Thabelo Raphala’s journey in the business world has been nothing short of inspiring. Between obtaining a string of degrees she co-founded five businesses in a range of sectors such as manufacturing, food, logistics, retail and security.
Recognising the challenges faced by small businesses in South Africa, she has provided support and guidance to thousands of small and medium enterprises, getting them standing on their own two feet. “Witnessing these entrepreneurs turn their ventures into profitable and sustainable enterprises, providing certainty for their own future and that of their employees and families, has been the pinnacle of my achievements,” says Thabelo, 35.
As the managing director of My Dough, she built up and leads a team of 20 that has developed a digital entrepreneurship platform to support entrepreneurs. It provides them with access to markets, events, business insights, finance, learning materials, a community of other entrepreneurs and a rewards programme. In the aftermath of the devastating violence in 2021 and the KwaZulu-Natal floods Thabelo played a crucial role in aiding the recovery of many businesses.
Thabelo also made significant contributions to the audit profession during her tenure with the Auditor General of South Africa as the head of the enterprise and supplier development programme. She is a founding member of the Friends of Takalani Children’s Home, a nonprofit organisation established in 2007 to provide shelter for homeless children.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
My first boss when I started my career said to me: “A career can bounce back after a hard fall, but family is like glass. If it falls, it takes time to mend it back together, if at all, so always do your best to take care of your family, whoever family is to you.”
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
I invest time in getting to know and understand myself better, celebrate my strength and uniqueness while working on my challenges and past traumas. I spend time listening and encouraging other women to do the same — to cherish and embrace their uniqueness and know that their voice is valid in every space they seek to occupy. I believe in the power of seeking help when needed, as it allows us to grow and become stronger and kinder to ourselves but also become better mothers, partners, sisters, colleagues and businesswomen in our homes and communities.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
If I could achieve one thing, it would be to shift the mindset of our youth, the unemployed, and the next generation of young people, to encourage them to view entrepreneurship as a viable and exciting career option worth exploring if we are to deal with the high unemployment rate we suffer as a nation going into the future. Through inspiration, education, and opportunities, I strive to empower them to embrace their innovative spirit and realise their potential as successful entrepreneurs. By fostering an entrepreneurial mindset, I believe they can create their own paths, contribute to the economy, and shape a brighter future for themselves and their communities.