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Women of Purpose

MTN’s female leaders are driving digital solutions for Africa’s progress.

Under the leadership of MTN Group President – Ralph Mupita, Africa’s largest mobile network operator – MTN, has ensured women are taking the lead in business leadership on the African continent. Tribe Business Magazine Publishing Editor – Evans Manyonga sat with the women leaders steering MTN from the front in Africa, practically ensuring the continent and the rest of the world take note of how women empowerment is not only relevant today but can also elevate business to the highest level. The proverbial glass ceiling is a myth at MTN.

Yolanda Cuba, MTN Group Vice-President for Southern and East Africa

Can you please briefly tell me about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group Vice-President for Southern and East Africa.

Yolanda:  To start off with, what’s interesting is that I started my first role in marketing and then I moved on to more finance-based roles by studying and qualifying as a CA.  I worked in corporate finance, moved on to be a very young CEO – deputy CEO first and then ultimately a CEO at the age of 29 of a listed company. Thereafter I decided after about 10/11 years of doing that to gain a different experience.  I moved on to SABMiller and was Head of Strategy and Profitable Revenue Growth Management, I then moved over to Telecoms after that becoming a Head of M&A, Strategy and New Business and Acceleration Units before moving on to a CEO role in Ghana for Vodacom/Vodafone. Thereafter my journey at MTN started.  My first role was as Chief Digital and Fintech Officer in 2020 and then I ultimately moved into my current VP role where I look after multiple countries.

What would you point out from your experiences as standout elements in business as a female Pan-African leader?

Before anything else when you walk into any environment you first must be a leader. Before you are a woman, before you are anything else and that’s something that I owned ultimately to make sure I show up as a leader in any environment that I walk into.

There are three things that I always take with me whenever I go and work in any part of the continent that’s outside my home country. The first component that I always talk about is the cultural sensitivity, Africa is not a homogeneous kind of continent, we have different countries with very different cultures and within these countries very different people as well, so cultural sensitivity is most probably one of the key elements and your cultural EQ therefore must be high as you work in different territories. One must never take things for granted or assume things work the same way they are used to them working in their home country.

The second one is adaptability – understanding how things are done in each country and being able to use what you have learned and already know as guiding principles on what to do while being flexible and open to learning new nuances. Accepting that things could be done differently in different areas has helped me a lot in business. 

The third aspect is dexterity – I think from my perspective, from a commercial dexterity perspective I have always brought that onboard. ‘There is no substitute for competence,’ and this is a quote I believe in. People respect and gravitate positively towards competence; however, one should of course be full of humility while still being able to react and act according to the commercial requirements in each environment. This makes a big difference. So, I would say those three things: the cultural EQ, adaptability and dexterity are the three main things that I’ve taken with me everywhere I have gone.

Who would you say has had a very big impact in you getting to where you are today?

I have had great mentors and great sponsors and the first person I would say that influenced how I show up was my mother. She started a law business in Kempton Park – (Johannesburg, South Africa) in the 1980s.  It wasn’t fashionable or the norm for a woman to go in that direction at the time. Having a woman of courage like that around me and having my mother’s family being businesspeople, who were going out and driving their businesses every day greatly helped. My maternal grandmother’s husband died just after she gave birth to her fifth child, yet she had raised her children, running the businesses by herself. So, I had strong women around me that have grounded me but also have given me the right to have courage to do what I do. I tell everyone that I had formidable women around me, so that helped me. Secondly, the people you meet along the way. I have had the likes of Gill Marcus who was our Reserve Bank Governor –sponsor and mentor me. I have had strong individuals like Tokyo Sexwale and Simon Susman being part of my mentorship or sponsorship journeys. So, I have been fortunate to have had great opportunities where strong individuals have dedicated a lot of their time to my development. 

How would you say the leadership of MTN Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has influenced or rather shaped the way your organisation is running, broadly speaking and to you specifically?

I would start by saying that from an MTN perspective, MTN is a purpose-led organisation, one that is very clear on its role in terms of what it needs to do in Africa and driving Africa’s progress, and by the way, it didn’t start now, it started a long time ago.  Being the first company that went out into the continent and said, ‘we want to be more inclusive in terms of our development,’ and for me that’s important and that plays itself out in various positive ways.

With regards to Ralph Mupita as the Group President – Ralph is someone who believes in inclusiveness and who really takes our role within the continent and the world quite seriously. From a leader’s perspective, Ralph strongly believes in empowerment – whether it’s the empowerment of women, people that have been excluded in terms of our investment in infrastructure, our investment in products that we invest in, or ultimately our people at MTN.

Firstly, when I say our people, I think about the tough times during the Covid 19 pandemic. Many interventions from EXCO level were driven by him, among others ensuring our ‘Y’ello care program,’ was a success – this program was established to ensure we could raise funds to assist those who were financially struggling during the pandemic. Therefore to me he is a Chief Empowerment Officer across the board. 

Secondly, the empowerment around women specifically.  I remember just before I joined MTN in 2019, when I looked at the MTN annual report there was only one EXCO member that was a lady. However, a year later there were three of us at Group EXCO level.  Then, a year after that there were now five ladies in EXCO.  That is intentional leadership, being very intentional about the empowerment of women within the organisation, and men sending out the right message within the organisation. Then, if I pick on my region for example which is Southern and Eastern Africa, effective from September, we appointed three female CEOs into key positions in our markets. That again gives a very strong message from Ralph around us empowering females and ensuring that the female leadership in our organisation get a fair opportunity to compete for positions and get the roles that are due to them.  For me, that always sticks out about Ralph. 

The other thing is, Ralph really believes in people being set up for success.  Each of the appointees that I have spoken to has personally received a call from him to say: what do you need from me? How can I improve your chances of success in your role? What are the steps that I can take as the President? For me that is really something that’s commendable from a leadership perspective. He opens himself to that kind of thought process and inclusion is something that is quite important to him.

What would you say the role of female leaders in business should be moving forward in this world in flux?

From a female leader’s perspective, I think it’s important that we all lead from a position of ensuring that we promote an egalitarian society. So, that’s my departure point – that everyone can be equal. How do we eliminate issues around discrimination, or in fact even better, any kind of dislocation in real equity. So, for me as a leader, if someone asks me: How do you approach leadership?  I approach leadership from a position of egalitarianism and that the people who rise to the top should be the most capable people in the organisation, therefore meritocracy is important. That’s how we are going to move the country forward, the nation forward, and ultimately Africa forward so it can take its rightful place.

What can we expect from you in the future?

