Economies thrive when men champion diversity, inclusion and gender equality and women lift as they rise

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Do you recall the screenshot of a PowerPoint slide titled “Who led your digital transformation?” which made rounds on social media as lockdowns intensified and virtual meetings and remote work became our reality? 

Under the title were three options:

A.     CEO

B.     CIO

C.      Covid-19

C was circled, in essence implying that for some businesses, it was only once the crisis began and trade became virtual that some companies started to make some of the required changes necessary to optimally function in a digital era. 

The vast majority of the world’s political leaders responded to the pandemic in a shocking and disappointing way, leaving their people with little or no trust in them. I am of the opinion that leaders in the private sector should not be spared from accountability either. 

It has been 33 years since the origination of the term VUCA: an acronym first used in 1987 and based on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. 

If you are in the private sector anywhere in the world, especially in a leadership function or responsible for the lion’s share of the decisions about the parameters that define how your organisation operates, you should be familiar with the term. Although the VUCA concept is over three decades old, it gained popularity in recent years when conversations around technology, digitalisation and the New World of Work began to take centre stage in business. According to the VUCA world, the essence and framework of the VUCA concept “takes a fresh approach to management and leadership to guarantee positive results under changed circumstances”.

In a VUCA world, leaders are challenged to find their own way. They will need to understand the psycho-logic of (and develop empathic behaviour for) humans and their needs. From this premise, meaning and purpose take a central role in business activities, and the willingness to engage in genuine cooperation and take on clear responsibilities are a basic prerequisite for innovation. This requires freedom, creativity, speed, flexibility and a corporate culture that connects people with the organisation. 

Having entered the first Half (H1) of 2022 with yet more UNCERTAINTY was enough to push even the strongest to their limits, providing greater evidence as to why human-centric workplaces have an advantage and continue to enjoy better returns over those that are still stuck on a capitalist approach and profits at the expense of their people. 

As a Strategist and a Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development professional, my focus throughout the pandemic has been on finding practical ways to alleviate the burden on leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa. I do this by equipping them with the necessary tools, skills and exposure to be the type of leader their people need, especially at times like these. There are many other unprecedented times to come — this is a VUCA world — brace yourself, more crises are underway. 

At SAWIL we focus primarily on women, but we do cater to and accommodate men. In my upcoming book You Survived, Now What, I explore various leadership traits and their impact on the bottom line. There are several variants of the leadership debate, based essentially on the traits and characteristics of a leader. One observer associates it with different phases: the first phase refers to the traits of a leader, the second to styles of leadership, the third to a contingency approach, which distinguishes between people-oriented and task-oriented leaders. Studies have also been conducted on charismatic and transformational leadership, and the success of many female politicians in managing the Covid-19 pandemic has started a gender-based leadership debate. 

At both the organisations that I lead, greater focus has been placed on solutions that will drive conscientious leadership. Women have demonstrated throughout the pandemic that indeed, not only are we capable, but we are what the world needs now from a leadership perspective. This is not to say that men cannot learn and use the same skills — in fact, we encourage men to dig deeper and find meaningful and impactful ways to lead. However, for the purpose of this deliberation, I will focus on our efforts at SAWIL. 

Let me start by sharing some of the milestones from the first half of 2022:

The SAWIL Journal:

  • In January 2022, we published the SAWIL Journal v1, co-authored by myself and my first CEO successor, Dr Tebogo Mashifana. The journal explores the state of leadership in Africa as it pertains to women as leaders, entrepreneurs, and board members. It also features the SAWIL Trailblazers Awards Top 10 Winners; read all about their inspirational journeys and how they are dominating corporate Africa. 

Leadership Training and Development: 

  • While our highly sought-after existing Executive Coaching and Development specialists, Janine Hills and Dr Claudelle von Eck, continue to service our member’s executive development and growth needs on an individual basis or through group sessions organised by SAWIL, we have also added three additional training partners to our existing cohort of established training and coaching partners: 
  1. IAMS consulting will focus on Change Management and Leadershift programmes, helping individuals and Corporates to navigate the new unprecedented lay of the land we all find ourselves in. 
  2. Confident Communicator’s mandate is to empower our members (individuals and corporates) with better communications skills, focusing on public speaking and presentation skills. 
  3. Marc Johnson from Its-A-Breeze will offer simplified Financial Literacy programmes for Non-Financial Managers, especially those with Board Mandates. 

