(Speech I gave at the 4th Annual Internationational Leadership Conference at Makerere University, in Uganda on 28 June 2013 – by Nomveliso Viola Mbanga)
When we were Kings and Queens
We governed our world. We knew the harvest time from the colour of the sky, we knew when the rain was coming by decoding the patterns in the sky. We could look and feel the texture of the soil and know if it needed assistance from manure and such before we planted our food in it.
When we were Kings and Queens we taught our young people the value of “ubuntu” which means ‘I am because you are – as such my neighbour couldn’t go hungry when I had food in my containers.
I was born in a village called Centane, at the lower outskirts of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, the introduction above stems from the life I have lived in the Eastern Cape. Where women were very instrumental in my time as a young girl in how the economy of a village was governed. By governed I mean that during harvest time we knew what needed to be done, in-fact way before harvest time women in the village knew how to prepare the ground and share resources that would help the ground be fertile enough to be able to give good results during harvest time.
There was often a clinical precision in the planning: ladies that will hoe the ground after the first sprouts of maize meal came out, and keep weeds from growing with the maize meal. This was a process that was done timeously right up until full harvest. This also meant creating a team of workers: those that will guide the cows that will help till the ground, those that will put seeds into the soil, those that will water the soil and so forth. There was always a perfectly organised plan that wasn’t dictated by technology or access to TV news or access to anything that we enjoy access to these days.
In the same village my Father decided to take me along to a society that they were heading up. This society focused on entertainment at the end of the year which ranged from choral music to dramatic plays to motivation talks that were geared towards keeping village kids out of trouble and entertained using their own natural talents.
So when I moved to the big city, Cape Town, in 2004 all the skills that I had access to or had been exposed to at my village came to the fore in un-explainable ways.
Often the journey of leadership for women starts when they look around in their homes or houses and realise that growth needs to happen. It could be growth in building a positive self image or restoring a home or to building a dilapidated or fragmented community. For me it was all three options where I knew I either had to face up to the challenge of pursuing a better life in a bigger city or stay in my small village and die in the hopelessness that surrounded me. With the exodus of people moving to bigger cities, many factories and employment hubs closed down. I left home in search of a better life for my siblings and parents as well as to see if I could learn skills that could help me be of better service to my country.
Before you can understand what it means to lead, you must be able to lead your family first. Leading within the family context often gives one the sort of challenges that become useful when one takes on leadership roles in corporate sectors or community organisation. Families have been known for years to be the biggest groomers and tester of one’s character and abilities. Families are also your toughest critics but also your biggest supporters.
It was Chinua Achebe who wrote “People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck”.
MY LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE
I first started my leadership journey like I mentioned above when I was 12yrs old managing a group of young dancers, keeping teenagers like myself at that time off the streets and we would perform at the village’s Community Cultural Development Club’s annual performances.
I later joined a Church Organisation which is where my character was shaped and groomed to understand some of the key leadership principles. A book I read called Courageous Leadership written by Bill Hybels was very instrumental in my understanding of leadership and it cited the following important lessons:
- A leader must not only communicate the vision with passion and excellence, but the leader must also develop a strategic plan of action.
- Leaders must build a team of leaders in order to carry out a vision strategically.
- Leaders must be very careful to take care of themselves. It is the responsibility of the leader to care for his/her own soul, personal relationships and leadership development and spiritual development.
- Leaders must always know their limits. They should not be afraid to say no and take time off.
- The selection process for building dream teams is based on ‘three Cs’: “Character, then competence, and finally chemistry.
The above lessons shaped my understanding and often reminded me of my village community where the mothers who managed harvest time and crop planting often had a plan that ensured that they got the kind of results that they had planned for.
When I moved to Cape Town part of my drive was to learn new skills and I had also gained some influence amongst the community. Strengthened by the values my parents taught me, I took on the big city 1 day at a time. A lot of the lessons I had learned from my village home became much more significant. The time to plan, the time to plant and the time to harvest and having learnt this in my village while tending those crops, I knew that similarly in life, not all of those seasons happen at the same time. This understanding of life led me to discover a number of important lessons about leadership. I quickly learned when I arrive in Cape Town that my first act of leadership was being. It was at this point that I wondered what it would be like to influence a bigger on a bigger platform, influence a nation. I quickly volunteered in different organisations until I worked my way up into various leadership roles. It was those very early leadership lessons I learnt back in my village that led me to those roles as well as to the work I do with the organisation I work for.
I also became involved in an organisation in Cape Town called the Black Management Forum, and hosted a woman empowerment in leadership development; within the provincial structure when I was serving as Deputy Chairperson of the Young Professionals; and the key lessons we got from this event was that us as women,: We need to communicate with each other more, we need to encourage each other more, we need to support each other’s ideas as well as open doors where we have capacity to do so in order to assist one of us to succeed. As I learnt in my village the saying continuously echoes that “umntu ngumntu ngabantu – which means we are because of others. I got elected to be in the provincial structure in this same organisation until the politics of leadership positions played out and I got kicked out of the provincial leadership. But, I learnt valuable lesson in this, one which was that you should never compromise your values and your character in order to keep a leadership position – rather leave with your integrity & character intact than stay on to please others or encourage that which doesn’t represent who you are as a woman.