What you can expect is me driving more inclusion, and more empowerment.  I believe in what we do at MTN, the leaders that we have that are driving this are single-mindedly behind ‘Ambition 2025’ which at its core has a lot of elements that are around improving equity across the board. Not just for women, but across the board in terms of ensuring that everyone is financially included, digitally included, and that we are delivering the digital solutions for Africa’s progress. While leaving the world in a better state than we found it in. So, from an ESG perspective we are delivering.  So, what is next for me? I would say is being part of a team that is always driving that agenda.

Nompilo Morafo – MTN Group, Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer

Can you briefly tell us about your personal background and journey up to you current role as MTN Group Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer?

Nompilo: I was born in a little village in KwaZulu Natal – North of Durban; I am the first born of 6 children.

I started my career in earnest at PriceWaterhouseCoopers where I worked in their marketing department as an intern. What struck me most at the time was that the company had no black people and the black people I interacted with at the time were people making coffee or the cleaners. The diversity element was missing. That didn’t deter me as I didn’t believe that meant we, as black people were not competent. If anything, it made me feel like there was something wrong with corporate South Africa and that had to change. I didn’t even think about female diversity at the time as the real issue was the lack of diversity.

I then worked for government, and I was part of the first cohort that worked on what was called Blue IQ projects. Meaning I participated in the setting up and building of the Gautrain and elements around it for instance. Our core mandate was to drive investment into Johannesburg. At the time there were various projects including the building of Constitutional Hill among other projects. I was young at the time and being part of those projects was massive for me. I get into the Gautrain today and am filled with pride remembering that I was there at the inception of the projects that brought this about and envisioning what they would look like in the future.

Thereafter I worked at Sasol, if one were to ask me where I grew and matured, I would say it was at Sasol. What I found interesting was the culture at Sasol. They are predominantly an Afrikaans company, but they embraced young people. And we were given a lot of opportunities at the time. I feel that’s where the seed of what my career would look like was planted.

I worked in multiple countries including Botswana, Canada and at some point I was based in Papua New Guinea. That brought me huge experience in terms of cultures and how people interact and converse with each other. Especially how people run business in more difficult markets.

For example, when we went to Papua New Guinea with Sasol we had many incidents where employees where getting seriously injured because they were not wearing safety boots. Eventually we realised that they did not understand the safety standards we had put in place and had their own way of working. So, we had to go back to the drawing board to ensure we understood the thinking culture there. We realised we were working with a village community that just didn’t believe in wearing safety boots for instance and we had come with our high safety standards without actually taking time to meet them halfway by understanding their cultural nuances and way of doing things. We had to find a way to try to make them understand why we needed to have certain safety standards and impart this knowledge in a way they could understand and relate with.

However, this could only be done after we understood their departure point. So, I have always understood that to be successful you need to understand your immediate environments value system. One cannot always expect people to do things the same way they do them or see the world the way they say it.

After some time at Sasol, I was posted to Mozambique as the Vice-President for the Sasol oil and gas company based there. The company had various assets there. A pipeline, a plant etc. And I was in charge of looking after the operation and being able to engage with various key stakeholders there.

After many years with the company I  wanted to come back home to South Africa, so I joined Lafarge Holcim as Country Director for Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainable Development. Here I learned what sustainability and sustainable development is, which was a completely different skills-set for me. I learned that in order for businesses to be successful, it is critical that they ensure the communities they operate in are healthy and thriving. This is where my passion for shared value and ESG grew as a concept.

I believe these two roles and those two companies are the ones that truly defined my career and solidified my purpose before joining MTN Group as Executive for Sustainability & Corporate Affairs which has now been defined in the executive committee.

It has been a year of being an EXCO Member at MTN. When I joined MTN I was pregnant and this didn’t affect the way anyone looked at me or my capabilities. And MTN made a huge impression on me because most companies don’t hire women when they are pregnant, the fact that this was not a factor highlighted the thinking within MTN. Another thing that stood out for me was in 2019 when we went for our annual leadership gathering forum in Dubai (GLG). Out of all the companies I have worked for I had never been in a room where almost 90% of the people in the room were black leaders, then it hit home that identity matters and that really stood out and made me realise am home and I belong.

What are the standout reflections on your experiences in business as a Pan African female leader specifically in your role?

Be your unique, authentic self. Women are leaders in their roles and positions in organisations. In reflection, there is still a lot of trying to be a certain way in order to be accepted. Our Group CEO speaks of ‘belongingness’ – yes that’s a whole phrase. It is something that speaks to me a lot because organisations need to make spaces for women to truly ‘belong’. This for me goes beyond just being ‘included’.

Being a Pan-African leader that happens to be female, I believe in community. I understand that we work in very diverse countries and communities. This brings another complexity in understanding cultural nuances, sensitivities that come with doing business in Africa. The biggest lesson I have learnt in my career, is to reach people from their own values. It is about having the humility of understanding that we are different and that is diversity itself. When I worked for an oil and gas company, I quickly had to learn that in country management, what might have worked in Botswana as an example, might not work in Zambia…you can’t cut and paste your approach…that was a big lesson. 

Lastly, shared value is key to any business model. Africans can and are solving pressing societal problems from various business models and that is what we need to encourage. It’s not about philanthropic deeds, it is about truly understanding the needs of a country, community and finding innovative solutions to meet those needs. A company’s success and social progress are interdependent. This for me, is a key principle of doing business anywhere, but particularly in Africa.

What would you say the role of female leaders in business in 2023 should be, within the context of driving progress?

While globally countries have made great strides in gender equality, it remains a challenge. According to UN Women, women account for 50% of the world’s working-age population, yet we are still very far from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 by 2030. In fact, the UN Women 2022 Gender Snapshot estimates that it will take another 140 years to achieve parity in women’s representation.

As female leaders in business we need to make the eradication of inequality a priority. It needs to move beyond conversations into actions and should be at the core of business.

All of us, male, female, young, old etc share the same dream: to inspire others, leave an impact, to create ripples within the system. However, there are very few of us that can leave that dream. I believe that women in 2023 and beyond are being called to a higher purpose as leaders; to change the narrative and the status quo. From highlighting gender-based issues to presenting solutions to solve them.

Who would you say has been a big influence in your journey to get to the point you are at today?

It always comes across like a cliché when one mentions their parents as a big influence in their journey. I have had a lot of mentors and coaches who have contributed immensely to the person I have become personally and, in my career, but the constant in my life that I have always looked up to is my mother. She truly epitomises hard work, resilience, accountability and grace in my eyes.

