Power Of Women Top

Shona Mcdonald

The Production Woman

Shona Mcdonald, 65, is the executive director of Shonaquip Social Enterprise. Her daughter was born with profound disabilities.

Unable to sit up unsupported, or move independently, and with standard wheelchairs not offering a solution, Shona drew on her sculpting background to design a device for her child, making her care safer and easier and allowing her to attend school.

With a staff of two and operating from Shona’s garage, Shonaquip was founded in 1992. Now Africa’s leading paediatric wheelchair services provider, with 75 technicians, seamstresses, therapists and community workers, Shona runs a workplace where more than 30% of staff have a disability.

Shona established the Uhambo Foundation and Champions of Change Trust, nonprofits that focus on promoting a disability-inclusive society.

The company and the two organisations form the Shonaquip Social Enterprise. Shona has helped develop guidelines on wheelchair provision for the World Health Organisation and has consulted globally on assistive technology for people with disabilities.

The company supplies thousands of wheelchairs, seating supports and spares to public and private clients in South Africa and other countries, with more than 400 000 people benefitting from its services.

The wheelchairs are designed for use in the rugged terrain of resource-poor countries.

Her dream to develop an enterprise that is a tool for transformation in Africa and beyond has been realised through her hard work, business acumen and commitment to social good.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Keep focused on why you started and what you want to achieve, no matter what happens. Don’t be scared to beat a path into the unknown around roadblocks because, for every choice you make, you can choose to make another.

Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?

All people flourish when they have the opportunity and freedom to make informed choices. Women need to give themselves permission to make choices, feel safe and be confident to choose to live as equals and have the freedom to design what equal means. This is sometimes the most difficult challenge of all because role models are historically men and copying them has set women up to fail in business. Equity and empowerment isn’t about acting out roles in business in the same way men do. I hope I have created a work environment where my team has agency, where all genders are welcomed and, as individuals, they are free to experiment, build and grow, and where care for each other, support, wisdom and feelings are valued.

If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?

Identify and secure a wise leader — supported by a strong team — who is decisive, honest and fair.