Then 3 years ago I founded an organisation called Role Modeling South Africa – a Not for profit organization. I rounded up my friends to create an organisation that strives to influence the output of academic success of township or rural based high schools through interventions and programmes to impact the lives of students within that particular community. We aim to encourage students to use creativity and innovation and to be solution bearers of the challenges their community faces by equipping them with strategic thinking or solution based ways from an early high school stage. We also aim to use qualified or successful professionals to be the torch bearers of change and motivation within the communities they have grown up from and use their success as a catalyst to activate the success of growing high school learners within environments that they have strived and been born from.
We are currently sitting at a 50% growth 3yrs down the line and tackling the good challenges with the bad but with a greater satisfaction of knowing that we are adding to changing and being the solution to the education challenges we see in our nation, South Africa.
All my leadership experience has been around youth development as this is my passion and a growth area I still need to advocate for as each nation is a nation by how it groom its young & future leaders.
One of the the more famous books written on performance and achievement is Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. And there’s an excerpt in the book that says “The most talented students had gradually increased their practice while growing up until they had logged over 10,000 hours”.
This book made me realise that my chosen area in which I would be “logging” my 10,000 hours was youth development..This understanding of myself helped me to know which type of organisations to volunteer at and also the type of projects to undertake. Ever since I was 12yrs of age I have always had a way of finding a group of young people to influence.
- Make the right choices, when it counts the most.
- Doing thorough research about the new environment you stay in – know where to go and where to stay away from.
e.g. If you are moving to a new town or city before you move, find out more about the crime filled areas, safe places to stay in, access to public transport, mode of communication and emergency places.
- Always keep a reminder of your life back home to remind you of your values and your identity and your cultural values.
e.g. When I moved to Cape Town I kept cultural heirlooms like beaded earrings, family photos and cultural material so that I will be constantly reminded of my life at my home village.
- Always keep your vision or purpose close to remind you not to lose Focus.
e.g. I keep a journal and as often as I can I talk to friends about my dreams and aspirations so that I have people I am accountable to that will remind me and keep me in track.
- Do not let your talents override your character – groom your character so that when you are in a high leadership role your character doesn’t cripple your acquired growth.
e.g. I see this happen often when people groom their leadership skills so much that they end up in good leaderships positions, but often corruption in leadership is caused by characters that were never groomed to build a habit of doing right over doing wrong in order to ascend to a higher role. Often the wrong one did catches up and the fall becomes greater.
- Self awareness if very key in knowing the kind of leader you want to be and Ask the right people for help when the going gets tough.
e.g. Do not lie to yourself, if you know you are not good in finances, appoint people that will have this as a strength in order to assist you to excel in your role.
- Being a young woman who may be single will require that you have nerves of steel at times as well a confidence in yourself. People will generally try and push the boundaries when you are a woman trying to make your way in the world. So, Self confidence and a strong mind are very important.
- Develop your own style of leading based on your upbringing and, do not try to adopt a macho masculine approach as if trying to prove a point or compete with men, stay grounded in your femininity. Leadership is not about competing with males, its about understand the unique value that females can bring in order to assist in growth.
“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.” ― Chinua Achebe
CHALLENGES I & most women face and what stifles our growth in leadership.
One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. – Chinua Achebe
- Lack of self belief often challenges most women’s growth in leadership.
- Being less competitive than males – naturally men desire leadership roles and often they compete for them. In most cases us women are so used to giving up for others that even in leadership roles we often think others deserve the roles more than we do.
- Lack of self mastery – upholding values and sticking to decisions made.
- Not being given an opportunity to lead when you do join an organisation.
- As a female leader in an environment dominated by males, your strength will be mistaken as arrogance where women are expected not to question males and accept everything said or decided on without her input.
The Plight of women in Africa & The Role of Women in Society
Our biggest challenge is that we as women we have inherited a culture or society that pays women less. Historically, women have not had the opportunity to get proper formalised education
What we need to do intentionally is to encourage ourselves as women to strive to be achievers in different career fields that we would desire to join. We have to be intentional about joining organisations that will develop our leadership skills, we have to be intentional about the education we want that will help us to be contributors to the economy and to our communities directly.
IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN LEADING IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon. As women we have always been entrepreneurial in terms of how we take care of our households and how we are involved in our communities. There is an instinct we have about nurturing, protecting and decision making that has made our homes and families flourish. A natural ability which our foremothers didn’t even have to go to school to learn. That same instinct is very important to bring into the entrepreneurial space.
Currently, Entrepreneurship amongst Women in Africa is still at a minimum compared to women abroad and to our male counterparts. This makes it very important for young women to embrace and practise entrepreneurship from an early age, so that one can make mistakes early in life and be able to learn from them. We also have to be intentional about starting businesses, attending entrepreneurship workshops and seminars so that we could learn more about how to start a business and how to get people involved in it.