I probably have mentioned that I grew up in a very rural village and the role of women was not really recognised. Women were traditionally caregivers-supporting their households, worked in the fields and some even were sole providers for their families but it was never really important. My mother was a teacher and still performed all the roles required of her including raising 6 children. Most importantly, she also had and could drive a car – women did not own cars forget driving one. This made such a strong impression in my young mind that I thought to myself that if this woman could be and do all of these things; surely, I must do more and be more.

She is now retired but has built a day-care centre to help children to have a safe place during the day where they can feel cared for while learning. This is a first of its kind in my village.

I can truly say I have been raised by a village full of very formidable women who have supported me from birth, taught me how to truly be grounded in my values and have courage to live my purpose.

How has the leadership and guidance of Group President and CEO – Ralph Mupita been influential in your journey to date?

Firstly, starting with MTN, I feel privileged to be part of an organisation that really believes in the success of Africa as continent. MTN is about purpose and is led in that way. This is evident in our belief statement: everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life and our intent to lead digital solutions for Africa’s progress.

Now with Ralph Mupita as Group President and CEO, the company has really carved its niche as a pan-African organisation. I believe that leaders should have clarity of mind in terms of vision and purpose. He always emphasises that ‘our role is to give Africans dignity’. I take this statement very seriously as I do believe we have a huge role to play in being a true partner to the continent whether it’s through our products, the services that we offer, our various investments in infrastructure, people, communities and everything and everyone that we touch as a business.

He is also very deliberate about issues that he is passionate about. At MTN, when we say ESG is at the core, we mean it. It is about the execution of our strategy sustainably.

Before I joined the exco, I worked with Ralph on COVID-19 resilience plan. It really was not a difficult decision for him to rally support towards a donation of $25 million towards vaccines for all 55 member states of the African Union.

So in my role as Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer, it has been a rewarding journey so far as the Group CEO has backed and put on the table Sustainability as key to our strategy and highlighted issues around climate change, diversity and inclusion and rural broadband coverage as priorities for MTN.

What efforts do you feel need to be made to create more Pan African leaders and to ensure the businesses on the African continent are led by modern leaders in touch with a world forever in flux?

It is all about inclusivity and diversity. We need to enable the Pan African leaders of tomorrow with the skills and tools they need to flourish. We know that there is a lot of talent on the continent. The key is to harness that talent and enable it so that we, as Africans, can take our rightful place on the global stage. We need to celebrate diversity in all forms. Generation Z for instance applies itself differently to the older generation. Its important to be in touch with the younger generation. I look at my younger daughter who is 15 years old and is very technically savvy. In order to stimulate her mind and understand her way of thinking I have to relate to her and understand her. Without doing that she will not respond to my way of thinking. That means on the continent we need to build our own industries where we will give young people meaningful opportunities. And ensure the workplace is conducive for them to thrive and they can unlock their potential.

As modern leaders we have to improve our EQ because the world is in flux. We cannot look at things from a homogenous way as that is now outdated. We must have a much more open mind.

As a female leader, I do hope we will get to a place where we are not labelled as ‘women / female leaders’ but just leaders with the same capabilities and competence as others but happen to be of a different gender.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I reflect a lot, and I feel fortunate that I am where I am. My mother always says whatever job you do, you must ensure you do it to the best of your ability as it has an impact on someone’s life. I believe in that; I left my village because someone believed in me. Therefore, in my role I am particularly focused on empowering others, especially rural women as I feel they do not always get the opportunities others get.  

Therefore, what you can expect from me is really driving the inclusion agenda at MTN. I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to influence what the continent can become in my own space through MTN. It is therefore my responsibility that I do my part in driving the impact of our contribution to the continent. And so, the story hasn’t ended but is actually only at the beginning.

Lele Modise, MTN Group Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer

Can you briefly tell us about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer?

 Lele:  I joined MTN as General Counsel in August of 2019 and I took over regulatory affairs in February of 2022.  In February 2022 I then became the Group Chief: Legal and Regulatory Affairs Officer.  Prior to joining MTN, I was at ABSA: Corporate and Investment Banking.  At the time that I joined it was Barclays Africa Corporate Investment Banking and then there was that big separation between Barclays Group and Barclays Africa which then saw ABSA replacing Barclays Africa – ABSA renaming itself to what it originally was before Barclays took over.

At ABSA I was General Counsel for Corporate Investment Banking when I joined.  A year later I was then asked to also act as General Counsel for Wealth Investment Management and Insurance, also known as WIMI.  So, I did that, I was then General Counsel for both CIB and for WIMI for about a year, and then after a year, after recruiting, the General Counsel for WIMI, I then went back to my initial role – as General Counsel for Corporate Investment Banking.

I subsequently set up a new function which cut across Corporate Investment Banking and Retail & Business Banking which was our transaction management, and the transaction management function essentially provided closed-deal support on an end-to-end, which included closed-deal management and transactional monitoring.  Prior to joining ABSA, I was with Bowman Gilfillan.  At Bowman Gilfillan I joined at the time as an Associate.  I became Senior Associate and then made Partner in 2007.  Thereafter, I set up the private equity practice and led the private equity practice for about three years until I left to go and join ABSA. That’s a brief background.

What would you say are the standout reflections from your experiences in business as a pan-African female leader in your specific role?

I think inherently it’s challenging because there are so many hurdles that women must overcome in the corporate space because the environment is not necessarily designed to support females in terms of their growth ambitions. I think that if I look reflectively at how I have managed to overcome the challenges we face as women in the corporate space, I will say that a lot of it was through getting support from other females, from mentors in the corporate space and I think I was quite lucky to have several mentors and sponsors at ABSA.

Progress has been made in a lot of corporates as compared to maybe 10 years ago.

We see a lot of females coming through, but what is important is for the environment to be conducive for them to strive and be successful in their roles by putting in place structures that open and support their growth and development. I would say reflectively as well that at MTN, when I joined, there was only one woman on their EXCO who was my predecessor.

If you look at the journey in the past three and a half years that I have been with MTN, we now have about five females on the EXCO.  It is good progress; it is a step in the right direction, but I do think there is certainly room to improve.

In the legal and regulatory space I feel we are doing okay because I’m conscious about ensuring that we recruit and promote females and I think that it’s something that we all have to be conscious of whether you’re male or female, not only at MTN but in corporate organisations generally.

What would you say the role of female leaders in business in 2023 should be within the context of driving progress?