Global Board Training and Placements: 

  • Our distinguished Global Board Academy Programme offered by Board Academy Africa, a subsidiary of Board Academy Europe, did not take place in Q1 as envisioned but will do so later in Q4. Primary focus has been placed on sourcing international board seats and placing our existing members and alumni. 

Networking, Masterclasses and Golf: 

  • With the Launch of our Flagship Chapter: JHB North (Sandton) – our monthly Lean-In-Circles will now be held bimonthly in a hybrid format, thus allowing our members in Gauteng to attend physically while the rest of the continent and the diaspora connects virtually. Plans are underway to create regular hybrid sessions where all the Chapters can gather and participate from their respective countries or locations by dialling into one central point. 
  • In March, we held our first physical Golf Clinic for the year, which took place at Blue Valley Golf Estate. 
  • We recently gathered with the SAWIL community at Hardrock Café Sandton for our Pre-launch cocktail evening dinner. The main launch of the SAWIL flagship chapter will be at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on 7 July 2022, with Professor Bonang Mohale doing the Keynote Address. 
  • We have entered a collaborative partnership with Google Africa to provide training and other empowerment initiatives to women leaders and entrepreneurs through their various programmes. The next engagement will be on 9 August 2022 in celebration of Women’s Day under Google’s #IamRemarkable series. 

SAWIL Leadership Team Highlights: 

We began the year by bidding a bitter-sweet goodbye to Dr Tebogo Mashifana (my first CEO since the foundation of SAWIL), who accepted a senior role with the University of Johannesburg as Head of Department: Chemical Engineering. Mashifana, who was also a Top 10 SAWL Trailblazer in 2020, continues to blaze new trails. She recently obtained her first Board Seat when she was appointed Editorial Board Member with the Chemical Engineering Journal. Has also been appointed as an Accreditation Assessor with the Engineering Council of South Africa. She is a Rising Star Awards Semi-Finalist — Most Talented Young Professional Under 40. To name but a few!

Marie-Rose Daya, SAWIL Cameroon Head and Francophone Regional Director, is the General Manager; Customer Experience & Service at MTN Cameroon, where she was appointed by the CEO as Vice-President for their Women Development Programme, which now has 180 MTN women since its inception in March 2021. SAWIL Cameroon continues to boast the second-highest number of members after our home country, South Africa. 

Nollie Maoto, a 2020 SAWIL Trailblazer Top 10 winner, was appointed to head up South Africa, then promoted to Interim CEO, succeeding Mashifana. Maoto recently made waves when she was promoted from Executive Head of Business Intelligence, Analytics, Planning and Monitoring at First National Bank South Africa to Chief Data and Analytics Officer. She was also recently recognised as a 2022 Global Top 100 Innovators in Data and Analytics Leader by Corinium Global, made the Global Data Power Women 2022 list and was named the CDO Ambassador for South Africa by MIT CDOIQ Program, CDO Magazine, and the International Society of Chief Data Officers (isCDO), and she is also a finalist in the inaugural Data Analytics Leader of the Year awards for South Africa.

Ncumisa Hlapo, who’s first interaction with SAWIL was at the Inaugural SAWIL Trailblazers Awards in 2020, was at the beginning of the year appointed as the acting South Africa Head for SAWIL, succeeding Nollie Maoto. She continues to blaze trails as a Data Analytics professional. Hlapo has enjoyed an illustrious 12 months of career growth since her first leadership role as a Senior Specialist – Business Intelligence Lead with Medscheme in 2021. She is a renowned speaker in the Data Analytics space, where she has graced and shared stages with experienced captains of industry. 

Dr Malebogo Bakwena, a Top 10 SAWIL Trailblazer 2021, was recently appointed as the SAWIL Country Head for Botswana. She is the Head of Department at the University of Botswana, as well as the Chairman of the Board of the Competition and Consumer Authority, among others. 

We continue to amass greater support from our community of trailblazers. The likes of Mapule Bodibe, MTN SA’s Chief Consumer Officer, who has afforded various members of our community opportunities in their private capacity. Gwendoline Abunaw, MD of Ecobank Cameroon and CEMAC Cluster Head, who graciously supported our Lean-In-Circle on Authentic Leadership. Patricia Pedhom Nono, Transformation and Technology at PWC Francophone, was a trailblazer highlight during our nominations run in May 2022, where she shared pearls of wisdom with our community. 

Finally, our partnership with the Mail & Guardian, made possible by my champion and a member of my advisory board, Janine Hills, is certainly a highlight worth noting (wink!)

These are only a few of the highlights that immediately come to mind and can be shared without jeopardising our own privacy and that of our members and community at large. 

