witness yet another novel and beneficial platform where businesses, NGOs, funders, and organisations are standing side by side with talents and creatives in the arts and entertainment to ensure they find expression and use those expressions to deliver the needed solution to pressing issues that affect communities in Africa, and in this case, climate change.
The Crtve Development (CD) WE!ARE climate justice campaign is an initiative that is long overdue because the solutions that have been proposed for climate change have mainly taken into account people living in places like Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and we need local solutions to local climate change problems.
Dr. Okito Wedi, Founder and CEO of Crtve DEVELOPMENT, stated: “Through the WE!ARE campaign, we want to harness the power of art and creativity to change the narrative on climate change and development in Africa and bridge the gap between communities who will most be affected and policymakers who will determine our climate future.”
CD, together with other trusted partners, has rolled out the WE!ARE campaign to socialise the disproportionate effects of climate change on vulnerable communities on the African continent. Using creativity, the campaign will discover and amplify young people’s unique experiences and demands to surmount the challenges of climate change through climate justice.
Climate justice emphasizes the fact that Africa contributes the least to global warming, yet Africans are the most affected by climate change. As a result, those with the least capacity to cope and adapt to the impacts of climate change face the biggest threat. Climate justice aims to redress this inequality by fairly sharing the problem of climate change as well as the responsibility of dealing with it equitably, with all countries around the world. As a result, the launch of the WE!ARE campaign allows for a conversation about structure, system, and policy to take centre stage between African creatives and the corporate world about how they approach the challenge of climate change.
Collaboration between African creatives and the business community is no longer born from just mere excitement or the need to latch on to trends, but a deliberate and long-term agenda of every business and organization in Africa. This is a major win that BAO is excited about and we celebrate CD for leading the ingenious path that will benefit all because climate change affects everyone in the ecosystem.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, BAO looks forward to more businesses, organizations, and funders partnering with CD on this project to amplify the great work that is being done. It is a fact that one of the most effective ways of driving sustainable change through creativity is for the corporate world to provide the frameworks, systems, policies, assets, and seed funding needed to sustain the process.
Another big win for the WE!ARE movement is that it will help to improve the proper valuation in corporate policies for the growing social and economic value of creativity and innovation in Africa. Creatives will truly be regarded as using their talents to campaign for real solutions to challenges in Africa, and not just for leisurely endeavours.
From our vantage point, we wholeheartedly celebrate the immense work and achievements of Crtve Development (CD) and its strategic partners, including the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group, Danish Government, Ford Foundation and the World Resources Institute (WRI) on this worthy cause they have embarked on. We hope that as a result of this work, the subject of climate change will no longer be treated as secondary or alien, but as an issue that all hands must be on deck to address with the collaboration of the corporate world, NGOs, funders, and the creative communities in Africa.
Johns Hopkins Faith Adole is Giving Back to Africa
Johns Hopkins University trained Faith Adole is a healthcare executive and entrepreneur paasionate about healthcare advocacy, public health and inspiring African nurses and midwives to lead in global health settings. In this exclusive with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online(BAO), Faith talks about her foundation, interventions in Africa and passion for improving healthcare access to underserved communities around the globe. Excerpts.
Faith Adole is a trained nurse practitioner, healthcare executive, and entrepreneur. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer and founder of U-VOL Foundation, Inc. A servant leader, Faith is passionate about inspiring African nurses and midwives to lead in global health settings. She is committed to health care advocacy and bridging the gaps in existing health care and wellness needs for less privileged communities throughout the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Faith was inspired to start the U-VOL Foundation after volunteering in several international medical outreaches within Africa and seeing firsthand the poor health/hygiene practices, preventable health illnesses and even deaths in many disadvantaged and rural societies. Faith also noticed the existing inequities in Global Health delivery within Africa with a notable lack of Global Health leadership by African women as well as by those within the nursing profession.
As an African in diaspora, and as Nurse Executive with multiple years of field-based experience, Faith brings a fresh and dynamic approach to leading in the Community and Global Health sectors. Faith is currently completing her doctoral studies in Nursing as well as an MBA at Johns Hopkins University.