I have a group of ladies that I mentor, and specifically females because I believe that it is important that as you rise you also help others to do the same.  I think it’s also important that there is support amongst the female leadership within any organisation, not just MTN. I think that for instance the gentlemen have become adept at supporting each other, and networking with each other because I guess it’s easier, it’s kind of built in, whereas for us females it’s not necessarily something that we do automatically, so we have to be conscious because we don’t network by default for instance as men do when they are playing golf.  We have to consciously set time to have dinner, so we are able to support and lift each other up. I think mentorship is one way in which one can contribute to the growth of others.  My mentees are not necessarily in the legal space and they’re not necessarily at MTN.  There is a combination of mentees from various sectors because leadership cuts across areas of specialisation. It is about the capabilities that you have for you to be able to lead and distinguish yourself.

Who would you say has had a great influence for you to get to where you are today? 

Firstly, let me say that my personal mentorship in my belief system has been nurtured and mentored, and supported by my family.  Both my parents are people that I really look up to and that I would consider role models.  Corporate-wise I think I have benefitted from having mentors. My approach to mentorship is that obviously there is that senior person mentoring you and my mentors have been female and male. Those mentors have contributed significantly in my journey.

I also had a reverse mentor, (where one essentially gets mentorship from someone who is younger), so the Generation Y and the millennials because you always have to ensure that you are not stuck in your ways and that you have a different perspective on how to lead people from different backgrounds as well as different generations, and I find that quite beneficial.

How do you feel the leadership and guidance of Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has been influential in your journey to date?

I think Ralph is one of those people that are transformational.  He has very clearly outlined what our ambitions are through ‘Ambition 2025’ and has ensured there is enough support towards all the leadership which will enable us to achieve the goals that have been set.  It is one of the things that I find admirable.  I think over and above transformational, I find that his leadership is also about leading a purpose-led organisation, so we really focus a lot on what it is that we are trying to achieve as MTN, and everything else that we do needs to align with that. When we say everybody deserves the benefits of a modern connected life, all our initiatives are aligned to ensure that we achieve that, and I think that is what I would say is most admirable.

What efforts do you feel need to be made to create more pan-African leaders and to ensure business on the African continent are led by modern leaders in touch with the world today which is constantly in flux? 

I think number one is: leaders of today and tomorrow need to be purpose-led and I think when you do that, that’s how you can have leaders that also ensure societal transformation and growth, and not just a revenue-based approach to leadership across various markets. Secondly there is a need to invest in the growth and development of leaders, to ensure we have a positive impact in the societies in which we operate.  Responsible corporate citizenship must be key in all the initiatives that we undertake.  I think if we focus on that we stand a better chance of creating pan-African leaders that are not only leaders that are effective in their leadership but leaders that are also responsible members of society.

Mapula Bodibe, MTN CEO in Rwanda

Can you briefly tell me about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group CEO in Rwanda.

Mapula:  I have been with MTN for the past 17 years. My career journey began in 2001 and at the time I worked for an accounting company where I wanted to become an accountant, but very early on I realised that wasn’t really my forte even though I had an accounting degree. I then moved on to Unilever, a marketing company which I really credit for educating me on customer behaviour.  I have a lot of respect and love for customers and one of the things that I cherish is that experience from Unilever.

I joined MTN in 2005 armed with that very strong marketing background from Unilever and I was quite excited to join a technology company. At the time I was in South Africa.  MTN only had 10 000 000 customers and it was really at that cusp of excitement where we hadn’t launched, 4G smartphones didn’t exist, so it was really the industry to be in, therefore I happily joined the industry to become part of this digital transformation that was happening globally at the time.

When I joined MTN I think I found my calling, because not only did I have an opportunity to do what I love which is working with customers, I also had an opportunity to innovate.  MTN’s core belief is that everyone deserves a modern connected life and in the work that we do, every-day we are finding technology solutions, digital solutions to solve people’s problems. I feel I took to that and really did well.  I managed to grow my career; I would say exponentially in the time that I have been at MTN.  I joined as a Marketing Manager in 2005 but I have been promoted into every other senior role that I have taken since then.  I have had the privilege of having amazing leaders who have supported me throughout my career at MTN, and today I’m at MTN Rwanda.  I have been in my role for the last three months following a stint in South Africa which lasted five years as the Chief Consumer Officer, and prior to that I was in Uganda as the Chief Marketing Officer. What I appreciate is that my journey at MTN presented me with a lot of variations. It has been 17 years, but it’s gone very fast because every step I took, I was given the challenge to grow up to the role that I have today.

What would you say are standout reflections on your experiences in business as a pan-African female, specifically in your role and within the context of Africa?

That’s a very interesting question because obviously first and foremost, women globally experience a lot more headwinds as they take up their careers than men do, and that becomes intensified when you are working in the technology space.  I remember my early days in MTN, often sitting in meetings in boardrooms where I was the only woman.  Obviously, women at the time were straying away from these kinds of technical careers and I think subsequently it has changed a lot but what really struck me is how underrepresented we were as women, but not only that, because we were underrepresented, I found that I had to work extra hard to really be recognised which I didn’t have a problem with and that became my reputation.  I worked hard at MTN and my reflection on the experience was that I had to do much more to be recognised and more to grow compared to my male peers.

I feel that as women we bring different perspectives when we come to boardrooms especially in the African context because the African context is built around women being providers, women looking after children in the community. Because we are more empathetic as women that helps us to relate better in the African context and geography. These are very important elements in the way that our organisation can serve in Africa as well as pan-Africa in general.

With such a wide experience and obviously so much progress in your career, who do you feel has been a big influence on your career personally and professionally?

I have been really privileged in the fact that I have had sponsorship, amazing sponsorship throughout my career. Almost every single role that I have had has been given to me via promotion which has been championed by my sponsor who was not necessarily somebody I was reporting to, but somebody who in the organisation was really looking out for me – speaking on my behalf when I was not in the boardroom, nominating me for conferences, nominating me for leadership positions. So, I have always been very lucky that I have had people doing that. What’s interesting is that the sponsors that I have had in my career have all been male.  I have had a very rich experience of being sponsored by white, black and Indian males – I can count three in my career who have been very deliberate, people who put their necks on the line to make sure that I succeed. So what really stands out for me is that I have had men across the colour spectrum who have been backing me and I really credit them for helping to influence my career and set things up for my success in that respect. I think I have also been challenged by them, and I think that challenge has pushed me to do even better.

How was the leadership and guidance of Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita been influential in your journey to date?

I think we are very privileged as a company to have leader like Ralph Mupita who really made it his goal and his ambition to build an enabling environment for women.  He has championed some very high targets in terms of female representation of 50% by 2025.  He has really pushed hard to create that representation at the Group EXCO level.  If you look at our Group EXCO today, there are far more women than have ever been in the history of MTN and not managing small portfolios, but rather managing very big portfolios.

