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.
Kudoti, South African Recycling Platform recognised as one of the global winners of the Nestlé’s 2021 Creating Shared Value Prize
Kudoti, South African recycling company, was announced in the top five winners of Nestlé 2021 Creating Shared Value (CSV) Prize, for their innovative recycling impact through technology.
The CSV Prize has been running for over 10 years and has identified multiple initiatives for some of today’s most critical environmental and social issues around the world. This year’s competition, conducted in partnership with the non-profit organization, Ashoka, was entitled ‘How do we create a waste-free future?’, It aimed to identify and award innovative solutions with a system-change approach and a strong growth potential, or a replicable model for other social, cultural or geographical settings.
Kudoti (meaning trash in Zulu) is changing business perspectives of waste into recovered materials through supply chain solutions. The company’s digital approach helps track recyclable waste in real-time and matching it to demand. The use of technology improves market conditions for waste materials, which drives up recycling behaviour.
Matthieu de Gaudemar, one of the founders of Johannesburg-based Kudoti, expressed gratitude to Nestlé and Ashoka for this CSV initiative. “Businesses and individuals have a concept of waste as waste, when we should have a concept of waste as a resource. With new business models, we can change the way that waste is viewed.”
De Gaudemar adds that their platform’s success was collective team effort. “It truly takes everyone to address systemic environmental issues. Through this financial investment and technical resources, we will amplify our impact by scaling up our solution in South Africa.”
“When people speak of the future, a world of hover crafts or holograSaint-Francis Tohlangms may come to mind. But at Nestlé, we are seeking a more environmentally futuristic landscape. Through these Awards, we are on a mission to identify and empower market disruptors in the hope of accelerating a waste-free future”, says Saint-Francis Tohlang, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director at Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR).
As one of the winners, Kudoti will receive a cash prize of $40 000 and will benefit from Ashoka’s online resources and workshops to explore potential collaboration with Nestlé and a mentoring programme.
“Innovations such as Kudoti not only help reduce waste but also drive consumer behaviour change which is key to achieving a waste free future and takes us closer to a circular economy”, concluded Tohlang.
By Weber Shandwick
Doing Good Work in Africa Marks Its First Anniversary of Supporting Students and Impacting Future Growth in Africa
Doing Good Work in Africa (DOWA), a non-profit initiative designed to connect students in the United States to African-based entities focused on providing scalable solutions to commonplace challenges, celebrated its first anniversary in April. Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, friends Ola Erogbogbo and Emiola Abass, co-founded a program that generated 400 applications and placed ten students at three partner companies within two months. In just one year, DOWA placed 27 students and conducted seven educational webinars with over 400 attendees from over 17 countries.
“DOWA seeks to provide a path to ‘brain gain’ by attracting US students (African and non-African) to the continent through internships. The premise is that the solution to Africa’s problems must come from within, supported by human and capital investments across the globe.” said Erogbogbo.
DOWA connects students with internship opportunities allowing them to work on socio-economic projects and experience the African culture and corporate environment. Students can take advantage of this unique experience through grants and scholarships funded by some universities. Matching the students with partner companies is accomplished through a rigorous application process, provided at no cost to the students. DOWA’s partner companies and organizations address challenges in healthcare, education, agriculture and champion growth initiatives in technology, artificial intelligence, and power generation in Africa.
“We are proud of our partnership with DOWA – we had two interns work on geospatial AI-powered education technology in low resourced environments. These engaged students’ contributions will help further our goal to raise one million AI talents” said Bayo Adekanmbi, Founder at Data Science Nigeria.
Liam Casey, a Venture Capital Fellow at Funema, said, “My experience has helped narrow down career goals and interests in impact investment and venture capital for emerging markets.”
DOWA is intentional in partnering with organizations that have a shared mission to work on initiatives that further the advancement of Africa. Erogbogbo further said, “DOWA believes that the challenges we face on the continent present opportunities, and thus, connecting students to companies working to address these challenges can result in more effective solutions.”
DOWA was launched with the help of founding supporters that include Scholars in Our Society and Africa (SOSA) at Cornell University and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM). With over 300% participation growth and thanks to its growing network of partner companies, DOWA for the 2021/2022 internship cycles is projected to provide internship opportunities to 70 students from over 20 schools, including five Ivy League colleges.
GSMA Report Reveals The Gender Gap In Mobile Internet Use Is Shrinking, Despite The COVID-19 Pandemic
GSMA Report: An estimated 112 million more women started using mobile internet last year across low- and middle-income countries, despite the onset of COVID-19, according to the fourth annual GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report published today.
Nevertheless, 234 million fewer women than men access mobile internet. Moreover, the underlying gender gap in mobile ownership persists and is proving difficult to close.
Affordability, lack of literacy and digital skills, and lower awareness of mobile internet are critical and common barriers for women. Structural inequalities in society and discriminative social norms also remain a challenge. Even when women have the same levels of education, income, literacy, and employment as men, they are still less likely to own a mobile phone or use mobile internet.
The report further revealed that a record number of women in South Asia now use mobile internet services, helping shrink the gender gap to 15% from 19% last year in low- and middle-income countries.
The gains in South Asia, which had the most significant gender gap in 2019 with women 50% less likely than men to use mobile internet, masked the stagnation in other regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa. Women in both regions now face a similar gender gap in mobile internet use – 37% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 36% in South Asia.
Women were more likely than men to access the internet exclusively via mobile in almost all markets surveyed. In Kenya, for example, 63% of male internet users said they only used the internet via a mobile device compared to 79% of females. This reliance by women on mobile demonstrates the disproportionate benefit of increasing their access.
“If women are to become equal citizens in a more digital, post-COVID world, closing the mobile gender gap has never been more critical,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, of the GSMA. “I urge policymakers, the private sector and the international community to take note of the important findings laid out in the Mobile Gender Gap Report because only concerted action and collaboration will enable women and their families to reap the full benefits of connectivity.”
The GSMA introduced the Connected Women Commitment Initiative in 2016 to catalyse action to close the mobile gender gap. Mobile operators continued to make commitments during 2020, with 40 mobile operators across Africa, Asia and Latin America making formal commitments to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women since 2016. These operators have already reached more than 40 million additional women with mobile internet or mobile money services.
The GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021 is available at: https://www.gsma.com/r/gender-gap/
Further information on the Connected Women Commitment Initiative can be found at: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/connected-women/the-commitment/