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.
Sahara Group Supports Gender Equality At OECD Summit In Paris
Pearl Uzokwe, Director, Governance & Sustainability, Sahara Group, speaking at the panel discussion on ‘Private finance for gender equality and women’s empowerment’ at the 2020 OECD Summit in Paris(Source: Sahara Group).
Paris, France– Ensuring equal access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender is essential for promoting sustainable development across the globe, Pearl Uzokwe, Director, Governance and Sustainability, Sahara Group has said.
Uzokwe who spoke in Paris at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Private Finance for Sustainable Development Conference said galvanizing private finance alongside other sources of finance for gender equality was not only urgent but critical for sustained wealth creation, especially in developing countries.
Uzokwe said Sahara Group had consistently led the cause of equal access and opportunities in the private sector through support for gender related projects and policies that supports employment and growth within the organization which is free of any gender-based considerations. “Sahara Group is passionate about the issue of gender equality and we continue to promote and invest in projects that empower men and women to pursue economic prosperity. We are also entrenching gender diversity at the board level of the organization in line with global trends in corporate governance,” she said.
Noting the need for women empowerment as a precursor to achieving gender equality, Uzokwe said governments and businesses need to be “more deliberate and committed” in their support for activities that will connect girls and women to transformative economic opportunities. She said strengthening the private sector and ensuring well-defined and unbiased entry pathways are available at all levels.
“Sahara Group aligns with the position that empowering women and eliminating the hurdles to success for women in both the formal and informal sectors has the potential to set the tone for attaining several sustainable development goals, with special emphasis on goal 5 that speaks to gender equality,” she affirmed.
The OECD conference noted that a collaborative approach involving the government, business, civil society and development agencies will be required to achieve the task as raising private finance towards promoting gender equality.
Participants called for an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and support female entrants, adding that diversity remained the most potent driver of innovation that is required to make businesses thrive and prosper. They also noted that since women provide 50 percent of that innovation ratio, ignoring their unique needs and offerings would be a cost too high for any organisation and country.
Promoting Governance And Anti-Corruption In The Energy Sector
Lagos, Nigeria– December 10, 2019: According to the United Nations, every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the global GDP. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.
December 9 every year, the world commemorates anti-corruption day to take a stand against corruption as a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune.
As a leading private sector company in the energy space, we understand that corruption is a complex phenomenon that slows economic development because it discourages foreign direct investments and small businesses often find it difficult to overcome the start-up costs required because of corruption.
Over the last years, Sahara has been involved in initiatives, alliances and activities aimed at developing and strengthening its corporate governance and compliance systems. Some of these alliances include our partnership with the World Economic Forum – Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI).
Sahara was inducted into the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) Community in 2015 to reflect the organization’s commitment to eliminating corruption from the business environment. In 2016, Sahara as a PACI member has contributed to series of dialogues including the conference on Building Transparency and Integrity in Business as well as the role of Youth Engagement in stamping out corruption – using Nigeria and Mexico as the model countries to drive the agenda.
In a similar vein, Sahara partnered with Deloitte to organize whistleblowing workshop for staff company wide to raise awareness on how corruption hampers business growth and how staff can work together to help stop corruption in the work place and also build trust. Sahara Group also enacted a whistle blowing policy that will help improve transparency of business across her entities. This is a third party operated technology driven whistleblowing platform launched in 2019.
In 2016, Sahara Group in partnership with the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) business leaders from the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) and the Penn Law, University of Pennsylvania law School published a report titled ‘Business and SDG 16- contributing to Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies’ to analyze why SDG 16 is relevant the private sector and how businesses can contribute to anti-corruption, peace and justice.
Some of the recommendations include private sector companies enhancing their compliance capabilities, while establishing strong and credible internal processes to curb corruption.
Sahara Group and/or its affiliates hold corporate ethical values and its brand in the highest esteem and passionately conducts business in a corrupt- free, anti-fraud and highly ethical manner that promotes free enterprise, excellence and competitiveness. In view of this, we are determined to maintain our reputation as a corporate entity which will not tolerate fraud, bribery, corruption or the abuse of position for personal gain. Our other policies that speak to the anti-corruption cause include:
- Third party non- solicitation policy
- Business transaction and relations character
- Anti- corruption and anti-bribery policy
- Whistle blowing policy
- Gift and hospitality policy
This year’s anti-corruption day theme ‘Time to Work Against Corruption and the Climate Crisis’ calls for mobilization for ambitious climate action and inspiring governments, businesses, civil society organizations and individuals to step up efforts towards transparency, accountability and integrity.
At Sahara, we remain committed to our tenets of integrity and ethical behavior by ensuring a zero tolerance for corruption.
Volunteering For An Inclusive Future
Lagos, Nigeria December 5, 2019– December 5th is the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development – a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize individuals and groups working without pay towards a better world for everyone. It is viewed as a unique chance for volunteers and organisations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work among their communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), United Nations agencies, government authorities and the private sector.
This year’s theme is Volunteering for an Inclusive Future and it looks at how people and corporates globally are contributing to inclusion and reducing inequality within and among countries which is the Sustainable Development Goal 10.
Whilst the world celebrates the International Volunteer Day (IVD), Sahara Group is delighted to express its gratitude to staff and volunteers across the globe for relentlessly giving part of their time, talent and treasure to promote sustainable development. This year an accumulated staff volunteer hours of is Five Hundred and Ninety Seven (597) hours has been so far recorded with sixty – nine (69) staff involved so far.
Over the last 12 months, Sahara Foundation with support from staff volunteers have supported our target of powering aspirations through creating wealth and capacity building for youth and other vulnerable members of our host communities. Our volunteers have played a constructive role to reducing inequalities through mentoring high school and university undergraduates via the Sahara Hub, supporting our vocational skills programs across our host communities and serving as volunteer educators for locals in low income communities where Sahara Group has a presence.
One of the core philosophies of Sahara Foundation is the involvement of staff members in the implementation of Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility (PCSR) initiatives. This reinforces the significance of ‘Personal’ in the PCSR mandate that guides Sahara Foundation’s interventions across the globe.
On this commemorative day, we salute all our staff volunteers whose voluntary engagement and actions cannot go unnoticed, whose hard work and selflessness have counted hugely in the lives and communities that have benefited from their dedication. Volunteers are often seen as unsung heroes, but whenever we can, we take the time and space to recognize their outstanding efforts publicly.
Today we celebrate them for their commitment, dedication, commitment, generosity, altruism and hard work. We applaud their philanthropy and appreciate their giving in time, money, efforts and resources.
As part of our commitment to working with staff members, Sahara Foundation recently launched a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ambassadorial program that will engage staff members as advocates in the effort to end poverty, increase access to energy and combat climate change and also recognize exceptional staff during the programme that inspire others to work together for a better world especially in Sahara Group host communities. The Sahara SDGs Ambassadors will also help design and possibly implement social impact projects alongside Sahara Foundation towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. We look forward to a productive engagement with our SDG ambassadors and assure them of our continued support.
Also Read: Interview With Oyetola Oduyemi On The END Fund, Impact Philanthropy And Sustainability in Africa
Happy International Volunteer Day 2019