He has been very deliberate and intentional about making sure that women thrive, there are far more female CEOs than ever in the history of Group.  That has been one of the reasons that I have been successful in this world.  So, I thank him for seeing the opportunity and really challenging me to take on this role.  I think with the ‘He for She’ programme that has been championed particularly by him as the main sponsor.  He’s challenged men across the company to read the programme, to really be intentionally in their allyship for women to succeed.  That doesn’t come by accident, it comes because he has set that agenda forward for the company to meet.  I think we are really privileged as a company to have him championing this course for MTN, something that many companies are not currently doing.

What efforts do you feel need to be made for the continent and businesses on the continent to have more pan-African leaders like yourself?

Leadership is not just about being a female.  When you take on these roles you are first an executive or a leader before you’re a woman, and often you are not appointed just because you are a woman, but you are appointed because you have demonstrated that you have the competency.  When it comes to competing for the role, you are competing with other males.  From that point of view I think that there must be a very strong focus on leadership development. If you look at my experience – I joined MTN as a manager and I have been promoted four times to get to the role that I have, and that came with a lot of investment and training.  MTN has been very focused on equipping me with the skills to help me to achieve this role, and MTN is very clear about its vision and making sure that we are championing that in the way we do our work, and from that point of view empowering and enabling us.  I think it’s about being intentional in the development of leaders within the organisation, and MTN has a very robust programme around development which also has allowed me to move into different roles across the company.  More companies should follow this route.

Uche Ofodile, MTN Group CEO of Benin

Can you briefly tell us about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group CEO of Benin?

Uche: I grew up in the United States of America and at that time I never intended to work on the African continent, but as always life had very different plans for me. I ended up moving to Nigeria right around the time that the government was privatising communications. It was really lucky for me because to be honest – I would say I was a very unfocused child in the sense that I wanted to do a lot of things. First I wanted to work for Vogue magazine, I wanted to work in public relations, I wanted to be a teacher – I wanted to do all those things.  My parents wanted me to be a lawyer.

I remember my father asking me one day when I came back from work, to write a letter to him about where I saw myself in five years.  I wrote to him – reluctantly I have to say – that I wanted to become a Chief Marketing Officer. I had no idea what a CMO did at the time. It sounded like a big job and at that point I worked in marketing. There’s something around putting something on paper, and after I wrote that letter to my dad, things started to happen. I moved to Nigeria as I mentioned earlier to work for one of the GSM companies. It was brand new; GSM hadn’t even existed before then and within five years I was the Chief Marketing Officer.

So, I went to Nigeria for about six years and worked in the telco business, I also worked in consumer products businesses while in Nigeria. Soon afterwards I decided that I wanted to see more of the continent, and I ended up working in Ghana with one of the telecommunications companies there.  I was initially a Brand and Strategy Head and soon afterwards I was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer again – this was my second CMO job.  My story jumps after that. I had done quite a bit of work in general management already and after that I started to have discussions with my boss at the time and I had to leave the company I was with and move to DRC to become a CEO. I remember at the time moving from Ghana to Kinshasa was a big deal. At the time DRC was just coming out of Ebola and also the contacts around DRC were not necessarily very positive and I took the risk of going there to fulfil a CEO role. I worked in DRC for about two years, moved to Liberia with MTN as CEO and did another two and a half years there and today I am CEO of MTN in Benin, so it has not been a very direct linear path to the CEO job.

What have been your standout reflections in your current role as CEO in Benin?

I think the thing that I carry with me everyday is just the shared responsibility that one has to have in terms of ensuring that you are signalling the right things to the women coming behind you. I hold that as a huge responsibility. I think there is a lot of debate as to whether people want to be seen as women CEO’s or not. I embrace it, I think it’s very important that we show up and showcase that more women should be in these roles, so there is a responsibility around that, and I think it’s also important to showcase leadership that is empathetic and bold, and authentic. I really try to explain to women that in this job it’s important for you to be courageous, it’s important for you to be curious because Africa is changing every single day. Things are moving so quickly, technology is moving so quickly, the way customers behave is changing quickly, so you have to be curious, you have to be courageous, you have to be bold and most importantly – you have to be empathetic. In my own experience as CEO, I think those things have been crucially important to the success of any businesses that I have been a part of or have been in. It’s really important for me to showcase that to other women coming up as well.

Who do you feel has been influential in your journey for you to get to where you are today? 

I have spoken about my parents, and I have to emphasise their importance in my journey.  I was just with them over the holidays, and they were reminding me about my younger days and just to see where I am now for them is a source of pride, so I’m always going to talk about them on the personal side. On the professional side, as I have mentioned, I have lots of mentors who have supported me, and I have a tribe of women – my board of directors who I go to when I want to talk about different issues that I am having professionally. The job of CEOs is an extremely lonely job, this is what no one told me. Everything is on your head. Of course, you have a team but it’s difficult to show vulnerability because people are looking to you, so it’s really important to surround yourself with women who can still give you advice outside of your corporate space. I kind of want to look inwards as well – I have been with MTN now for about five years, my first job was with MTN Liberia. Without the support of my boss at the time Karl Toriola and Ralph Mupita as well who was at the time the Chief Financial Officer I am not sure if I would have made it. It was a pretty difficult turnaround and the support of those two people during that period in terms of the trust in my ability to turnaround that business and the professional support required to turnaround that business was immeasurable and is part of the reason why I am in Benin today.

How do you feel the leadership of the MTN Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has impacted you as an individual professionally?

I will speak about this in two ways. I spoke about the leadership support from Ralph as a CFO when I was in Liberia, obviously I cannot go into much detail there. You can imagine that Liberia was in a very difficult period at the time and as the Group CFO then, I remember that he was very clear about the fact that we needed to make sure that we emphasise that we are an African company and that we need to make sure that we do things so that operations can survive in Africa, so that was my experience.

The fact that he had that position meant that I got a lot of support in my ability to turn around Liberia. I cannot explain how important that was. If I talk about it from a CEO Benin perspective, one of the things that I really like about Ralph is visibility and the articulation of the importance of diversity and inclusion. We have talked about it in the past as MTN but it’s never had this level of visibility.  When I joined MTN I was the only woman CEO and today there are five of us – three of them helped me very recently – our partnership in terms of ‘He for She’ has moved beyond the conversation in the boardroom to action, and I think that’s what he brought to the table – not just within MTN but also outside of MTN as well and the actions match the words. I think that has been hugely important because from that position at the top, it now puts the pressure downwards to all of us to make sure this is actioned. As you can imagine if we can get all the operation personnel doing those things, it becomes one big mighty ocean. So that’s what I really want to commend him for, which is removing the conversation from the internal boardroom conversation and actually speaking about it openly because with that openness, that articulation externally, comes the accountability and that’s what has been very powerful under Ralph’s leadership.