Inspiration behind U-Vol and what it’s set to achieve
U-VOL Foundation (United Vessels of Love Foundation) is a registered international non-profit healthcare foundation transforming lives one community at a time. Through its mission to help meet the unmet healthcare and wellness needs of vulnerable societies. This is done through medical outreach, health education, WASH and other healthcare sustainability initiatives.
The organization emphasizes love and care for all humanity through its global partnerships, its healthcare initiatives and through healthcare advocacy. U-VOL’s vision is to build dynamic relationships and partnerships with people, communities, and organizations to create global healthcare and wellness initiatives to lessen existing healthcare disparities worldwide.
Recent projects, challenges, funding and impact
Since 2015, Faith alongside U-VOL’s volunteer teams have embarked on successful international medical missions in Nigeria and in South Africa. As well as multiple domestic health and wellness domestic outreaches with the United States.
Under Faith’s leadership, her team has successfully launched a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH) in Nigeria in 2021. And recently concluded a solar powered clean water borehole project. The recent water project provided a sustainable source of clean water for 1700 people in Obi LGA of Benue State, Nigeria. Before the borehole, residents had zero access to clean water and frequented a local stream within the village called Orowu. Which dries up seasonally and gets contaminated easily during the rainy season as the same water source is used for multiple uses. This intervention will help to lessen the burden of preventable water-borne disease through harnessing a clean and long-lasting energy source.
Water Project video HERE
U-VOL’s borehole intervention swiftly follows a medical mission in the same Obi community, where a team of medical volunteers treated over 600 people. The recent medical mission and clean water project was powered by volunteers, public and private support, and a local project management team. Through skillful planning, efficient operations, strategic partnerships, thought leadership, and perseverance, Faith has been able to overcome challenges that come from influencing positive change within the African health sector despite various obstacles.
Your view on the health sector in Nigeria and Africa
“The truth is, there is so much opportunity for Africans within the diaspora and for those within the continent to collaborate for long lasting impact and change. I love the saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go further, go together’. It’s high time Africans begin to write their own narrative and leverage on the knowledge, skills, resources and influence within the continent as well as in the diaspora. Collaboration and unity will help us move forward. This is because we need both dialogue and action.
We need various stakeholders at multiple levels as well as diversity and inclusion of thoughts and hands. Community development and relief organizations are still relevant and have their place but it will take all of us to truly impact healthcare in the long term, through advocacy, healthcare policy, legislation, research, technology, education development, infrastructure, job creation and through many other avenues.”
Finally, your plans for the year
U-VOL plans to continue expanding its newly launched Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program. Which is targeted at empowering and advocating for vulnerable rural communities throughout various parts of Nigeria. The organisation hopes to help aid both governmental and other NGO efforts to eradicate open defecation, provide health promotion education activities on hygiene and sanitation, and promote the construction of public toilet facilities.
Saibatu Mansaray Speaks On Breaking The Bias
Saibatu Mansaray is a former White House Senior Executive, US Army Major (Rtd) and Medical Practitioner. Saibatu Mansaray speaks with Business Africa Online (BAO) on her thoughts on this year’s international women’s day theme: #BreakingTheBias. Excerpt.
As an African and Muslim woman who moved to the United States at 20 years of age and immediately joined the United States Army. I understand the bias I carried with me into a foreign land and the military. Everyday, questioning myself given my background. But my determination to overcome my self-imposed bias and that of those around me, pushed me to over perform and prove that I am supposed to be here and will leave a mark. I got system support in the military as a woman to compete and complete military training courses that were mostly male dominated. I remember being in a few extremely challenging military courses with very high attrition rates. But upon graduation I was the only woman standing alongside the men.
In my determination to always overperform in order to break the bias and glass ceilings. I was the first woman the U.S. Army had ever assigned to the White House. To serve as White House Physician Assistant and Tactical Medical Officer to President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden. I was the first woman to be promoted early to the rank of Major as a physician assistant. I was the first medical officer and to date the only to serve as military aide to two Vice Presidents of the United States. In my own small way I created a gender equal world during my service in the military and continue to do so as CEO and Founder of The Mansaray Foundation. “Together we can all break the bias!”
Saibautu Mansaray is former White House senior executive, a physician assistant, CEO and Founder of The Mansaray Foundation. A Muslimah and retired decorated United States Army Officer. After over 20 years of humble service in the United States, she has chosen to return to Sierra Leone to make a difference.