The object of sharing this is to showcase what women can achieve when given the opportunity to grow. Africa does not lack talent: what we lack are leaders who are passionate and intentional about diversity, inclusion, and the gender equality agenda. We have shared at length and demonstrated in our capacity as SAWIL and through other research bodies that companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion achieve better results than those that do not.  In a country such as South Africa where 96.6% of all CEOs on the JSE are male, 87.2% of CFOs are male, and 91% of executive directors are male, it’s evident that very little is being done about the status quo. How can we prosper as a country when the minority of the minority are the majority decision makers? 

My advice and plea to corporates is for them to stop with the excuses and start putting meaningful strategies in place to address the leadership transformation gap in our country. 

In closing, I will share this extract with you from a dear brother and fellow African champion on all things progressive and beneficial to our beloved continent, by NJ Ayuk:  

“I lived, studied and worked in the United States and one thing that stood out to me was this: The American sense of optimism and a belief that women can lead. Even now, during these troubled days, that mindset is still there. Living in America offers unique opportunities. People can start with very little, work hard and make a better life for themselves, their children and the generations that follow.

“Achieving those things — the American Dream — doesn’t happen for everyone. But it does happen enough to make it more than a myth or fantasy. In May 2020, a New York Times article assured readers of that very fact, noting that 86% of Americans raised in low-income brackets now earn more than their parents did. ‘Capitalism isn’t broken,’ the editorial states. ‘Hard work does pay off. Workers do enjoy the fruits of their labor.’

“I saw it with my own eyes. So, can Africans aspire to the same things? Can African women dream big dreams like their American counterparts breaking the glass ceiling or Breaking the Gas Ceiling, as author Rebecca Ponton calls it in the title of her book? Can we achieve an equally powerful African dream that includes or is led by women? A dream of stability and prosperity? My answer is a resounding YES.

“After all, Africa has plenty of unique strengths and resources, from our talented young people to the oil in the ground. The African Dream is within our reach if women take charge and lead it. African men certainly need to adjust our thinking. So, what is holding us back? Ourselves.

“If we want to see widespread change for the better, we need to stop dwelling on our obstacles or blaming people, governments or circumstances for our difficulties.

“If we want to make things better, then we need to be the ones to make it happen. We need to find unique solutions for our unique challenges and work as long and hard as necessary to make our strategies successful. Essentially, we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We need to let women lead the way. Seriously, men need to step back a little. I’ve shared those ideas in the past, and people don’t like them.

“They tell me I’m failing to consider Africa’s history of colonisation and oppression. They tell me I don’t understand the corrupt government systems we have in Africa put in place by the colonial powers. They say poverty, lack of infrastructure and dangers are everyday realities for many. You can’t just say, ‘Women cannot take on these challenges and fix them. Women are not ready to deal with this.’

“My response to that is, I’m not for a minute diminishing Africa’s painful history or dismissing the problems the continent faces today. I just wonder, how long are we going to use our hardships as excuses not to move forward? Women can lead us out of this mess, so why stand in the way? Because, if we can agree we want more and commit to doing the really hard work that it takes to get it, we can make transformational changes in Africa.” 

SAWIL is a vehicle for women leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals in Africa seeking to advance their careers through leadership training, executive coaching, entrepreneurship training, masterclasses, board training, mentorship and networking. With the sole objective of transforming and diversifying leadership composition, particularly in the private sector, our ultimate goal is to bring a more strategic approach towards women’s development and empowerment.

What we offer

We aim to be a leading world-class example of what women can accomplish when given equal opportunities to lead! 

Executive Coaching

Training and guidance by experienced professionals aimed at helping you excel. 


By accessing our community of SAWIL members, you can share ideas, insights and opportunities.

Business Matching

Connecting businesses with mutual interests for business development, partnership and other opportunities.

Personal Branding

Opportunities for you to build your personal and professional brand.

Board Training

Knowledge and skills needed for you to effectively carry out your role as a board member. 

Brand Exposure

Providing exposure opportunities for your brand across all our platforms.

Access to Talent

Access to the top women talent on the continent for all your recruitment and placement needs.

Chapter Launch

Visit to register for the much-anticipated SAWIL Flagship Chapter launch to be held at the JSE, with Professor Bonang Mohale doing the keynote address. 


A ticket to this event or a membership subscription gives you a complimentary three-month subscription to the Mail & Guardian. Already an M&G subscriber? Don’t worry — we’ll freeze your subscription for three months. 

Seipati Mokhuoa is Founder and Executive Chairperson of SAWIL

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