Sylvia Mulinge, MTN Group CEO in Uganda

Can you briefly tell us about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group CEO in Uganda.

Sylvia: I have been working in the commercial space for the last 22 years, working with FMCG, Unilever and Safaricom. At Safaricom I worked for two companies, for over 16 years. I spent nine years in an EXCO role, leading the different commercial aspects of the business. I am a trained Food Scientist, I graduated with first-class from the University of Nairobi. Then worked as a graduate management trainee, I worked myself through the ranks to the branding marketing role, doing customer marketing.

From there I moved to South Africa, where I worked for Unilever at their regional office in Durban, managing the laundry category. Safaricom approached me following my return to Kenya, I was 30 years old at the time. During this time, It was a growing organisation, they didn’t have much in terms of marketing. I started off my journey there as a Senior Manager, and later progressed into different roles, such as leading the retail organisation and leading the enterprise business.

From there I moved to the consumer side, focusing on sales and distribution. I later became COO, I was leading two thirds of the Safaricom organisation, which had about 4 500 people. I continued with the consumer role up until the time of my transition to MTN.  I am very big on customer obsession and customer experience because I think that’s the glue that keeps a company growing sustainably. 

As an individual, I am a mother of two amazing teens. I am a woman of faith. I am passionate about family and fitness. I have been blessed to have grown very rapidly as a female leader and I have a strong appreciation of the challenges that women in leadership face especially as we go up the ladder of success. I deeply value giving back knowledge to women through mentorship and empowering more women to break barriers and fill up space in more senior positions. I am privileged to sit on several boards that are very focused on giving back to communities.

What would you say are the standout reflections on your experience in business as a pan-African female leader, specifically in the role that you hold now?

It´s important to me, to have a very entrepreneurial mindset and spirit in everything I approach. There is a book called ‘Extreme Ownership’ – it’s a book about the navy seals and how they deploy extreme ownership in terms of everything that they do. That book clearly states that there are no bad teams, there are bad leaders.  Consumers are looking up to us to be able to meet their needs.  

Another key pillar in terms of my thinking from my leadership perspective is around a legacy mindset, it is important because – for us to create anything that is sustainable we must operate from the perspective of: what am I am creating? What does this require from me in the long term? Lastly who am I creating it for? MTN is really interested in driving transformation, leading the digital progress of the people that reside in different countries. To achieve this we have to be very purpose-led and intentional in terms of how we approach the different challenges we face. We are not just pushing smartphones because we want to see our data revenues go up, we are pushing smartphones because there is no way we can ensure digital inclusion or digital progress without making sure people have access. I believe that there is no great organisation that can exist when the society around it is failing.  We must invest in society; we must invest in people; we must go beyond Corporate Social Responsibility.

What would you say the role of female leaders in business in 2023 should be?  Especially within the context of driving progress and moving forward.

Women need to be more comfortable using their feminine energy to take up space in leadership. I remember being told once, I was fresh in my EXCO leadership role, I was young, in my mid-30s. My boss then told me: Sylvia, don’t get to the boardroom and then forget your female style of leadership, don’t forget, because many times you go into the boardroom and you start behaving like the men, and yet there is a reason why God created you a female. Everybody has a role to play. 

We need to get to a place where we can create a lot of diversity in terms of thought and allowing that diversity of thought to be celebrated and welcomed without losing the diversity of purpose. I mean when am in the gym every day, men are so strong, when they need to pull themselves up, they do it so much better than me and I can never compete in that space. Does that mean that I don’t have a contribution to make? No. That’s why I say women need to be courageous around what they bring to the table and men also need to make room for that because together if we each put in hundred percent, we can create legacies.

Who would you say has been a big influence on your journey to get to where you are?

My late dad, who passed away last year in April. My dad gave up everything for me and I know there are very few people that can say that about their fathers. I can trace the determination he showed in my life, whether it required me to change schools – just so I could get the best education. He worked hard to pay my fees. We were a very simple middle-income family, but he said the best thing that he could invest in me was a good education, and he mentored me through that. 

The mentoring sometimes was not so pleasant, but it worked.  It was tough.  My mom really spent a lot of time praying that we turn out well. I thank my mom every day. Another big influence in my life is my fitness journey. When you are on the gym floor, it doesn’t matter if you are a CEO. You are there on the floor struggling with everybody else, working through your emotions. The gym has been a very big instrument in terms of shaping my mental thinking, I learnt that I can push myself and that constantly boosts my self-confidence. I constantly challenge myself to become a better version of myself.

How was the leadership and guidance of Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita been influential in your journey to date?

His passion for seeing women succeed has been very instrumental. If not for that, I would not be here in this role today. They would have probably gone for someone more qualified, but he took a bet on a young girl who believed that she could do it. This is why I say: if you don’t have men that are willing to make room for women, women will struggle to rise. I see him as the epitome of that belief, and that’s why you see the kind of female leadership growth you see at MTN. 

I also admire his intelligence and humility. He is always writing emails to us every week telling us his concerns, and I find that open style of leadership very admirable. It creates a safe environment for people to be themselves and I think when you are in your authentic vulnerable state of self then you can prosper because you are not putting on a face. I go into my reviews with him knowing he will approach things from a place of ensuring that we grow and ultimately that we all head in the right direction. So, for that, I’m grateful.

What efforts do you feel need to be made to create more pan-African leaders on the African continent and to ensure that those leaders are in touch with this world that is constantly in flux? 

We are all working in diverse cultures. We are all working with different regulatory backgrounds, different types of customers, so I think there is a lot that we can learn from each other. It’s important to create spaces where we celebrate what everyone else is doing.  Having that sense of appreciation creates that pan-African brand that we want. That appreciation of everyone’s context is important because it helps us prepare for the future that we want to create, and there’s a lot that we can all learn from each other.

I think the collective intelligence from us as a leadership is probably our biggest asset at MTN.  We are all a bunch of smart people, you can be a bunch of smart individual leaders, but not a collective leadership team. Success is a collective effort, everyone is unique, so when you are all in sync in terms of what we are trying to achieve, you thrive. This is what is going to propel MTN to beat its competition in the industry.

Tsholo Molefe, Chief Financial Officer of MTN Group

Can you briefly tell us about your personal background and journey up to your current role as Chief Financial Officer of MTN Group?