“Although female entrepreneurial activity participation has gradually increased in 2010, South Africa is still behind the curve when compared to other emerging economies as men are still substantially more likely to be involved in Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) development than women” Naidoo says the 2010 GEM Women’s Report – which gauges entrepreneurship in 59 countries – states that women are equally likely to view entrepreneurship as an attractive opportunity as men, but tend to doubt their own personal capacity and ability, which may be attributed to their lack of personal contact with other female entrepreneurs.“Research shows that the probability of a woman becoming an entrepreneur is vastly improved when she is exposed to fellow female mentors and role models.” – http://www.eoy.co.za/posts/more-female-entrepreneurs-needed-in-sa-524/
“Global Entrepreneurship Monitor surveys conducted before 2010 have shown that men in South Africa are 1.5 to 1.6 times more likely to be involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity than women are,” it states. “However, the 2010 adult population survey indicated a male total entrepreneurial activity rate that was only 1.2 times higher than the female total entrepreneurial activity rate. In 2011, this figure has again increased to 1.6. The male total entrepreneurial activity rate was at 11.3%, as opposed to the female total entrepreneurial activity rate of 6.9%.” GEM Report 2012
Agriculture which is one of our biggest inheritances in Africa and still remains one of our biggest under-utilised utilities. Having grown up in a village, jobs like tilling looks like child’s play even though it was a lot of hard work that went into it. I firmly believe if we could collectively put our ideas together we shouldn’t have kids starving at any corners of Africa for any reason.
Africa’s agricultural sector could become a $1 trillion (R9.09 trillion) industry by 2030 if governments and the private sector radically rethink policies and support for farmers, according to a World Bank report released yesterday. “Growing Africa: Unlocking the potential of agribusiness”
I have started a number of business ventures, some took off very well and some failed at some point, but the lessons I gleaned in these start up ideas have been so valuable that now I know exactly what I need to do to make a business venture work. I have learned from mistakes, however, I would not have learnt anything had I not actually stepped up and tried.
An excerpt taken from Thabo Mbeki’s address at the Parliament of Uganda, 13 December 2005
“The worst products of British capitalism and imperialism of the nineteenth century were those who filled their mouths with noble phrases and expressions to give an appearance of a sincere, profound desire to establish good government, promote Christianity and eradicate slavery. They, at the same time, projected the African people, their traditions and institutions as the most primitive, most savage and most cruel and that this justifies their domination in order to extend civilisation to the Dark Continent.” (PP17-18, Uganda, A case study in African Political Development.). In response to this millennium-old racist attitude we need to prioritise the matter of reclaiming our past. We have a duty to engage all sectors of society, especially the intelligentsia and the youth to be at the forefront of this battle of taking back our history, our culture and identity … All of us, as political leaders, as workers, as businesspeople,
youth, women and the intelligentsia have a duty to fight against poverty and underdevelopment as well as ensure that as Africans we define ourselves, not in the image of our former colonisers but in
the spirit of our African ancestors, who bequeathed so much to the human race. I am certain that through our determined and collective struggles, we shall overcome.
The role of slavery & colonialism in building the European world/empire has been so significant in how I view life and how important it is for us to try by all means to rise above the challenges that seem to choke us. So much so, that I ask myself, if thousands of us Africans were shipped around the world because of the strength we posses and the will we have: Why is it that now that we have our freedom that we are not wilfully using the same strength, will and ability we have to build our own Africa? Why is it that we are spending most of our time looking down on each other and fighting amongst each other?
We need to chart a different agenda for our generation. We need to rebuild Africa. It starts by each individual realising his or her own leadership qualities, challenging themselves to take on roles and make a difference. In a world that seems to almost belittle and look down on female leadership, we need to remember that many years ago, Africa was governed by women:
- Queen YAA Asantewa of Ashanti, Ghana 1896
“Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of, the days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opolu Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see thief king taken away without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to chief of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”
- Yaa Asantewaa’s dream for an Asante free of British rule was realized on March 6, 1957, when the Asante protectorate gained independence as part of Ghana, the first African nation to achieve this feat. Yaa Asantewa’s war was the last of the major war in Africa led by a woman.
- Queen of Sheba – Makeda
- 4. Queen Nzingha, AMAZON QUEEN OF MATAMBA WEST AFRICA, Angola (1582-1663)
- Queen Tiye is regarded as one of the most influential Queens ever to rule Kemet. A princess of Nubian birth, she married the Kemetan King Amenhotep III who ruled during the New Kingdom Dynasties around 1391BC.
The role of women in leadership starts with a decision. A choice to be involved and once involved, Commitment. Commitment to the great cause and to utilise networks and older generations to glean wisdom from. Instead of looking at what separates us as Africans, we need to choose intentionally to look at what we have in common and how we can use what we have to chart a different history for Africa and leave a legacy that will last for the next generation and the generations to follow.
When will the day come that our dignity will be fully restored, when the purpose of our lives will no longer be merely to survive until the sun rises tomorrow! – Thabo Mbeki