Tsholo: I was born and bred in Soweto. I come from a family of six children.  I’m the fifth-born in the family. I come from a family with a very strong Christian background – my late father was a priest, and my oldest brother is also a priest. Growing up, we were very involved in church activities. Interestingly my father was an avid reader, and I was very close to him. I spent a lot of time with him. I know he used to be called the Rochester because he used to carry a lot of books. At a very early age he instilled a culture of discipline in us. In addition to that I was also a dancer, I grew up as a dancer. I used to be part of a local youth club where we did Latin American, ballroom and various other genres of dancing.

One day when I was in town I saw a pamphlet about the British Council scholarship, and I decided to apply. I was fortunate enough to get the scholarship. So, at the age of 18 I went to the UK. I did my A-levels and then I enrolled in a degree in accounting and finance. I don’t think at the time I knew that I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. Initially I thought I was going to be a doctor because I was very good in physics but when I went to Pace which was a commercials school, I followed a different path.

After completing my degree, I came back home and went on to do my articles with Coopers and Lybrand, training as an accountant. I did that for three years, whilst studying further. When I finished my articles, I joined IBM. I spent two years there and then I moved to Liberty Life. I was still working in internal audit as an Audit Manager. From there I went to ABSA, I was there for three and a half years as an Enterprise Risk Manager as well as an internal auditor. While there, I always felt unfulfilled because I went into internal auditing knowing that it was more of a steppingstone.

I then decided to go into mainstream finance, so I left ABSA and I joined FNB where I spent six months before moving to Eskom. I spent a few months as the Finance Manager, before moving up to the General Manager role. At that time, I was pregnant with my second child. I remember taking just two months maternity leave because there was so much to do. I had just been appointed into a new role. HR was not very happy with me that my maternity leave was only for two months, but I just felt since I had just been appointed into a new role, I couldn’t take four to six months maternity leave. I was fortunate my mother could take care of my child; she helped me with whatever was required because I was a single mother at the time.

I held that role for five years, from there I felt it was time for something new. A new CEO was appointed at Eskom.  Who then decided to do a total strategy review of the business. He asked me to join HR and work with the HR team as the HR Director. My job was to review the strategy for talent across the organisation. I was asked to be the Team Lead, so you can imagine a Chartered Accountant, who knew nothing about Human Resources, talent identification, the principles you use, and the performance management system. This was a very interesting challenge for me; however I really enjoyed it. 

I did that for about 10 – 12 months.  After we did the strategy review, the CEO at the time, moved to restructuring EXCO, he set up a new division, and established a new role in EXCO, where I was now reporting to him directly, as Head of Customer Services. I did that for three years and I really enjoyed it. Eventually I became the Finance Director of Eskom. I was the first woman CFO at Eskom. 

After leaving Eskom, I got approached by Telkom. They were looking for a Deputy CFO with the objective of taking over as the CFO one day. I fulfilled the role for about 10 months, then I was asked to take over as the Chief Risk and Compliance Officer of the group, which again, was something I had not done before, I did that for 15 months, then I took over as the Group CFO at Telkom.

A job which I held for three years until Mr Mupita approached and said, “we are looking for a CFO.  We have been following your career path, your journey. We think that you’d be the best fit for MTN.”  It wasn’t a very easy decision, but I later joined and have been here for two years, I am still enjoying it.

With such a storied history in business and corporate, what have been your standout reflections? 

Being the only qualifying person to take over as CFO at the time I did at Eskom, as I was the only female. I was the first black female Financial Director in the history of Eskom. Eskom is over 100 years old now. Female leaders need to understand what it means to be an executive in these big conglomerates, and there is this belief that whenever men go into the boardroom, they almost know what to say, what to do and what not to do. Women should never doubt themselves; we are just as equally capable. These jobs are not for the fainthearted and we have what it takes as women. You should always show resilience that you can do it, the family values that you grow with are very important because they shape who you become very later on in life.

What would you say the role of female business leaders today is within the context of driving progress on the continent?

I think it’s important. Bonang Mohale who I hold in very high regard wrote a book, – ‘Lift as you rise’, and I think with the experiences that we go through to get where we are, we should never underestimate how important it is to lift others and help them develop. For us as leaders, what is important for us within this context of driving progress is to make sure that we get as many women into these positions as possible. I think women have been led for far too long, we can do better.  I like the idea that MTN, as part of its ESG, has committed to having 50% women by 2030 – I think it’s remarkable and very important. 

How would you say the leadership of Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has been influential in your journey at MTN to date? 

It is such a breath of fresh air to work with a leader like Ralph Mupita. Personally, as the Group CFO, he’s a co-pilot. I’m very privileged to work with him. I think we all are at Group EXCO. Firstly, he leads with humility, he always puts people first, has a collaborative approach, everyone’s opinion matters and he listens very well, he is very smart, strategic and the results speak for themselves. ‘Ambition 2025’ is a great example of this. Respect in leadership is important, and you see that in him as well. How he respects not just the Board, his EXCO and the people below him. He’s very tough as a leader. 

He demands results but he does it with respect. I would say he is tolerant to mistakes, there are times when mistakes happen in finance and you have to tell him. He constantly says: “You know what, people do their best so let’s give them another chance, let’s give them that credit,” because he realises, we don’t live in a perfect world. He also creates a learning environment for us. I suppose you learn from your mistakes at least. As I say, it’s just remarkable to work with him. He lets us express our views. It’s just a pleasure working with him. I spend a lot of time with him, either in EXCO, in the Board or even on roadshows. It’s quite remarkable.

What efforts would you say female business leaders need to make on the African continent for the continent to grow in the right direction? 

What I like about MTN certainly is that our belief is that – ‘everybody deserves the benefits of a modern connected life’. It is not just lip service. When we say that we are leading Africa through digital solutions as an example. It’s very intentional, very deliberate. We want to see financial and digital inclusion. We believe Africa can thrive and through our purpose and the statements that we make it is important but then we also have to be a lot more intentional about it.  It’s about developing our people in the markets we operate in through our products and services. We have quite a number of initiatives that we are engaged in – the ‘He for She’ that we championed last year with the UN is an example of the initiatives that can drive real progress in Africa. Yes, we can do more, and we have got very deliberate programmes, but we do a lot.

If you look at what we did during COVID with the African Union, just realising that the vaccination programme in Africa was moving very slow due to lack of funds. We then decided that we were going to contribute, and we did. It’s things like this, that are just far beyond profit-making and that’s what makes the MTN brand more personal, and I think we will leave a legacy that many people will remember for years to come.


Mitwa Ng’ambi, MTN Group CEO of Cameroon

Can you briefly tell me about your personal background and journey up to your current role as MTN Group CEO of Cameroon?

Mitwa: I am originally from Zambia, currently living in Cameroon and I have had the honour of moving about Africa quite a bit. I have now spent over six months in Cameroon and prior to that I spent a bit of time in Rwanda – about three years – and then before that I spent quite a bit of time in Francophone West Africa, split between Senegal, Benin and Ghana.  So I have had the opportunity to experience different cultures, different places, different markets, different operations and different operators as well.

I have an educational background in technology. I studied IT from my bachelor’s degree right up until my master’s degree.  That’s how I landed my first role in MTN in Zambia way back in 2009.  I was brought into MTN Zambia at the time to start up what was called the Solutions Delivery Function within the IT environment which was essentially a project management office if you will, running technology projects on behalf of the business. In that role I had the privilege of interacting with a lot of business functions, from finance to sales to marketing, you name it.

I moved from IT in MTN Zambia into products and services within marketing in MTN Zambia, and looking back now it made absolute sense because our marketing environment within the telecom industry is not necessarily the general or default marketing – that thing people think about when they hear the word marketing, it’s a lot more technical, a lot more product development and management orientated, and that’s how I managed to move. 

I have grown moving from a Chief Marketing Officer to a Chief Commercial Officer which included a bit more of the commercial score but then eventually taking on my first CEO role back in 2017 in Senegal.  I am glad today we are seeing a lot more people who come from a technology background, landing themselves into Executive roles. It helps quite a bit given where we are – I guess in this era of the digital world.

Who would you say has been a big influence in your journey to date to get to the point you are today?

There have been quite a number of people.  I find it very hard to single out one because I can give you one for every stage of my career that I have been on, but I do think that one thing all these people have had in common is: (1) They potentially saw more in me than I ever did at the time in terms of the belief of my potential, what I can achieve and what am good at.  As human beings I think maybe a bit more as women we tend to be a bit more self-critical – we are always hard on ourselves, we always got ourselves to a very high, high standard, which is a good thing but at the same time it can make you ignore some of the things you are great at.  The people who I look up to are people who have inspired me – walked along with me on this journey at any given point in my career have been those people who have helped me identify what I am great at or what I am good at, and also what I’m not so good at.  Those people like I said are quite a few. In most cases it’s been the people who I report to.

Every time that I have moved throughout my career, I can give you detailed examples of the mentors and leaders who have had an influence to get to where I am today. I joke all the time with all of them – I say I’m a collector of people so if you have influenced me positively there is no way I’m going to leave you or let you go out of my life easily. The people who have impacted me positively are those who I call day and night, whatever the case may be, when there is a big decision to be made around career or business etc, those are the kind of people who I call almost annoyingly and informally and view as my Advisory Board, they wouldn’t know this Advisory Board of mine, but they are people who I have collected along the way.

I look at my personality and my parents, how I rely on those within the work environment, and I see a lot of that in my dad. My dad had a strong personality, for him it was number one or nothing, I guess that is how I formed my competitive side. I want to win under all circumstances and as a result I will be the one who will sit in the boardroom strategising, I will also be the one up in the field rallying the team to get going.  Just that whole competitive spirit I guess I drew on from my dad and I think also from him was the notion of being strong in character – fear no one, fear only your God. At the end of the day I walk into meetings with Prime Ministers, with Presidents and I am who I am, and I’m going to present my case.  If I’m able to engage at that level, I will also be able to engage with an agent on the street. Being true and strong in your own character is something that I learned from him.  My mother was similar to her husband, but very strong in a different way in the sense of her being very sure about her femininity. For her, it’s never been about her needing or depending on a man but it’s all about being able to do things for yourself and for your community.  Between the two of them they shaped what everybody sees as a very strong, charismatic and energetic CEO. A lot of this is embedded in the personality and character I was brought up with.

How would you say the leadership and guidance of Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita has been influential in your journey to date?

In terms of Ralph, I think I would say two things: firstly, Ralph has been very consistent from the time he became CEO and pretty much even before that when he was Group CFO in outlining his love and passion for Africa. In a sense to say – that; in Africa we’re not short of opportunities, we’re not short of challenges, we’re not short of problems, but the only people who are best placed to address those – whether it’s opportunities or challenges – are Africans themselves. In that I believe he’s been consistent, not only in his persona but where he’s led the organisation, and for me being a young African, it gives me hope, it gives me inspiration and drives my passion for our continent.

One has to admit our continent is not short of barriers and things that may slow you down. You may get discouraged by some of those things but the fact that we have a leader who is saying that no matter what, we are going to maintain the optimism around Africa and Africa’s progress – for someone like me that fuels my passion and energy.

The second would be – maybe something that people don’t know about him externally, but internally we get to see behind closed doors – that he’s a very curious leader. Somebody who is always conscious and wanting to learn. He’s the CEO who, unlike many other CEOs, would over the weekend be sending you articles and books to read. Videos he has watched, so you can see he’s constantly trying to learn and be on top of everything that’s going across the industry given the fast-paced nature of our industry.  I think the fact that he can do that – running more than 20 operations, running an operation that is 20 times the size of my own, obviously encourages me to do the same.

What efforts do you feel need to be made to create more pan-African leaders and to ensure that business on the African continent is led by modern leaders who are in touch with the global world that is forever changing and in flux?

Two things spring to mind as you ask the question, I touched upon this earlier as well. While it may not be an obvious thing to achieve, we somehow need to get to a place where our business leadership teams reflect the demographic that we are serving. I say that very loosely in the sense that the diversity that exists in the boardroom must reflect the markets we serve. I speak about this in the context of gender, in the context of age, in the context of race, you name it. The more diverse we are within the boardrooms, the more our boardrooms are more attuned to the demographic that we serve and ultimately the more relevant our solutions to problems will be. 

There is a lot more that needs to be done in terms of our preparatory system. For instance, the curriculum development within schools needs to be improved. Historically our curriculum has pretty much remained the same, so what I grew up learning – my young sister who was 20 years old, 10 years younger than me, grew up learning as well and it’s only now, for instance, that we hear of education systems including modern elements like coding etc. The world has completely changed.  There is a lot of evolution that needs to happen from that point of our development. 

Twenty years ago, I think it was okay for curriculums to be frozen for 10 years, it’s not the case anymore because the world is changing much faster. You will find that there are certain systems that are raising the leaders of tomorrow, that are not changing as fast.

I think those two aspects coming together would ensure a more relevant outlook for future leaders.  

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